A large portion of South Carolina experiences peak rut activity within a well-defined time period.
Charles Ruth, SCDNR’s lead deer biologist, said the rut for the majority of the state will be from mid-October through mid-November.
“Localized areas can certainly experience peak rut periods anytime within that month, and it may change a bit from year to year based on external factors,” Ruth said. “The major exception to the rut in South Carolina is the Upstate, mountainous section, where the peak is a little later, in late November. With that peak time, deer rut activity likely begins earlier and can continue into December.”
“Deer will certainly be found at food sources such as agriculture fields, near water and other life necessities prior to the rut,” he said. “But overall deer activity prior to the rut is geared to basic survival needs, and most movement is associated with traveling to and from food and water sources.”
Ruth said that except for a brief period around opening day, deer activity is not high during the early season in game zones that offer August and early September hunting. But seasons opening later may already have increasing deer activity.
Ruth said that during the pre-rut phase, deer movement begins to increase and, that’s typically a short window of time just prior to the rut.
“By October, bucks are usually making scrapes and beginning to move more looking for does that are receptive for breeding,” Ruth said. “The key here is bucks are usually ready for breeding before the majority of the does are in season. But that breeding urge does create more movement by bucks, including making and checking scrapes, while looking for does. I consider the rut to be approaching a peak when the majority of doe deer in an area are in estrus and receptive.
Ruth said the rut is historically prime time for hunters to harvest big bucks. Based on the annual scoring of antlers around South Carolina, the period of mid-October to mid-November is a peak time for harvesting a trophy buck. The harvest data shows that this mid-October to mid-November time period is prime time for harvesting bucks or does in general, because movement in both sexes will increase.
Ruth said the impact of unseasonably warm weather is important.
“In the Southeast, we are subject to temperatures in the 80s anytime during the rut, and these high temperatures can negatively impact hunting,” Ruth said. “High daytime temperatures do not make the rut start or stop — because it is controlled by length of day — but rather, high temperatures decrease daytime movements by deer in favor of night. If daytime deer movements decrease, then hunters suffer the consequences.”