You’ve probably heard of the rut.

And if you’re a deer hunter, then you most definitely have. However, there may be some facts about rut that you’re not overly familiar with.


1. Rut is a word for deer breeding season, not just the peak.
It actually means all behaviors and activities associated with breeding season and can be broken into different phases.

  • Pre-rut: Does have not come into estrus — breeding cycle — but they begin to move into family groups. Bucks form bachelor groups and co-mingle with does around food. (Sounds like dating, right?)
  • Early rut: Testosterone levels rise in bucks and does enter estrus. This is a time when buck activity increases and becomes more reckless. Drivers beware as bucks move across roads without caution at this period.
  • Full rut: The majority of does are in estrus, and bucks will move farther and farther from their home turf to find does.
  • Post rut: Most breeding is over, and bucks are not as visible to people.
  • Second rut: About 26-28 days after the first full rut, remaining unbred does come into estrus for a second time. It is a short period but offers one more chance at breeding.
  • Late season: Rut is over, and bucks seek refuge in areas of cover. Deer activity revolves around feeding instead of breeding.

Some categorize rut into three phases instead — seeking, chasing and tending.

2. Rut doesn’t begin because of temperatures but because of photoperiod, or daylight length. Deer are short-day breeders, so dwindling daylight signals to them it is breeding season.

3. The first signs of rut are sparring. As testerone levels in bucks rise, they will begin to spar or fight. They may look like a shoving match early in rut, or they may look like a serious antler grudge match the closer to full rut they get.

4. Rubbing is not just to get rid of velvet. Buck antlers start out with a fuzzy velvet coating that is lost as testerone levels rise and daylight decreases. It may seem like they begin to rub trees to help their velvet come off, but rubbing truly is a way to spread scent, and some scientists think it also allows deer to visually communicate. Rubbing continues through the rut and is usually made by a buck rubbing his antlers or forehead on a tree.

Deer may also chew or lick branches to spread scent.

5. Scrapes are different from rubs. Bucks will paw a piece of ground to bare soil and will urinate in the spot.

6. Deer can perceive a variety of communicative scents. Urine, vaginal secretions, skin gland secretions, saliva — deer can sense a lot about each other through scent.

Bucks can perceive chemical signals in doe urine through the nose but also through the vomeronasal organ. You might have heard of the Jacobson’s organ in snakes (see a video about it here), and the vomeronasal organ is the same thing. Basically, there is a small opening near the center of the roof of a deer’s mouth. Bucks will taste a doe’s urine, closes his nostrils and flicks the scent of the urine into his vomeronasal organ. This organ then sends the chemical signals to the hypothalamus — the part of the brain that controls reproduction.

7. Does breed once they reach a certain weight. You might think it’s age, but does usually breed when they reach 70-80 pounds instead.

Photo of a doe
8. Does can breed with multiple bucks. If a receptive doe breeds with a buck that is the run off by a more dominant buck while she is still receptive, she can breed multiple times.

Graphic about deerRead about nine adorable Iowa mammals like the whitetail deer!

How deer survive the winter

When walking through deep snow, it’s always easier when someone else leads. That person gets tired breaking the trail, but everyone who walks in his or her footsteps has an easier time of it. That is one reason that deer congregate during the winter. When they all use the same network of trails through the…

Read More

5 things you didn’t know about white-tailed deer

1. Hollow hairs help them stay warm in the winter. Have you ever seen a deer that has snow on its back that doesn’t melt? It makes people shiver to think about walking around covered in snow — isn’t the deer freezing? However, it’s actually that frozen snow that shows just how warm a deer…

Read More

Color this picture for a two-in-one experience

I was scrolling through Pinterest when a video caught my eye. I don’t usually like watching videos, but it showed a neat craft where you color one picture, fold it like an accordion and depending on how you look at it, it becomes two pictures. “I can make that,” I thought. It took me a…

Read More

Why turkeys look so odd

Turkeys are odd-looking creatures. With their bumpy red heads, hanging flaps of skin around their faces and large tails, wild turkeys are quite a sight. The odd parts of their bodies also have interesting names and purposes. Let’s look at some of the body parts that make a turkey unique. What’s a snood? The snood…

Read More

Extirpated mammals in Iowa

After European settlement, osprey were extirpated in Iowa. Many of the wetlands were drained and water quality lowered as the landscape changed, and these fishing birds of prey sought homes in other areas. However, in the early 2000s, after years of concentrated efforts to improve water quality in the Iowa Great Lakes area, osprey returned…

Read More

Nine adorable Iowa mammals

Mammals are usually the creatures that garner oohs and aahs when people see them on hikes, in their yards or even in zoos and conservation centers. They’re usually furry and cuddly with adorable eyes. (Some are ugly though — read about them here) Iowa has 57 different common mammal species, and some are charismatic while…

Read More

Not nocturnal, crepuscular!

I remember when I first heard the word. Our environmental education coordinator was talking about nocturnal animals, and then stated that skunks aren’t always nocturnal but can also be crepuscular. “What?” Yes. Crepuscular. Cre-puss-cue-ler. It means simply that an animal is active at dawn and dusk. It’s not quite diurnal — meaning that it’s active…

Read More

Leave a Comment