Traditional Whitetail Activity & Rutting Schedule
Each year hunters try their best to predict when the rut will begin and when it will peak in order to decide on what
days to be in the field hunting. As we all know, there is nothing that is 100% when it comes to hunting wild
whitetails. But here is some information that hunters may want to consider in order to help with selecting desired
times for their hunting vacations. As well, this will help hunters with knowing what to expect before arriving, upon
arrival and while hunting in Illinois.
Early Season October Hunting
The first thing that everyone thinks of when someone mentions bow hunting for whitetails in October is "The Hot
Weather". Now i will be the first to admit hunting it warm weather can slow things down at times. But it doesn't
mean one cant put a nice whitetail on the ground. Just remember that whether it be early season, peak rut or post
rut. It is understanding just what causes the peaks and lulls in deer activity that can make all the difference in
success or failure.
1st week of October: Over the periods of my lifetime of hunting, I have seen frost on the first day of October and i
have seen it almost 90 degree's. But one thing is for certain. Hunters that try to out smart mother nature and/or
predict the weather will usually fail terribly no matter what time of the deer season that it may be. Just know that
"warm weather hunting can be successful". So even when the hunting experience is mentally draining, due to a
hot uncomfortable sits in the tree stand combined with minimal last minute deer movement. Hunters with the right
mind set that have done their home work and chosen to be in Illinois at the right times can look forward to an
opportunity at harvesting the nice whitetails that have been getting caught on trail camera through out the
EARLY SEASON CHALLENGES:
Again this can be a challenging time of the season for some to get serious about harvesting a nice buck. But
hunters just have to take into account all of the different changes that are taking place at this time of the year.
1.) Because it can still feel like summer and bucks can appear to be in what some refer to as summer feeding
patterns. Most Hunters will usually only need to hunt 3 - 4 hours in the morning and the evenings when the deer
movement seems to be mostly likely at its highest.
2.) Bucks have just shed their velvet only a few weeks prior and each day are transition towards to peak of the rut.
What that means to me is that there will be some bucks that will simply expand their home ranges/travel radius
where as there will be other bucks that will just plain take off to a totally different area for the rest of the hunting
season. So although it sounds disheartening that a bucks caught consistently on camera over the summer may
now be gone. It also means that one never knows what NEW bucks are about to show up at any given moment.
3.) Food sources are changing. If there has been a drought? Look for anything green. If there is a heavy mast of
acorns? Then know that bucks are getting fed in bed and wont have to travel but a short distance to feed. I mean
if you were fed breakfast, lunch and dinner in bed? Lol... Would you ever have a need to get up and go to the
kitchen? This is just a situation where a hunter has to recognize whats going on in order to adapt to the situation.
Just know that acorns aren't always the problem. If a farmer is harvesting crops on a neighboring farm? That
could change things up as well. Everyone knows that deer love to poke around in a freshly cut corn field, but
what is even more attractive is a freshly harvested soybean field followed by a nice rain. Talk about some fresh
greens, lol. But again, Just have to keep your eyes open and be willing and ready to change at a moments notice.
4.) Now although this is a time of the peak rut. Key spots to focus on setting up a stand is at social licking
branches where bucks are being caught on cam regularly. Plus you can set your trail cams on video mode and
watch for any bucks showing/displaying aggression through the making of ground scrapes. Not only will that let
you know if a certain buck is able to be rattled up or grunted in. But it will also let you know what the current
transition stage of the rut may be in. But find yourself an active social licking branch close to a bucks
core/bedding area. Watch for the perfect moon position to assist with mature buck movement and the odds will be
tipped in your favor.
Now it is critical to understand how to hunt moon positions and phases in order to increase your odds for
success on mature bucks at all times of the year. But it will especially help hunters to utilize the methods to
increase success at the early and later times of the season when breeding is not top of a bucks priority list. (click
here to understand moon position hunting ) And for those hunters that have not taken the time to learn about
"What the moon can do for your Hunting". Well you are missing out on allot, lol. Big buck hunting at this time of
year can seem difficult and to some a total waste at this time of year. But we have harvested some really nice
bucks this time of year by doing our home work and applying the moon methods.
2nd week into/ thru the 3rd week of October Now there are ALLOT of hunters that don't bother hunting the middle
of October at all. This is simply due to they are trying to avoid the time for what some hunters refer to as "The
October Lull". Well first off, Lulls in deer activity take place EVERY month of the year. So "Knowing &
Understanding Just What Causes Activity Lulls and Peaks and How to Predict Them" will give you a new attitude
on hunting mid October. A good hunter or fisherman both knows & understands that you cannot catch a fish or
kill a whitetail unless it is up "FEEDING". And with whitetails bucks, they only do two things their entire life which
is feed and bed. So again, learn about what is making them get up an feed (Moon Positions & Weather Fronts) and
you will soon learn when to not miss out on time in the stand. Not to mention you will also understand why there
are times deer sightings are slow and/or are seemingly not moving at all.
