Alert Whitetail Buck
Photo Credit: Blake Fegler

The American Whitetail Deer is the most hunted big game species in North America. With a geographic range from Canada to Central America, covering the East, Midwest, and parts of the Western United States, Whitetail dominate the deer species.

Each year as fall approaches, many western state hunters look forward to a couple of golden weeks in September for elk and November for mule deer. However, due to the massive geographic location of Whitetail, the rut starts earlier in the fall up north and progresses towards the south as the year comes to a close. With such a long timeline, many hunters follow the rut by hunting many states over the course of several months rather than being confined to a couple weeks.

Home Court Advantage

  • Whitetail Deer normally live in one area, which is also called a “home” location. Unlike Mule Deer, which migrate from high to low country, Whitetail bucks stick to specific patterns of activity during a majority of the year. Yet even slight changes to their local habitat can cause them to alter this behavior.
  • Their home area is dependent on food sources, water, and shelter.
  • Many mature bucks use scrapes, rubs, and other territory markings to establish their dominance.

    Non-typical Whitetail Deer
    Photo Credit: JJ Pugh
  • Hunter’s note – If hunting pre-rut or post-rut, these home areas may prove more successful due to consistent deer patterns. However, placing ground blinds and tree stands well before the hunt begins will help the deer acclimate to the changes in their territory and increase your success rate.

Race of the Rut

  • As the rut gets underway, mature bucks leave their home locations in search of estrous does. A mature buck typically stays within a close distance of these does for up to 24 hours. At the same time, he will search out other females within the area so that he is able to go back and forth between the different locations, thus disregarding his
    typically cautious behavior.
  • Hunter’s note – Most bucks take a more direct route to females during the peak of the rut and will not stick to those homegrown patterns they normally use. When setting up in an area, remember there is a good chance you will see these migratory bucks during pre-rut or post-rut seasons that weren’t present during scouting.

The Sound of Silence

  • Unlike most other deer species, Whitetails rely on a large vocabulary to communicate due to their usual habitat of heavily forested areas.
  • These sounds range from grunts to bleats, to pawing at the ground.
  • The clashing of antlers between fighting bucks will call attention to receptive females and act as a warning to other males in the area.
  • Hunter’s note – Knowing when to use various hunting calls and sounds depends on the level of deer activity. Pay close attention to the sounds around you before you start using a call. Improper use of calls can quickly shut down the deer activity in an area.

With their diverse characteristics, relatively consistent location patterns, and long rutting periods, the American Whitetail Deer are an enjoyable species to hunt. They also provide excellent table fare. Mule Deer are feeling the push as Whitetail have begun to encroach into the Western States. Whitetail deer are such a dominating and territorial animal that when confronted, most Mule Deer, though bigger in size, will avoid the confrontation and move out of an area permanently. Along with the Mule Deer Foundation, many state wildlife agencies, such as Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana are taking action to remedy this problem. They are offering additional hunts, longer seasons, and allowing more harvests per person. These agencies are creating new and exciting opportunities for the western Whitetail hunters.

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  1. […] After about 30 miles of hiking in two days, not finding a single shed, our weekend luck needed to change. For whatever reason, this year the elk were not in the area they usually were shedding their precious brown gold for us to find. We searched and hiked and had a good time finding new country, but they just weren’t on the ground to be found. With only one morning to go on our trip that was now a bust, we decided to try and change our bad luck and do a couple of stands with the predator call before heading back home. […]