Exclusive: 2017 Southern Whitetail Deer Hunting Rut Predictions

Predicting the peak rut periods in Southern states is tricky for many reasons, one of which is the population that varies and can produce a “drip rut” thanks to more does than bucks in the herd. (Photo: Getty Images)

Timing the “drip rut” of the Southern whitetail breeding season differs from the Midwest and Northern predictions, but these suggestions can help you decide when to be in the stand.

Patterning a mature white-tailed buck is ultimately the key to a successful hunt. That, and a little bit of luck, of course. For many deer hunters, patterning a mature buck is dramatically easier the earlier or later in the season they hunt, when bucks tend to be on a bed-to-food schedule. As they hunt closer to the middle of the season, the rut throws them the proverbial curve ball. That’s not saying you can’t pattern a rutting buck, but it is increasingly more difficult with the unpredictability of chasing and breeding activity. However, this lasts for a couple of weeks for most, and then the bed-to-food schedule resumes.

But for Southern whitetail hunters the rut often teeters toward the end of the season. In all actuality, some of the best hunting in places such as Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana can take place during the last day of the season in January or February! After an entire season of hunting pressure, trying to pattern a buck at this time can be tough. But add in the complexities of the Southern rut, and you have to wonder: Is it even possible to pattern a buck during this time of year?

Spend any time around Southern deer hunters and you’ll likely hear breeding activity described as a “drip rut” — quick flashes of rutting activity that disappear as quickly as they show up. That doesn’t necessarily mean a weak rut, but just not typical of what you see in Northern and Midwestern states, where the rut will be an intense two-week period at most. In the case of the Southern rut, it’s all about timing.

So how do you pattern rutting activity to enhance your chances of closing the deal on a Southern buck?

I strongly believe the ability to read deer sign is a fleeting skill in today’s hunting community. Long gone are the days when most deer hunters could walk into a new section of woods and put together a plan that would effectively end in a successful hunt. That’s not saying today’s deer hunters are bad hunters. In fact, success rates in many states are better than they have ever been and bigger bucks are being routinely killed. But there are a lot of factors that go into the success data, including state regulations designed to get bucks into older age classes, increased food plot popularity and the use of scouting cameras. If you want to nail down a mature buck during the Southern rut, you need to understand what local deer sign is telling you.

As bucks in the South teeter on the edge of the chase phase of the rut, they begin to move away from what many hunters have been targeting — scrapes. During the pre-rut, hunting scrape lines can be effective because multiple bucks are likely frequenting them. But as research from the University of Georgia indicates, most of the activity on these scrapes occurs after legal hunting hours have expired. So why pay attention to them?

First off, with the use of trail cameras, scrapes are likely to show you whether a shooter buck exists in the area to begin with. You can’t kill him, if he’s not there. But let’s assume that’s a given. Scrapes provide clues regarding the progression of rutting activity. As an active scrape turns “cold,” the odds are good that mature bucks are on the move cruising for estrous does. From this point forward, the scrapes will likely be more intermittently hit. This is a good time to locate pinch points and funnels and sit there all day.

Keeping up up with does and fawns via camera surveys is one of the best ways to gauge the time period of the peak rut. Does typically carry for about 210 days before dropping fawns; do the math and get a general timeframe for your area.

It might sound crazy, but determining if fawns are by themselves at this time of the year can help pinpoint Southern rut activity. As does approach estrus they send their button bucks packing, and with increasing pressure from bucks, doe fawns often end up on their own, too. A buck will work to isolate the doe he is tending away from other deer. Think about the rut and how many times you saw a couple of fawns on their own. Did the doe get shot? Was she hit by a car? The more likely cause of the fawns’ new independence is that a buck has pushed them away from the doe because she’s approaching, or is in, estrus.

Trail cameras on food sources are some of the most likely places to capture images of these fawns. The bottom line is that you better make a move quick, because the doe will likely be in estrus for only 24 hours or so. With the advent of cellular trail cameras, receiving and translating deer data in real time has changed the way many hunters hunt — including myself.

Putting together the information provided by the deer in your area can help you fill a tag or two when the peak rut dates finally arrive. (Photo: Getty Images)

This might not be an option for all Southern deer hunters, because many have only public land access, but most states and private landowners strive to create not just ample hunting opportunities but a healthy deer herd as well. Some research suggests the drip rut is not a Southern occurrence as much as it is an issue with the herd.

