Deer Rut Still Happening Down South

The calendar might indicate that spring is approaching, but bucks are still searching for estrous does throughout many parts of the whitetail's range. (photo courtesy of Brad Rucks)

SANDESTIN, Fla. – A common discussion among many Southeast hunters focuses on the lengthy breeding period and rutting activity that sometimes occurs after the hunting seasons end. This topic led to much discussion during the first day of this year’s annual meeting of the Southeast Deer Study Group.

by Alan Clemons

Unlike Northern states (with more intensely defined breeding periods) Southeast whitetails have extended periods. Bucks chase does for two or three cycles, sometimes for months, with no doubt about their intentions. Bucks and does may exhibit rutting activity two, three and maybe four times before it peters out.

Hunters in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle are still seeing activity. It’s not their imaginations, either. I know one Alabama hunter with property about 90 minutes southwest of Montgomery who witnessed a big buck in pursuit of a doe just last week. Others further south to counties along the Gulf of Mexico are witnessing rutting activity – the peak, with full-on chasing – now a month after Alabama’s season has ended.

Florida’s northwest Zone D closed just a few days ago, on Sunday, with breeding activity still going on in some areas. Elina Garrison with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission touched on breeding chonology and productivity Monday afternoon during one session of the Southeast Deer Study Group meetings.

Garrison said data surveys are ongoing and have been for several years throughout the state. Other state agencies are conducting fetal surveys, too, in order to try to get a better grasp of breeding periods. But the information and insights are not cut and dried, as expected.

Since 2009, Florida FWC biologists have studied more than 320 does from 50 study areas. They determined conception dates based on fetus lengths and recorded other data. Breeding periods range from mid-July in southern Florida (Zone A, Everglades) to late February in the northwest (Zone D, Panhandle).

As is found sometimes, there are some quirks. In Zone A western counties along the Gulf of Mexico and eastern counties on the Atlantic Ocean, breeding occurs in October and November. In the rest of the zone, breeding occurs during July and August. The Zone A season is the first to open in the United States.

Move up just a few hours into Central Florida and a little blip, Zone B, is carved out of a few west-central counties. Breeding periods in the zone are primarily in October, except for one area in the heart of the zone where it occurs in January.

Why the disparity? Why would deer in the majority of one large portion of a state breed three months earlier than a tiny portion within its boundaries? Why do breeding dates within the entire state span nine months? No one knows for certain.

Garrison said Florida was divided into two zones until 1988 when the extreme southern Zone A was established. Zone B was added for the just-completed season. As more data are compiled, and other states are looking at similar information, they’ll be used to consider zones, season dates and bag limits.

“I think it’s nice this animal that is so studied still has some mysteries,” she said.

The SEDG meeting continues today. Check back here for additional updates throughout the week.

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