I’ve recently had the privilege of discussing Florida’s rut with a handful of fellow deer hunters which were full of questions. They were mostly confused by the lack of signs indicating rutting activity on some of the local WMA’s. To be sure, Florida’s rut cycles can be tricky to predict; especially for out of state hunters unfamiliar with our southern whitetail.
Before I go too far, it’s probably best that I explain a bit about the rut in general. First off, the rut is the breeding period for whitetail deer. It occurs most commonly in the Fall and Winter months and it comes and goes in cycles, usually about every twenty-days. Each cycle can last anywhere from a week to ten days and the bucks will travel day and night in search of receptive does, making them most vulnerable to those of us hunting them.
The gentlemen were seeing so few rubs and scrapes that they understood the lack of signs to mean that there simply weren’t any bucks left on the public lands they had attempted to hunt on. I assured them that nothing could be farther from the truth. The problem that they were facing basically stems from mismanaging our deer herd in the past.
I also want to explain some of the terms I’ve used in connection with the rut. Rubs…. Rubs are smaller trees, usually softwood saplings that a buck will spar with in order to strengthen his muscles in preparation for having to fight other bucks for breeding rights within the local herd. He’ll hook and thrash, then rub and shove his antlers violently into the trees stripping most of the bark off them and breaking away limbs. Scrapes…. Well, they’re sort of a bulletin board for depositing personal scent markers to let does and other bucks know that they are in his territory. They will paw an area out on the ground, free of any litter. The pawing of the scrape deposits the buck’s interdigital gland secretions from between his toes, he’ll then squat and urinate over his hocks to wash the scents from his tarsal glands, lastly, he’ll chew and rub the preorbital gland scent, located near his eyes, onto an overhanging limb before wandering off to repeat the process elsewhere.
Now, mismanaged herd, did I say? Yes, for years we were allowed to harvest two bucks a day throughout the entirety of the hunting season. Thankfully, our FWC has ended such lax rules that allowed the ratio of bucks to does, to get so far out of whack. In some areas of our state, the ratio can be as high as one buck to every fifteen does in the woods. With a ratio like that, nearly all of the bucks will get an opportunity to breed, plenty loving to go around so no need to fight (no need to rub in preparation) and no scrapes (plenty does to go around, why be territorial?).
The rut will still come and go and when it does, your opportunity to find success will surely increase. Look for the signs, ask about them with others hunting the area and if still uncertain, make a call to your regional biologist to get yourself on schedule; it’s in your favor if you do.
As always, if you have any questions or comments on this week’s column, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]. God bless and good hunting!