Back in my high school days I played a little third base. There was a skinny kid from one of the neighboring schools, who gave me fits. The kid batted right-handed and was a straight pull hitter. I mean this kid had never hit a ball to right in his life. If I shifted towards the bag, the skinny kid would slap one through the gap between the shortstop and me. The next time I would move over toward shorstop, and the kid would drill one right over the bag. Every time we played that team, the skinny kid made me look bad.
I got to thinking about those old high school games and the skinny kid after an exciting, but frustrating day of bowhunting in northeast Iowa. It was November 10th, and one of those mornings you dream about. It was clear, cold and so calm you could hear a field mouse expel gas at 100 yards. It was one of those mornings when you can just feel it… you know what I mean? I knew something good was going to happen on this day.
Deer On The Move
Twice in the 20 minutes it took for shooting light to seep out of the night sky, I heard deer running in the timber below the ridge on which I perched. It was so still that the deer sounded like they were right under the wind-twisted oak to which I had strapped my stand. However, they were probably actually far below along the tired, little creek.
The light was still murky when I heard another deer coming my way. The doe blasted from the edge of the woods, darted into a field of CRP and came running full tilt right at my tree along the seam where frost coated grass met dark timber. Right behind her came a hog-fat, heavy-horned, wide-butt Iowa mega-buck. In an instant the doe blew right past my tree, the buck chugging along 20 yards behind. I drew and grunted at the buck to get him to stop. If he heard me, he sure didn’t acknowledge it. I let out a loudblaaat! He kept right on motoring. Flustered now, I swung with him, hit the release and watched the yellow and white fletching disappear into the grass six feet behind him.
I was still kicking myself for taking a shot I know better than to take, when another doe came running full tilt over a gentle hill in the CRP field. Behind her were a pair of immature bucks, both looking to be basket-racked 8 points. The trio darted into a finger of brush jutting into the CRP about 200 yards south of my perch and disappeared.
More Bucks Chasing Does
The next hour was quiet. Then I heard deer running again, this time behind me. It was another doe being chased by a buck. They ran by below my stand in the heavy timber and then came squirting out that same finger of brush the threesome had run into an hour earlier. Through binoculars I studied the buck as he hotfooted after the doe across the CRP. It was not huge, but a nice buck with long tines but lacking the mass of a mature animal. I started to think about moving my stand to that brushy draw.
An hour later, having seen no more deer, I did move my stand. I planned to hunt all day, and I thought I might as well be in the best spot. right? Guess where the next deer I saw walked? Yes, right under that oak I had just vacated! It was a nice buck, too. And it was walking and not running. By dark I had seen three more bucks, although I think two of them were the same 8-pointer I had seen cross the CRP earlier. One of them ran a doe in circles around that oak in which I had spent most of the morning. It kind of reminded me of how I felt when that skinny kid kept slapping that ball through the holes where I used to be.
That’s the chase phase for you. Lots of action, but trying to pick the precise stand location to best take advantage of that activity will drive you nuts.
Scraping, Breeding Periods
There are two main periods to the annual whitetail rut: the scraping period and the breeding period. In the northern half of the whitetails’ range, these two periods are well defined because the breeding period occurs at a predictable time each year and is short and intense in duration. This is nature’s way of ensuring that the fawns will be dropped late enough in the spring to miss those deadly spring blizzards, but not so late that the youngsters are too small to make it through their first winter.
In the southern states, where it is not critical that does give birth during a short and specific period, the breeding tends to be dragged out over weeks and in some cases months. That makes it impossible to predict the timing of the main periods of the rut, much less the chase phase.
In those areas with a well-defined rut, the chase phase occurs at the end of the scraping period and just prior to the first wave of does entering estrous. The bucks have worked themselves into a frenzy by this time. They are primed and ready for action. To ensure that a doe has a buck already on the hook when she is ready to be bred, does begin to give off scent signals a day or two prior to actually entering estrous. The bucks pick up these signals and the chase is on.
Of course the doe is not ready to stand for the buck yet, so the doe has to stay on the move constantly. When you get multiple does in this condition in your hunting area, you are in for a real circus. When it comes to seeing numbers of deer, both bucks and does, no other time compares with the short, but intense chase phase of the rut.
Getting It On Your Calendar
Because the chase phase is short-lived, timing is critical. Fortunately, predicting when the chase phase will occur is not difficult. The peak of the breeding period is a five-day to seven-day whitetail orgy, which falls on about the same dates annually. During this time, about 70 percent of the does are bred.
It’s true that the moon phase, weather, herd condition and hunting pressure all can have an influence on the exact timing and the intensity of daytime movement during the breeding period. However, the dates will not vary by more than a few days in either direction from year to year.
Nearly all game and fish departments will be able to furnish you with the dates of the peak of the breeding period in the state you are hunting. Once you know that the peak of the breeding period is from, let’s say, November 15-20 in the state you are hunting, you can bet that the chase phase is going to occur sometime in the week prior to it. In this case, I would be looking for chase phase action between November 8-15.
Don’t expect the chase phase to last the entire eight days, however. A couple of days of non-stop chasing is more the norm, but the chase phase will occur sometime during this period. The exact timing depending upon the dates of the peak of breeding for that year.
Read about some tactics for hunting The Chase Phase in Part 2.
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Gary Clancy writes a weekly column for sportsmansguide.com. Gary has hunted whitetail deer in 20 different states and provinces. He has harvested many record-book animals, and presented hunting seminars from Tennessee to Wisconsin. Gary also has authored or co-authored six hunting books, four on whitetail hunting.