A: #1 Dear Brandon:
Florida is probably the most difficult place to hunt whitetails on the face of the earth. There are several reasons for this; each of them contributing to why rattling, calling and the use of scents is so unreliable.
There are several factors affecting the reliability of these tactics, chief of which is the buck to doe ratio in a given area. Throughout most of Florida, does greatly outnumber the bucks. Because of this, there is less competition among bucks for receptive does during the rut. With reduced competition, comes less fighting and less searching on the part of mature bucks for does ready to mate in their area.
That's not to say rattling, grunting and scents never work. It only means they are less effective. Another reason we here in Florida have such a hard time with these methods of luring in deer to within shooting range is climate and terrain. Throughout most of the country, the rut is more defined. This is because temperatures and photoperiods (the amount of daylight on a given day) are significantly lower in the autumn, triggering the natural call to breed before the onset of winter. The further north you go, the more pronounced the rut becomes.
Here in Florida, our mild winters and longer days often amount to only a few cold snaps intermittently disbursed through average temperates of highs in the mid to low 70's and lows in the mid 50's. Not exactly a wintry wonder land. Further, the dramatic fluctuation in rain fall and temperatures affects localized groups of animals differently from region to region. A group of deer north of Gainesville may be experiencing low temperatures near 35 degrees with no humidity, while another group in Lakeland is experiencing lows in the mid 50's with chance of showers and gusty winds.
Three days of that weather in Gainesville might just trigger the rut to kick in, while the warmer temperatures to the south may delay the rutting activity for several more weeks. In fact, it's been my experience that deer to the north and west side of Polk County don't even begin to show signs of rutting activity until late in December and into January.
In years of drought, the nutritional content of food early or late in the season can affect the timing of the rut as well. Rain plays a major role in the transfer of nutrients to the food sources in a deer's diet. Too much or too little rain at the wrong time and you can destroy an acorn crop, wash away essential minerals, stunt the growth of native forage grasses, and wreck havoc on a deer's biological clock.
Since deer in Florida are made up of regionally different subspecies, namely the Florida coastal white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus osceola) which occurs in the panhandle, the Florida white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus seminolus) in peninsular Florida, and the Virginia white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus virginianus) in the extreme northeast and along the Georgia and Alabama borders, they have different rut cycles from region to region.
Of course there is overlapping to contend with, as well as the introduction of some northern woodland whitetail (Odocoileus virginianus borealis) which were introduced to various parts of Florida throughout the years by both private and public land managers. The characteristic mating habits and the genetic traits of these various subspecies have created a diverse population of whitetails across Florida with localized tendencies.
Regionally speaking, hunters in the panhandle around towns like Sopchoppy, Mariana, and Chipley may experience a well defined rut during the late gun and primitive weapon seasons. Other hunters in Okeechobee, Martin, Glades and Hendry counties might experience some defined rut behavior in October, but not to the extent those other hunters do in the panhandle. Northeastern counties around Gainesville and Jacksonville traditionally have a rut which is somewhat subdued and seems to last throughout the month of November. And here in East Hillsborough, Pasco and western Polk counties, the first wave of rutting activity occurs between Christmas and mid January.
Locally speaking, I have seen groups of deer within 10 miles of each other have completely different mating cycles. Individual groups of deer, because of their genetic makeup, available food sources, and other external and intrinsic differences to the herd, have exhibited a wide variety of body sizes, genetic characteristics, and mating cycles. The diversity of Florida's deer herd is what makes it so unpredictable.
So don't give up Brandon. Keep on trying the use of scents, calls and rattling. Just be careful not to be too aggressive. Through trial and error, you'll eventually learn what works best for your neck of the woods. Best of luck and be safe this hunting season.
A: #2 Brandon, I too live in the central part of Florida and I haven't had any luck with rattling either; but scents and call I sure have!
The use of scents and calling techniques has greatly improved my hunting success and I do a lot of my hunting on public land. Scour a few of the back issues of woods & Water and you'll find some pretty terrific articles on the use of scent and calling techniques.
Learn the types of scents, and calls and their uses throughout the season and give it your best shot. If can be of any help to you, feel free to contact me on the Community Forum, just click on the link on the Woods & Water home page.
A: #3 I mostly hunt up around Union County, which I guess could be classified as Northeast Florida. I have had great success calling in bucks during the fall using bleats and grunts. I have also rattled in a few deer over the years but with a much, much lower success rate than the bleats and grunts. I think much of that has to do with a very skewed buck to doe ratio or at least what I perceive to be such.
In areas where the buck to doe ratio is really high there is no real competition for breeding rights, thus a more drawn out, less visible rut many times. Get the buck to doe ratio much lower and the rut will be strong and more defined.
I'm not a big scent guy but I love calling in animals and by using grunts and bleats during the hunt I feel like I stay more involved, which I like. If you told me I had to sit in a tree and be totally quiet for hours on end, I'd just wait for turkey season to roll around......................
Keep at it and good things will happen for ya!