When it comes to breeding, white-tailed deer are like the light switches you use every day. Does equate to the plain old on/off switches, and bucks are like dimmer switches. When it comes to being receptive (and fertile) the doe is either on or off. As the primary rut winds down and more and more doe switches are flipped to “off” position, the bucks’ breeding drive dims and uses less energy, but is not completely turned off. Given any opportunity, a buck will pursue and breed a doe that’s “turned on.”

About four weeks after the peak of the primary rut, whatever that timing may be where you hunt, does unbred in the first period, and reportedly a substantial number of yearling does orphaned during the earlier hunting seasons, will cycle again. In effect, their breeding switches flip back to the on position. So bucks crank back up to high beam pursuit even though they’re still haggard, under-nourished, and gaunt from the primary rut.

The “second rut” is a terrific opportunity to bag a trophy buck that eluded you during the primary rut and the earlier hunting seasons. Here are some tips that may help:


  • Find Does; You’ll Find the Bucks…As winter approaches, deer herd up. Does in particular concentrate. As the second rut heats up, bucks will stay in the vicinity of the doe concentrations to keep checking for individual does whose switches flip back to “on” position. During the primary rut, the deer movement is usually over a greater range and more helter skelter. When you’re hunting the rut, you can encounter bucks and does almost anywhere at any time. That happens far less during the second rut, as the does stay closer to home and with their female kin. So find a concentration of does, do your best to not pressure them to move, and hang around the margins. Chances are good you’ll encounter multiple bucks doing the same.
  • Food Is Important…While the true “post-rut” period is still coming when bucks and does will move into a feeding area and pretty much live there trying to pack on the pounds before the worst of the winter, this is post rut for the does bred during the primary rut. They are ready to start eating to fuel early gestation, so the doe herd and the following bucks will select bedding locations closer to prime late-season food sources like standing corn and other ag, late mast crops, etc.
  • Hunt Travel Corridors…Again, think concentrated. The deer are gathered. The bedding areas are closer to food sources, so the travel paths are shorter and fewer. That’s both an opportunity and a warning. You have fewer decisions in positioning your stand as there will be fewer well-worn trails. But you must approach with care not to spook and pressure the concentrated deer. There are more eyes, ears and noses to deal with. As always, look for pinch points in travel paths.
  • Hunt All Times, All Methods…When a buck’s dimmer switch is turned up, it’s up 24/7. The drive is to search out every doe wherever and whenever her switch flips on. So, as in the primary rut, you need to be in your stand as much as possible. Your chances of encountering bucks are high throughout the day. In some locations, the second rut will occur during a prolonged firearms season. In others it’s likely to happen after the general gun season, but during muzzleloader and/or archery seasons. Stay versatile and take the opportunities that come your way. The late rut is a perfect reason to extend your season and enjoy other forms of hunting than you may have tried before.