Use the Sportsman 2017 rut prediction to start planning your hunts for this season. It might also help to look at the long range weather forecast and see when the cold fronts are predicted to roll in.

Hunting the rut

Hunters today should be well aware of how important it is to hunt deer during the rut — the breeding season of the whitetail. Much has been written on this subject; there are countless books available that explain hunting techniques that hunters can use while hunting. There are also the usual magazine articles written annually concerning the rut, how and when to hunt. For many years now Louisiana Sportsman magazine has published my prediction for the rut in the Bayou State. I spent my wildlife career looking at the breeding season of Louisiana deer and have spent countless hours in the deer stand in pursuit of this great game animal. Trust me, if you want to connect with a buck, the rut is the time to do it.

In the fall, when the antlers of the bucks lose their velvet and harden, they are ready to breed. However, it is the doe that determines when that will happen. Decreasing daylight hours in the fall is the key that sets the rut in motion.

When does the rut happen?

The rut occurs in phases and generally includes the pre-rut, a period of heavy scrape activity, a period of chasing or following a doe, a time of breeding, and then the post-rut. During the pre-rut period bucks begin to feed heavily in preparation for the rut. They often feed together in groups; there also will be a brief period of time when bucks open up old scrapes or create new ones. This activity occurs a month ahead of the peak breeding period and is the time when a hunter can hunt a major feeding area and connect with a buck. 

The peak scraping period occurs between the new moon and full moon; the time for this activity can be just a few days or it can last a week or so. Last season (2016) I predicted the peak scraping period for Area 2 would take place from Oct. 29 to Nov. 13, then the first peak of breeding activity would take place from Nov. 14-28. I was hunting with friends in Union Parish from Nov. 7-9 and two of the guys killed adult bucks. Neither was chasing a doe but it was apparent that they had been working scrapes based on tarsal gland staining.

On the cold morning of Nov. 10 I was hunting with my friend Ken in Bossier Parish. We had both set out scent stations in the area where we were hunting. At daylight I could see a deer standing on the right of way and could tell it was a buck but couldn’t make out points on the rack. The buck moved across the ROW and went directly to the first scent site I had hung up as I went to my stand in the early morning darkness. The buck went into the woods and I proceeded to start grunting every 10 minutes or so. About 30 minutes later I saw movement and spied a nice 8-point walking out of the woods and across the ROW toward another scent station. I picked the Remington .30-’06 up and dropped the deer in its tracks. There were no does in sight but it was evident that this buck had been working scrapes.

We had killed bucks that were not chasing does but were walking around in search of them, during the period of scrape activity. Hunting scrapes during that first peak of breeding is a great time to connect with a buck that you might have photographed at a feeder or eating acorns. Setting cameras up on scrapes will provide insight as to when this time period begins and will also provide photos of the bucks working scrapes; several bucks will work a single scrape, along with the does. This is a time when a hunter can go on the offensive and use fake scrapes, deer scents and deer calls.

You might read in some of the popular deer hunting magazines that there is no such thing as a second rut. As I mentioned, I spent a career looking at the breeding season of deer in Louisiana and can honestly say that a second peak of breeding does occur in this state. Most of these articles are written about deer hunting in the northern and Midwestern states. There is a major difference in deer hunting in these states and in Louisiana with the primary difference being that these other states have a distinct winter. The peak breeding month for deer in these states is November and breeding is short and sweet because Old Man Winter moves in fast come December. When winter hits, deer go into the survival mode and cannot afford to use up the energy that is required during the rut. Energy is needed to keep warm and survive. Winter can be a hit and miss thing in this state and it might be 85 degrees on Dec. 25 in Louisiana. Our deer do not have to deal with the rigors of a hard winter as deer in the northern states do.

These articles will say that the fawns born in May and June in these states may often mature and have their first estrus cycle following the peak breeding period and gives the appearance of a second rut. I have looked at enough female reproductive tracts from October through February in Louisiana and can tell you that there are adult does that do not cycle during the first month of breeding activity and do cycle during the second month of breeding. I also have found that hunting during this second month of breeding, especially on areas that have a good population of adult bucks, can be as exciting as the peak breeding period.