Again this is normal time of the year / hunting season when bucks starting to expand their travel radius or are
leaving their home ranges. So if ya stop catching a certain buck on trail cam. Just know that he probably hasn't
gone nocturnal. He has simply just left the area, lol. But no worries as your neighbor a couple of miles down the
road is going through the same thing. Except now your seeing his deer and you are seeing his. Always that as
each day of October passes that you are getting closer and closer to the peak of the rut. Meaning things will be
changing with bucks at any given moment on any given day while getting closer to the beginning of the Seek &
Chase phase. Therefore, hunters should be noticing and/or looking for a substantial increase in aggression levels
at the sites of social licking branches where heavy ground scrapes are appearing. This type of aggressive rutting
activity is a sure sign that the peak of the seek & chase is nearing. This is what we refer to as "The Sign Phase or
"Pre Peak". So this is a time when hunting highly active ground scrapes for bucks that are not still not interested
in doe will usually pay off with allot of buck sightings.
4th week of October: This is usually around the time when the rutting activity / Seek & Chase traditionally tends to
open up take off. So if you are a hunter that loves to sit on scrapes while watching bucks start to push some doe
around. Then this is the time for you to be in a stand in Illinois! Not to mention there will be new bucks combined
with a few of the bucks that we have had on summer trail cams and action can be just what one is hoping for in a
hunt. So although its not "The Peak" of the rut..... A good mix of different bucks going into the peak of the seek
and chase phase of the rut are just what hunters need to get their blood pumping along with a shot at a buck that
isn't blasting doe by your stands at 100 mph. SO GET IN YOUR STANDS BEFORE DARK AND DO NOT GET OUR
OF YOUR STAND UNTIL AFTER DARK!! This is the time of the rut where bucks are really starting to respond to
rattling and grunting providing hunters with allot of exciting times in the tree stand.
1st Week of November This is the most sought after time for hunters to be in the whitetail woods. During this time
of the rut, hunters will be seeing bucks traveling from farm to farm and from bedding area to bedding area in
search of a doe in estrous. Bucks around this time of the year are traveling several miles just to breed as many
doe as possible. This is the true grunting, chasing, timber crashing, horn clashing stage of the rut that everyone
lives to experience at some point in their lifetime. At this time hunters will be smart to hunt pinch points / travel
corridors that are entering into & going from property to property and between bedding area's withing the
property being hunted. Hunters definitely need to pack a lunch, sit the stand ALL DAY and be tuff enough to suck
up the stiff back and sore ass. Leaving the stand midday during this phase of the peak rut can and will hurt your
odds of taking home that trophy buck of a lifetime. Understand that once the doe bed up in the mornings. The
bucks will travel from property to property and from bedding area to bedding area to find a receptive doe. This is
the time of year that our trail camera's show the highest activity of Big New / Satellite bucks moving during
2nd week of November This is traditionally the time where the Peak of the Seek & Chase is in full swing combined
with a good level of ground scraping and some breeding of doe. This should be a time where bucks are starting
to pin down a doe and become extremely aggressive about keeping here all to himself. Hunters should start
seeing bucks take doe out into the middle of a wide open fields to better guard and/or prevent other bucks from
interfering with his prize. Hunters should still commit to hunting all day in travel corridors & pinch points. But
hunters may need to consider shifting their stand positions much closer to the edges of bedding areas. And don't
forget to do some occasion rattling and /or grunting during the slow times of the day.
3rd week of November This is the time of the actual PEAK RUT / BREEDING PERIOD. Bucks are literally on top of
doe's and the hunting can sometimes get a little slow. That is only due to the bucks have been running &
harassing the doe so much for the past three weeks that they will find the thickest of cover and stay on their
bellies until it is time to feed or they are in need of water. This is what some refer to as "the lock down period".
Some hate this as a time to hunt for a nice buck. But for me I think it is one of the absolute greatest time to poke a
hole in a big ole whitetail bucks. Now although it is also tough to just sit and watch the buck of a lifetime, just
stand at a distance with a doe at his feet. But moral to that story is..... If the doe doesn't move, neither does the
buck. But when she does move?....He will be lolli-gagging right behind her at a pace that will allow a bow hunter
to put the arrow in the right place. So hunters should avoid this time of the hunting season. They just simply need
to know when to shift their stand position to right on top of the bedding areas and sometimes smack dab in the
middle of it. Just have to get into those types of set ups very early in the dark and then BE PATIENT. Just know
you are going to need obtain the motivation to get to the woods an extra hour or two before daylight, have the ass
to stay all day long and not leave until after the sky turns black. Aggressive Blind grunting combined with the use
of FRESH Buck & Doe Tarsals can and will put bucks right in your lap. Just remember to pay special attention to
your downwind side as a buck will always confirm any situation with his nose before committing.
