Those of us who have taken a more practical view on the interpretation of the whitetail’s rut cycle have some notions that may seem a bit heretical to the traditional “rutologists."

Those of us who have taken a more practical view on the interpretation of the whitetail’s rut cycle have some notions that may seem a bit heretical to the traditional “rutologists."


One being that the whitetail deer herds in any specific locale may be in earlier or later stages of the rut than their cousins who are “just over the hill.”


Now it’s about time to shoot instead of just talk.


Our common understanding of the whitetail is continually evolving and rolling and rolling along.


Deer hunting, on the one hand, is soaked in tradition. Yet as a new sport, it is being reinvented fresh again and again in the last 50 or so years. 


How do these “new” theories such as the Whitetail Breeding Nucleus and a more accurate timeline of its multi-faceted formation help put venison in the freezer and a rack on the wall?


One hook that we can hang our bow or gun on is a slightly different picture.


Heretofore, bow hunters were told to hunt wild whitetails in the “early season” by focusing upon food sources. And then, bow hunters were advised, “the rut is kicking into gear,” time to switch to rut tactics from food source strategies and hunt over breeding sign (scrapes and rubs.)


One question: Whitetails don’t feed during the rut?


Of course they do.


Over and over we were urged that in order to shoot the big buck in our area we had to home in on scrapes and rub sign during the rut, but prior to that, it was “hunt food sources before the bucks break out of their late summer pattern.”


And traditional theory says that early on in the season, a buck makes a rub and a scrape and moves on down the line, rarely to visit it ever again.


Whitetails not only feed during the formation of the Whitetail Breeding Nucleus, but early rutting signs near the food source can be some of the most important breeding signs found when understood as pieces of the whitetail puzzle, but not something necessarily to hang a stand over.


Bucks have been together in their bachelor groups all spring and summer, and though they put space between each other, they still communicate through rubs and scrapes -- the whitetail Internet.


Rubs and scrapes are to whitetails in the fall what gobbles are to turkeys in the spring.


Deer of course have evolved an olfactory, or scent-based, breeding system where the scent of the bucks is like the gobble of the turkey gobbler -- intimidating other bucks and attracting does just like the turkey gobbles to intimidate other toms and at the same time to attract or call hens. 


It seems that whitetail bucks are “globally” casting their scent, spreading it on every branch, leaf and patch of soil in many different ways.


As the season progresses, the dissociated (physically spread out) bachelor group still retains its olfactory cohesion, though evidently not its physical closeness.


Whitetail bucks will be drawn to the does and areas of staging or interaction near and in the food source of the day, creating olfactory based leks.


The best area to ambush the deer will become evident by a careful reading of the rubs and scrapes in key locales and their relation to the predominate food source, and the shifting to new sources as feeding preferences change, sometimes almost overnight.


Though the formation of the WBN is tied directly in space and time to the current food source, remember, as the major doe feeding area changes so will the location of the Whitetail Breeding Nucleus.


Our success in the woods is often tied to our ability to intuit, to see ahead and not simply focus on food sign at the beginning of the deer season and breeding sign in the latter part, playing catch up in the early going, and scrambling to understand how the rut is shaping up in the last half of the season.


Synthesize, combine local feeding activity with emerging breeding or rut sign as the whitetail season matures toward its critical mass and our chance for success.   


Oak Duke is publisher of the Wellsville Daily Reporter in Wellsville, N.Y. E-mail: publisher@wellsvilledaily.com