This past season I was finishing up the season hunting on Jan. 15 in Area 4. I had predicted that Jan. 11-25 would be the second round of breeding in this part of the state. I was making a short hunt on this day in the evening, hunting a green patch that bordered a big clear-cut. I was in the stand at 4:30 and immediately began bleating loudly with a large cow horn type doe bleat. I would repeat the bleating every 20 minutes or so and at 5:10 looked up and saw a great 8-point with 12-inch G-2s and G-3s standing in the patch looking around. Again the .30-’06 roared and the buck hit the ground. Don’t pass up an opportunity to hunt the second round of breeding in this state, especially when those cold fronts pass through. Rattling and grunting will work in this state, but the timing to do this is very important. Again hunting during the time of scrape activity puts the hunter on the offensive and may result in a tag on a nice buck.

Hunting Areas 3, 7, 8 and 10

The rut in southwest Louisiana is the earliest in the state. While the temperatures tend to be on the warm side, the rutting activity goes on. When the days are warm the daytime activity of deer will be poor, with activity increasing as it begins to cool down in the late evening. The public lands are open early to give hunters the opportunity to take advantage of hunting deer during the rut. Hunters should not wait until the traditional Thanksgiving hunts to venture out on these areas. Bowhunters have an excellent opportunity to hunt feeding areas during the pre-rut, especially the oaks that are dropping acorns.

Hunting Area 2

Last season in Area 2 a club in Bossier Parish killed the majority of their bucks between Oct. 15 and Nov. 15, primarily during the time of heavy scraping activity. This year the hunters should see the same type of buck activity during this same period of time. I have noticed over my hunting years that seeing bucks actually breeding does is a rare sight. It appears the deer go into hiding during the actual time of breeding, so if you hunt on these days and do not see deer, this might be the reason. By January the rut is pretty much over with in Area 2, other than on those areas that have deer with the later breeding genetics. Hunting the feeding areas on those cold January days may be the ticket for filling any remaining deer tags.

Hunting Area 4, 5 and 9

Hunters will experience the usual late November, early December rut this season which is the average for this part of the state. Watch the cold fronts and plan your hunts accordingly. Trees are dropping acorns in October and this is a good set up for bow hunters, even though the days might be warm. The season extends through January in these areas giving hunters plenty of time to fill tags, however keep in mind that a new quota system is in place for hunters in these areas so read the rules. Quotas apply to public lands also which is important for hunters who hunt on both private and public lands to keep in mind. Hunters in Area 5 may experience the later rut days typical for Area 6. This new area was created from Area 9 in order to better manage high water during the season.

Hunting Areas 1 and 6

Hunters in these areas will see the usual Christmas rut activity with chasing occurring in early January, which is typical for these deer. Tier 1 DMAP lands will be able to have hunting during the second round of breeding activity in February. This is generally a time of winter for Louisiana and the days should be cold and deer activity good. However, heavy hunting pressure prior to breeding activity will put deer in the alert mode and hunters often need to change their hunting tactics in order to score. Hunting areas of heavy escape cover and leaving the permanent deer stands may be necessary.

In summary

Hunter excitement is high in each area of the state as the deer seasons open in the various areas. Public land hunters have an advantage over private land hunters in that they can move around the state hunting new lands as those seasons open up. The advantage that private land hunters have is the control of hunting pressure on the deer. In any event, when a cold front moves across the state it is time to be in the deer stand. Hunt as the front approaches, during the front if the weather is not too harsh and certainly hunt the days following the front. Cold weather is generally short-lived in this state so take full advantage of these good hunting days. Consult the Farmers’ Almanac regarding the cold days and the Sportsman’s Rut Prediction calendar and plan your hunts. There are no guarantees in this world but it certainly helps to have as much going for you as you can, so take advantage of this information; it might just put some meat on the table and a rack on the wall. Always report your harvest, this information is a must for LDWF to properly manage our deer herds.