Now Is The Time

While Area 2 hunters have called it quits for the year, the rut is just now cranking up in the delta regions of Areas 1 and 6.

For Area 2 hunters, January 2011 means the 2010/11 deer season is pretty much over, and it is time to clean up and pack up the deer-hunting gear.

However, in the delta parishes of Area 1 and in the upper Area 6 parishes, January 2011 is the time for the first month of breeding activity, and hunters know that this is their time to connect with a wall-hanger.

In the parishes of Areas 1 and 6 where December is the first month for breeding activity, January 2011 will be the second month of the rut. This is the area that I hunt, and for the past three years, January has been the month that I have seen the biggest bucks. Unless I have been really blessed with having the opportunity to use all my buck tags in December on good adult bucks, I make sure I have one tag left for the last week of January, which is when I have seen the really good ones.

This so-called late rut is really not late at all; it is happening right on schedule based on the genetics of the deer in these parishes. It is just happening late in the deer-hunting schedule set by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Most of the does are having their first estrus cycle, and will be bred during the month of January. Those that do not cycle will have their estrus period a month later, and those that do not breed (this is not very common) will also cycle again in February.

Because so many of these does are cycling at the same time, a buck does not have to move very far to find a hot doe. Hunters may or may not see a lot of chases because of this.

In January, however, the cold fronts are generally more frequent, and this can up ones chances for success due to the does moving to eat. When the does move, the bucks will be behind them. Hunters on small tracts can benefit from this restricted deer movement if they have done the habitat work that attracted deer and the deer incorporated this property into their core area. When the rut is on, the key to success is to hunt hard for several days. Hunters who can only hunt on the weekends are not going to fare as well as those who have the flexibility to stay with the sign.

I hunt in the Clinton area, where December is the first month of breeding, and January is the second month of breeding. The buck activity level, in my opinion, is much higher this second month than the first. I believe the reason for this is that there are just a few does that will be ovulating, and the competition among the bucks to find and breed them is very high.

The landowners in the area that I hunt practice quality deer management, and there is a good population of adult bucks.

The buck activity, such as making rubs and working scrapes, increases as does their movement to find these does. Telemetry studies often report a higher movement of bucks during the latter stages of the rut, and I believe this is due to them searching hard to find those few remaining estrus does.

In order to be successful when hunting the rut, one must know when the rut is going to occur in the area hunted. Most hunters should know when the breeding takes place on the land they are hunting; this is well documented by LDWF. Louisiana Sportsman magazine publishes the rut dates every year.

When the gun season opens in Area 2 (see Table 1), the rut is kicking off so it is important for Area 2 hunters to be out there on the opening days and during the month of November. That’s not the case in Areas 1 and 6.

In these areas, it is not that important to be out there for the opening days in November, especially if weather conditions are not good. Hunting days would be better spent during the breeding months, the time when the bucks are active.

Tables 2 and 3 show exactly what I am writing about. The trophy buck kill is happening in Area 2, but as the data shows, it is not until the pre-rut begins in late December in upper Area 6 that the buck activity starts, as does the buck harvest. Hunters with limited vacation time would be wise to use it at the time when deer activity is high.

For the last three years, I have been keeping records of my hunting activity, and have documented my sightings of 13 adult bucks. Table 4 shows the results of my encounters. The popped cap was a really nice 16-inch-plus (inside spread) 8-point that did not stay around for me to put another cap on the nipple. Normally I check the fire hole on my two muzzleloaders before going out, but on this morning I skipped that procedure.

As shown by Table 5, most of the success I have with adult bucks is during the breeding months. Only one buck has been harvested during the days of November. This deer was killed on a day when the temperature was cold and had been cold for a couple of days, and the barometric pressure had been steadily rising that morning. It was a buck that I had not previously seen; it had 10 points with palmated beams, was 4½ years old and weighed 190 pounds. It came walking through the green patch I had elected to hunt at 8:45 a.m.

As the table shows there is no difference between the months of December and January, according to my hunting success. Hunting between the breeding splits will pay off as the bucks spend a few days to refuel and feed prior to going back chasing the does during the next month. If the acorns have played out, this is a good time to hunt near a feeder or green patch.

I am fortunate that I get to gun hunt both months of breeding; the upper Area 6 hunters do not get to gun hunt during the second breeding month of February. Hunters in this area who either bowhunt or hunt deer with a crossbow would be wise to take advantage of the two weeks in February.

I have found that hunting deer when the barometric pressure is rising is a time of good deer movement and will keep me on the deer stand. Table 6 shows what my data says about barometric pressure. All of the sightings are between 28.3 and 30.3 HG with the HG above 30 being a great time.

Charles Alsheimer of Deer and Deer Hunting magazine has written that deer move best when the barometric pressure is between 29.8 and 30.29. Jim Nelson wrote in a September 2010 Outdoor Life article that a barometric pressure reading of 30 or more will increase the daylight activity of deer.

The barometric pressure is an easy piece of data that is readily obtained from the weather folks, and is easy to track. Knowing what the BP is doing is a must for the serious deer hunter.

Next to the BP, the other weather data that is a must for me is the temperature. Usually the two go hand in hand. As Table 7 points out, all of my encounters occur when the temperature is below 60 degrees. Of course this data set may be biased because when the temperature rises above 60, I am out of the deer stand. It is time to do other things. One picture that you will not see is that of me holding a nice adult buck wearing a T-shirt. When it’s hot, my time is spent hunting the pigs and small game or doing chores.

Many hunters will put stock in the moon phase. Table 8 shows that the phase of the moon did not have an impact on my hunting success. I experienced encounters with adult bucks during all the various phases.

Some hunters may be surprised by Table 9. Most of my encounters occur in the mornings, generally around the time when the sun is up and has begun to warm the landscape.

During the breeding months, most of my hunting is done with the idea of connecting with an adult buck. I look for the rubs and scrapes, and will hunt the travel corridors leading to them, or hunt the corridors where bucks are moving to and from feeding and bedding areas. I do not spend a lot of time on food plots or feeders, unless the sign indicates the bucks are moving or using these areas.

No doubt many hunters are successful in the late-afternoon hour of the day. If I were to look at the doe-harvest data, it might show that the afternoon hours are good for me. The two adult does that I killed last year in January were killed on a food plot in the last few minutes of daylight.

As I mentioned, finding sign and being able to stay on the sign is a must for a hunter during the rut. This is one reason I retired three years ago; I wanted to be able to hunt when the time was right and have the ability to stay on it and hunt for several days.

If I had to limit myself to hunting only during one month of the year, I would have to choose the month of January based upon the activity level that I have observed during this three-year period.

There was a time, however, when I absolutely had to be out there for opening day, but now I have learned that in the late season the best is yet to come.

About David Moreland 241 Articles
David Moreland is a retired wildlife biologist with LDWF, having served as the State Deer Biologist for 13 years and as Chief of the Wildlife Division for three years. He and his wife Prudy live in rural East Feliciana Parish.

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