“I’ll take the rut; you can have everything else.” - Famed Texas whitetail biologist Murphy Ray, as quoted by outdoor writer Ray Sasser in View From a Tower Blind
It’s mid November in the Red River Valley and that means that the whitetail rut is kicking into high gear.
Even if mild weather is keeping at least some of that breeding activity under the cover of darkness as mature bucks and does keep the whitetail species going for another year.
But don’t take my word for it — take the word of a professional wildlife biologist, in this case Dallas Barber, the big game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“Down there (in the Red River Valley), you’re usually looking at the second week of November for seeing peak rut activity,” said Barber, an Edmond native who took his ODWC post at the beginning of September.
In case you haven’t noticed on the calendar, it’s the second week of November as this is written, meaning that the annual breeding circus is now underway on both sides of the river.
“Even with above normal temperatures, the timing of the rut shouldn’t change too terribly much,” said Barber, an avid deer hunter and duck hunter who graduated from Oklahoma State University.
“The timing of the rut is based on the length of daylight, or the photo-period, not the temperatures we’re having,” he added. “It shouldn’t change too terribly much from year to year.”
One tipoff for the peak of rutting activity is almost always the presence of a few dead deer along the side of rural roadways, a serious by-product of high speed automobiles and bucks chasing does.
Talking to one hunter south of the river this week, he hadn’t seen anything yet in terms of road-killed whitetails, while another just north of the Red saw three road-killed deer in a couple of days.
As Thanksgiving Day approaches, expect those numbers of road-killed whitetails to increase as the rut begins to peak.
Keep in mind is that biologists define the peak of the rut as the peak of breeding activity when most does in an area get successfully bred.
What do most hunters define as the peak of the rut? The crazy days when the woods are alive with bucks chasing does, throwing caution to the wind and exposing themselves in daylight hours for all the world to see.
When will that heaviest chasing phase be? Barber says that in his state, it’s happening right now. And if that’s the case, you can bet that North Texas isn’t far behind.
“I have been getting lots of reports of chasing and even breeding in some areas,” he said in an ODWC news release earlier this week.
While no real below normal cold is forecast over the next week, that shouldn’t matter much to the deer said Barber.
“I don’t think it will make too much difference,” he said. “They’ve still got to go through the rut and it’s going to happen regardless of what the temperatures happen to be.”
What advice does the ODWC big game biologist have for hunters heading afield this weekend as the Sooner State gun season begins its Nov. 18-Dec. 3 run?
“The best prescription I can give is to get out and spend as much time in a stand as you can,” laughed Barber. “This current timeframe is the best chance that hunters will have to see a mature buck up and on his feet during daylight hours.”
Loosely translated, that means that a hunter is as likely to kill a mature buck during the middle of the day right now as they are at first and last light, sage advice that bowhunters at this weekend’s Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge Segment B archery hunt in Grayson County would be wise to heed.
“Yes, they are up and on their feet all day,” said Barber. “It doesn’t really seem to matter what the time of day is when they’ve got one thing - breeding - on their mind.”
In addition to sitting in a good stand all day right now, the ODWC biologist also says that wise hunters will follow the does…because the bucks certainly will.
“I’d suggest really focusing on doe heavy areas on your hunting ground,” said Barber. “Doe bedding areas and feeding grounds are magnets for bucks, who are going to be scent checking those areas pretty frequently as does begin to come into estrous.”
Next, Barber said to never overlook a good travel corridor during the rut.
“Yeah, you never want to overlook funnels and bottlenecks that will pinch deer movement down through certain spots where you hunt,” he said.
Along those same lines, don’t overlook an isolated thicket where a mature buck might take a doe about to come into estrous. He wants to keep his lady friend to himself, and in his haste to do so, a wise old buck may fail to notice you waiting in the wings on the perimeter.
Finally, take every chance you get to slip off into the deer woods over the next week, emptying your bag of tricks including grunt calls, antler rattling, decoy usage, and the use of bottled scents like Tink’s 69, Code Blue, or Wildlife Research Center’s Special Golden Estrous.
Because the bottom line is that right now, you just never know what might happen in the local deer woods.
“Yes, you definitely want to pack a lunch and punch the clock,” said Barber. “During the November rut, you want to put as much time as you can in the woods right now because as the old saying goes, you can’t kill one on the couch!”
With all of this in mind, there’s little doubt that over the next seven to 10 days, whitetail hunting will be a lot of fun for hunters here in the Red River Valley.
“Honestly, during the first two weeks of November, there’s never a bad day to be in the woods,” said Barber. “My biggest piece of advice is to know your local deer and when you see it kick off, you know it’s time to be in the stand.
“This is definitely one of those times to pack a sandwich and to sit all day long because you never really know when a trophy deer is going to make an appearance.”
With nothing but love on his mind, just before you settle your sight pin or crosshairs on his boiler-room, trying to remember what the phone number of your taxidermist is.