The rut, the peak of whitetail breeding, is the most eagerly awaited portion of deer season for a very good reason: big bucks are on the move. The reproductive urge in high gear means deer move literally around the clock.

Charles Ruth, the biologist who oversees deer for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources captured in a single sentence how and why the rut dramatically impacts deer hunters.

“The rut is the period when the urge to reproduce and propagate the species trumps even a big buck’s normally very high-level survival instinct,” he said. 

Many sportsmen in the Carolinas hunt throughout deer season; others try to time the rut, hoping to focus on the most-productive hunting opportunities. Knowing how deer behavior changes when the rut is imminent is a crucial signal.

Darrell Madden from Semora, N.C., a member of Bass Pro Shops’ Redhead pro staff, has hunted deer most of his 55 years. He said many keys to timing the rut can be observed. When the rut is near, he said deer of both sexes show a marked increase in activity.

“Significantly increased deer activity means the rut is near,” he said. “I look for deer activity by slipping into areas and using binoculars to scan fields, particularly isolated corners, as well as checking roads and edges from long range. I also observe a corresponding decrease in deer activity (around) what had been productive early season stands as a sign of deer on the move. This movement is usually from early season patterns to habitat conducive for breeding season.”

Madden get deeper in the habitat looking for scrapes, rubs and other buck sign relating to the rut, usually