Most deer herds across the South have a skewed buck-to-doe ratio, in favor of does. There is only so much a buck can do to breed as many does as possible. Eventually more does come into estrus than available bucks are able to service and does are not bred. A doe will then cycle into estrus again in about 28 days.

As this plays itself out across the herd, you can see how a “drip rut” could occur when there is rutting activity, then nothing — then more rutting, then nothing again. This also extends the length of the rut to nearly two months in some cases, as compared to two weeks in the North. It’s also why in many Southern areas you will see newborn fawns from June through August, or even September in some cases.

This is obviously not a short-term fix, however. But by harvesting more does to balance the buck-to-doe ratio an area will slowly become more precise in rutting activity — and the rut will be more intense.

Above all, it’s important to be in the right place at the right time. It seems that this is the obvious answer no matter when you hunt, or where you hunt. However, it is extremely critical for Southern rut hunting success. We far too often are reluctant to move stands or get aggressive during the rut. The phrase “wait him out” has always been associated with hunting deer. Honestly, patience is a virtue, but it can also be a killer. As the rut rolls around in the South, the better part of the deer season is already in the rear view mirror. If you are too patient, the season will be over in the blink of an eye.

But there is a sharp difference between being aggressive in a rut hunting strategy and being reck- less. Simply pushing into a known buck area with no plan can ruin your season fast. However, by laying out a strategic pathway using aerial photographs, playing the wind and approaching a strategic stand site near a buck’s known bedding area — well that’s an aggressive move and one that’s likely to pay off. With the season close on the horizon, you have to ask yourself: Would I lose more sleep in the offseason knowing I tried and blew it, or never tried at all?

One of the most common responses I give those asking for Southern rut hunting advice is in the form of a question: What did you do last year?

It might seem like a pointless answer, but actually it’s probably the best advice I can give to not only Southern rut hunters but anyone hunting the rut, anywhere. Deer are creatures of habit. From their daily behavior to their seasonal behavior, to their annual behavior. If there have not been significant changes to the herd and habitat, the odds are good the rut will look much like it did the previous year — and the year before that. Sure, there are elements that might affect the days that are best to hunt, such as weather, hunting pressure and other factors, but overall, the rut itself is very predictable.

But note I didn’t say deer are predictable during the rut. The general timing of the Southern rut in an area, and more specifically on a property, will be very consistent from year to year barring any significant changes. However, patterning a mature Southern buck during this time frame is anything but easy. But that’s why they call it hunting.

State-by-State Southern Rutting Statistics

It’s amazing how in one state peak breeding can vary from north to south by nearly two months, but according to the Alabama Department of Natural Resources, that’s just what you’ll find in this Southern state. Still, if you are heading to Alabama to hunt, January is the month to do it. Accord- ing to the DNR, over 98 percent of the state is experiencing rutting activity during the first month of the calendar year.

Peak Rut Predictions
North-Central Alabama (William B. Bankhead National Forest area): November 17-26
Northern Alabama: December 28-January 9
Central Alabama: January 5-21
Southern Alabama: January 15- February 8
Source: Alabama Department of Natural Resources

Arkansas’s diverse habitat, such as that found from the Ozark Mountains to the Mississippi River, offers a broad spectrum of areas to hunt whitetails. But unlike many Southern states, Arkansas’ peak-rut activity does not vary much.
Peak Rut Predictions
Northern Arkansas (Ozark Mountains)
: November 8-16
Eastern Arkansas (Mississippi Alluvial Valley): November 12-23
Eastern Arkansas (Crowley’s Ridge): November 5-19; 2nd peak in mid-December
Western Arkansas (Ouachita Mountains, AR River Valley and West Gulf Plain): November 4-16
Source: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

Florida’s rut can begin as early as July in the south and continue through late February in the north- west panhandle! Because of the typically stable, warm (almost tropical) climate of Florida, whitetails have longer than normal optimal fawn- ing conditions, which allow them to breed nearly year-round.
Peak Rut Predictions
South Florida
: July 22-August 15
South-Central Florida (Lake Okeechobee area): East of Lake: September 3-October 2; West of Lake: August 13-September 18
Central Florida: East Section October 4-15; West Section October 28-November 15
Northern Florida (northern peninsula): October 15-November 10
Florida Panhandle: East Section; December 18-January 9; West Section January 5-27
Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Precocious bucks and fawns can develop into superior adults given the right factors. This fine Georgia buck killed by Wes Sapp shows great character in its antlers and is a prime example of quality management.