4th week of November usually entails the 1st of the two Illinois firearm seasons. Illinois conducts a 7 day firearm
season that is split up into two different weekends of hunting. The 1st - 3 Day Gun season is always scheduled
the weekend prior to Thanksgiving weekend an the 2nd Gun Season is always the weekend following
Traditionally 1st season firearm hunters can usually count on having a good weekend of hunting with a smoke
pole in their hand. The IL DNR harvest statistics usually show that 80% of the deer killed during the 7 entire day
firearm season are harvested during the 1st 3 day firearm season. Hunters need to hunt travel corridors and
escape routes going into and coming from a neighboring properties. This is where the best success is usually
Now although 80% of "DEER" are harvested during the 1st firearm season. That isn't saying that a hunter can't
have some luck on harvesting some big bucks during the 2nd firearm season. I do always say after 1st gun
season, half of the deer are dead and the other half are spooked. So because that is a time of the year where we
normally get a good cold snap with some potentially some snow. There is a good chance that the post rut is
starting and deer start to yard up for winter as well. We then focus our hunting in areas and/or on farms that we
know are spots where the deer naturally yard for the winter. Heck ya never know...there may also be a remaining
doe in heat that is still dragging a nice around.
Muzzle Loader Only: The 3 Day muzzle loader only season is always scheduled during the second weekend in
December. Deer at this time should have calmed down from the pressure of both firearm seasons and are usually
yarding up for the winter months. Whitetails have usually returned to simple feeding & bed activities. But at times
hunters have experienced a little rutting activity. But mainly replenishing fat reserves with some minimal activity
while bedding close to food sources is usually the only thing on a deers mind. So the key factors for success at
this time should be to hunt over & on active winter food sources. Stand placements should be in travel corridors
going to and from bedding to feeding where hunters will need to bundle up for the cold and stick it out.
Early January: Hunters that don't desire the need to have to hunt all day and can take the colder temps. Can
usually get onto some good bucks with a reasonably priced bow hunt at this time of the year. No it is not the rut,
but I personally love hunting this time of the year and I actually prefer bow hunting winter whitetails over an early
season October hunt. Deer are all yarded up and specifically on food sources to replenish fat reserves burnt
down from the rut. What bucks you are getting on trail camera are definitely not going anywhere.bTherefore if you
see a buck one night....you are likely to see him again the next. And unless it is some sort of a mild / warm winter
where bucks might return to home ranges early. Again... the bucks ARE NOT GOING ANYWHERE TILL SPRING!!
Therefore hunting specific bucks can be done allot easier and usually hunting for just for three hours in the
morning and/or in the late afternoons into the evenings can be all that is needed to put a nice whitetail on the wall.
Again hunters should set up in travel corridors on the edges of evenging feeding areas while in the mornings
hunt those same travel corridors closer to bedding areas.
Decoys: I will be the first to say that they have worked for some hunters and for others not for all. Deer decoy's are
like anything else. They are just a personal choice that can be effective in the right situation and destructive to the
wrong one. So with that being said, Hunters can personally decide if it is worth the gamble and the extra effort of
packing a decoy into the woods.
Deer scents: As for deer scents, I don't personally recommend the use of bottled or over the counter scents or
attractants. From my own personal experiences....I have personally used several brands of scents throughout my
years of deer hunting. I might have had SOME results while using a few of them, but only with young bucks. In my
20+ years of hunting, I have witnessed first hand an area that seemingly just shut off the deer movement after the
use of bottles scent was attempted. Now maybe i just had bad luck or didn't know what i was doing. But I once
did a personal experimental study with the use of trail camera and different over the counter deer scents. The
results was kind of what was expecting..... NONE! I put out scent wicks on different farms with some of the top
name brand scents like James Valley, Tinks 69, Wildlife Research and H&S. I am not putting down what they are
selling, BUT.... not one buck even stopped to stick his nose to the wick.
Now what i did find to be very much effective and I still use and swear by them to this day is the use of a FRESH
BUCK AND / OR DOE TARSAL GLANDS taken right off a deer. I personally don't and/or wont miss out on a
chance at a fresh tarsal gland and a urine filled bladder from any deer of any sex or size. Not only do the deer
respond in a positive way, but it is the only thing i have witnessed that will pull a buck off of a hot doe in an
Bottom Line: Just give it some thought and then take your own risks. My thought process is that i wouldn't want
to spend a ton of money to come and hunt Illinois, buy all the scent lock clothing, scent away soaps and sprays,
request a piece of private hunting property and then pressure the hell out of it right off the bat with human
handled, manufactured, old sit on the shelf for more than a year deer scents. But thats just me, lol.
Best way to succeed in Illinois is to simply pick the right time of the season to match yourself as a hunter and then
hunt it according & correctly. Keep the property and the deer area like you found it. CLEAN & ALL NATURAL!!!
Find a stand site that best allows you to enter and leave the property without being seen, heard or smelled. Only
use a fresh tarsal glands and urines (if you are lucky enough to get it) then hunt long and hard.
THE REST IS JUST HUNTING!!!
Good Luck this hunting season!!