For most deer hunters, the highlight of deer hunting is still the general firearms season. But over the years, things have changed. For many hunters, opportunities - like early muzzleloader seasons and bow season - are even more important because they are open during the peak of the rut.
The rut is what many hunters consider to be the key period of the fall deer season. This is the period when a majority of the deer breeding takes place and when many older bucks are taken.
Deer mating activity in our area generally occurs from late October to January, but the peak of the activity occurs in the first three weeks of November. The arrival of the full moon in November is known to have great effect on rut activity.
The importance of the rut on deer activity is hard to overstate. Many of the oldest bucks, the ones that are almost exclusively nocturnal for most of the year, are suddenly can be seen during the middle of the day. This makes them susceptible to legal hunting. Many bowhunters save their vacation days for this prime November period and try to stay in their stands from daylight until dark.
This is also a period when deer move constantly and many are killed on highways. It pays to be particularly cautious when traveling in the areas with high deer populations. This is just about everywhere these days.
Hunting older trophy whitetail bucks during the rut has evolved into something of a specialty within the sport of deer hunting. Hunting this period has been heavily documented in books, magazines articles and videos. In addition some specialized rut hunting techniques have also evolved.
Some hunters specialize in calling deer with deer calls and antler rattling. Deer are very vocal, particularly during the rut. That's why many hunters consider a deer grunt tube an essential part of their gear when hunting in November.
Another calling approach is to simulate two bucks fighting by rattling antlers together. In areas of high buck concentrations, rattling can be effective during the rut period. If you are unfamiliar with using calls or antler rattling there are many excellent instructional DVDs that you help you learn the basics.
As it turns out, much of the prime rut activity is over by the time the regular firearms season opens. It's also true that the intense hunting pressure during the regular firearms season forces the deer to change from normal activity patterns and concentrate on dodging guys dressed in hunter orange.
That's why many consider the period we are in now, just before the regular firearms season, to be the very best deer hunting period of the fall.
Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail.