Even though Michigan's firearm season for whitetail deer is November 15 that doesn't necessarily mean that is when the bucks are in full rut.

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What is the Rut?

David C. Stephens/Getty Images
David C. Stephens/Getty Images
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So what is the rut? It is the name of the deer breeding season that happens in three phases, seeking, chasing, and breeding.

Two Deer Sparring during rut
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Usually, the first signs are when you see bucks sparring and not fighting early in the Michigan archery season. It's like their prep for when the real fighting begins.

Whitetail Deer Rub on tree.
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After the sparring phase, bucks will begin to separate and you will begin to find bucks marking their territories with buck rubs. Not long after that, you will start finding scrapes on the ground that bucks urinate on so the female deer know they are there. It's like a deer date. Does will also use these to mark when they are coming through the area.

A white-tail deer buck, with large antlers, chases a doe, during the rut.
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Then finally the chasing phase where bucks are after does that are in estrous. It is a great time to be in the woods.

David C. Stephans/Getty Images
David C. Stephans/Getty Images
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Bucks perform characteristic displays in order to make themselves more visually appealing to females. They even like to wear cologne to entice the does by using secretions from glands and soaking in their own urine. Probably doesn't sound too glamorous to non-hunters but to Michigan whitetail hunters this is a glorious time to be in the woods.

The Rut Moves a Little Each Year

Doug Meek/Getty Images
Doug Meek/Getty Images
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I have hunted for a long time and pay close attention every year to the deer activity to try and predict the best time to be in the woods every day. I believe the rut moves a little each just like the position of the moon moves each year. I don't just rely on the moon, because air temperature and weather patterns are a big part of it.

EEI_Tony/Getty Images/iStockphoto
EEI_Tony/Getty Images/iStockphoto
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The second full moon following the autumnal equinox, hunters call the rutting moon. This is usually when bucks are on the move 24 hours a day. This period is one of the best times for larger bucks to show themselves during daylight hours giving hunters the opportunity they have dreamed of.

When to Hunt Michigan Whitetail

Close-up white-tailed buck deer in an autumn landscape resting
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My favorite time to hunt is around Halloween to November 14. Usually, somewhere in that time frame big buck activity is at its highest and usually, seven of those days can be better than the other but the moon, temperature, and weather will play a part.

Natural scene from state conservation area in Wisconsin
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This doesn't mean you can't shoot a monster on October 1st or December 31st. It's just the window of deer activity that is the most fun to hunt and your odds are the best.

I don't hunt much the first two weeks of the season but around October 17 - 23 is usually when the bucks are scraping on the ground and making dates. Around Halloween (before, during, or after), you start seeing bucks in the seeking phase. Sometime around October 31st and November 5th, the seeking phase turns into the chasing phase and that is when the hunting can get crazy fun. Now, these are not exact dates, remember I said things move around a bit but these will get you in the ballpark. That week or two before firearm season in Michigan starts is usually the best time to be in the woods. If you are a firearm hunter only, don't worry, bucks are breeding all the way to the end of November into early December but the real action happens before firearm season or right at the beginning depending on the 7-year moon cycle.

Two, large, white-tailed deer bucks sparring. Rutting behavior
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If you hunt an area regularly start keeping a journal and note the date, time, weather conditions, where the moon is, and what you are seeing. If you do this seven years in a row you will create your own playbook that will dial in the best times to be in the woods and increase your odds of getting a monster buck. Good luck out in the woods this year.

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