Like Mississippi and Alabama, the latitudinal layout of Georgia causes the state’s peak breeding to vary greatly. In fact, it has been docu- mented to vary in timing by nearly two months! You can encounter rutting activity from the beginning to the end of the Georgia deer season.
Peak Rut Predictions
Southeast Georgia (Coast)
: October 16-27
Southeast Georgia: November 2-17
Southwest Georgia: November 12-27; far southwest December 11-January 4
Western Georgia: November 16-28
Eastern Georgia: October 28-November 11
Northern Georgia: November 6-15 Source: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Deer hunters in Louisiana can chase rutting bucks from the day the season opens, until it closes! On the coast, rutting activity can begin as early as September, whereas other areas might not see activity until January. Researchers and biologists still debate the potential effects from deer restocking efforts during the mid-1900s — that might contribute to the wide range of breeding dates.
Peak Rut Predictions
Southwest Louisiana
: October 28-November 13
Northwest Louisiana: November 15 -December 8
Northeast Louisiana: December 25 -January 12
East Central Louisiana: January 18-27
Southeast Louisiana: December 16-31
: Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) and the MSU Deer Lab continue to conduct extensive research on the timing of peak breeding throughout the state. Mississippi has great variation in timing of the rut from the northwest corner of the state to the southeast coast. There are several theories surrounding this, from physiographic regions to restocking efforts.
Peak Rut Predictions
Northwest Mississippi
: November 19-December 11
Northeast Mississippi: December 9 -January 11
Central Mississippi: West Section December 20-January 9; East Section December 28-January 20
Southwest Mississippi: December 9 -January 2
Southeast Mississippi: January 22 -February 5
Source: Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks

Like South Carolina and Tennessee, North Carolina is more of a longitudinal state. So unlike the very latitudinal states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, the timing of the rut does not vary much across the state.
Peak Rut Predictions
Southeast North Carolina (Coast)
: October 21-November 8
Northeast North Carolina (Coast): October 31-November 15
East-Central North Carolina: November 10-18
West-Central North Carolina: November 19-29
Western North Carolina (Blue Ridge Mountains): November 17-December 2
Source: North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission

With one of the earliest gun seasons in the United States, starting in mid-August, South Carolina offers some unique hunting opportunities. However, breeding timing does not vary much across the state.
Peak Rut Predictions
Southeast South Carolina (Coast)
: October 18-30
Northwest South Carolina (Blue Ridge Mountains): November 9-22
South Carolina (Piedmont): November 2-18
Source: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

A much more east-to-west state than its latitudinal counterparts (think Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama), Tennessee does not vary much in peak-rut. But it does offer some unique deer hunting with its vast physiographic differences, such as the Blue Ridge Mountains in the east and Mississippi River Valleys in the west. Like many whitetail states, November is the month to hunt deer in Tennessee if you want to catch peak rutting activity.
Peak Rut Predictions
Eastern Tennessee (Blue Ridge Mountains): November 5-19
Central Tennessee: November 17-24
Western Tennessee: November 21-28
Source: Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency

The largest deer hunting state in the country, Texas has a wide variety of habitat types or physiographic regions. From desert-like conditions in the West Texas Trans-Pecos region to the marshes along the Gulf of Mexico, there is a huge variation in peak rut timing. Several of Texas’ regions are dramatically affected by precipitation. Not only does this affect antler size in bucks, but also the optimal time to birth fawns.
Peak Rut Predictions
West Texas (Trans-Pecos Region)
: December 3-25
South Texas: Eastern section December 11-26; Western section December 28-January 18
North Texas (Rolling Plains): Northern section November 19-December 8; Southern section November 11-23
East Texas (Pineywoods and Post Oak Savannah): November 5-17; with areas near Lake Sam Rayburn lasting until the second week of December
North-central Texas (Cross Timbers and Prairies): November 15-28 Central Texas: Peak breeding varies by nearly two months from east to west. Eastern section October 31-November 8; Central section November 18-December 15; Western section December 4-18
Plains and Marshes along the Gulf of Mexico: North (Beaumont area) September 28-October 12; South (Kingsville area) October 30-November 19
Source: Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

— Jeremy Flinn is an entrepreneur and deer biologist living in Pennsylvania. An expert in creating content for outdoor-oriented businesses, his company, Stone Road Media, helps businesses with digital content and marketing.