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Q: Is it true that bucks travel together before the rut begins? I have been told of people seeing several bucks at a time during bow season and the beginning part of general gun. Jed

A: #1 Dear Jed:

What a great question! The short answer is, yes it's true. Deer are basically social animals. During the spring and summer months, while bucks are still growing their horns, they frequently travel in small bachelor groups. They do this for several reasons, first and foremost, they are more defenseless without their head gear and there's safety in numbers. Secondly, since they are social animals, there's a sort of pecking order that is estabilshed during that time among the bucks in a home area.

Now here's the long answer. What most people don't realize is that the rut is not determined by bucks, but by the does. A buck is ready to mate as soon as his antlers harden. However, he must wait for the does to hit estrous before she is ready to stand and accept him as a mate. Of course, temperature, rain fall, moon phase and pressure have much to do with when a doe is ready to come into estrous. Further, rut cycles vary from region to region in Florida. What holds true for one area, may not hold true for another.

In general, the further south you go, the earlier the rut comes. This is not always the case, especially on the west coast of Florida. In my neck of the woods, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, the rut comes very late in the season. In fact, some times the rut does not really get going until the hunting season is over.

Not only are the ruts varied, but there is usually more than one estrous cycle as well. The peak rut is actually the time when a majority of the does in a given area come into estrous. Does that are not bred during this main estrous cycle often come into season again 3-4 weeks later. This is known as a secondary rut. Any given area can have additional rut periods which are not as defined as others. It is dependent upon the number of does in an area and the regularity with which they come into season as a group.

You can learn to pinpoint a rut period by paying attention to several different things. First, look at the number of fawns you see and note what time of the year you see them. Deer have a gestation period of 7 months, meaning the time from conception to birth. When you start to see fawns in full spots, you can count back 7-8 months and estimate the time of their conception (rut cycle). You can also look at the number of yearling deer and small spikes you see. A first year buck with small spikes or buttons will be 5-7 months old. Again, count backwards and your rut information can be estimated.

Another clue is the frequency of scrapes you find. contrary to poular belief, scraping is not a peak rut activity, but rather a pre-rut activity. When you start to see numerous scrapes in an area, not only are you in a buck's home turf, but you're about 2-3 weeks out from the peak of the rut. During the rut, bucks are alone and chasing does. They may check their scrapes, but are really more in a seeking and chasing mode and not tending their scrapes as often. The pre-rut is the best time to try aggresive tactics like grunting and rattling. It also a great time to start hunting does, because bucks are sure to be following them more and more as the rut nears it's peak.

When you see a group of bachelor bucks early in the season, you know you're in a good area. Make sure to find the food sources and the bedding areas and get between them to maximize your chances early in the season. As the season progresses and the bucks start to get more solitary, key on isolated travel corridors near bedding areas to catch bucks slipping back and forth from cover. And once you start to notice pre-rut activities, hunt the does. After the rut is over, revert back to hunting near bedding areas and travel corridors as bucks will once again be laying low and regaining their strength.

Best of luck this deer season and be safe.

Chuck Echenique

A: #2 Yes sir, it's true. During the summer and all through the antler growing season, bucks prefer to keep company with other bucks. The high brow experts call them, "bachelor groups".

There are always exceptions to the rule as I've many times seen bucks in velvet traveling alone. However, they do tolerate the presence of other bucks in their territory, even after the antlers harden and the velvet is stripped.

But, as the rut begins to draw near, they'll start to restablish their turf and will attempt to drive off any competition for the does when the rut finally does arrive.

By pre-rut and rut, you'll no longer see multiple bucks together without somebody picks a fight!

Toby Benoit