As a wildlife photographer, the last week of October and the month of November are some of my favorite times to visit the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge. This is when the white-tailed bucks are in the pre-rut and the rut.
The pre-rut is the pivotal transition period between bachelor groups dispersing and the all-consuming breeding rituals of the rut. Bucks take inventory of the does in their vicinity while still keeping some of their summer secrecy and wariness. They are venturing from bedding areas more frequently to check for does coming into estrus. But the does are not quite ready for breeding yet, sticking to their regular feeding and bedding patterns for now.
As a photographer, I find the bucks are much easier to approach and photograph during the pre-rut and the rut’s frenzied peak. Once the rut kicks into high gear, bucks have breeding on the brain 24/7. They abandon their secretive ways, emerging from cover with little caution in search of females. The downside during this time is that the refuge is closed for several days for deer hunting. This hunting activity pushes the deer into thicker areas or more nocturnal movements. Dates for the partial closures for 2023 are: October 13, 14, 15, 25, 26, and 27, November 15, 16, 17, 29, and 30, December 1.
My observations show the peak rut typically begins at Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in the second week of November. When it starts, it’s like a switch is flipped in the bucks. Bachelor groups dissolve completely as breeding becomes the absolute focus. Feeding takes a backseat. Being sneaky and staying hidden are no longer advantages when there are does to be chased, courted, and guarded. The rut can last up to three weeks before activity winds down.
There is debate among experts about the so-called “second rut”—a spike in breeding behavior about a month after the peak. Some say it’s just a continuation of the main rut as late-born doe fawns finally become mature enough to breed. Others argue it is a real secondary rutting period when does that did not conceive come back into estrus for another chance.
This year, I’m just not seeing the pre-rut buck activity I normally do at the refuge. I’m not sure why that is. The photo I’m sharing was taken here last November during a more typical pre-rut week. I was fortunate to capture the moment this buck emerged from a thicket into a small opening to check a nearby trail for does. Images like this keep me coming back year after year to document the mysterious and magnificent pre-rut magic of the white-tailed deer.
- Camera: Canon EOS R5
- Lens: Canon RF 100-500 mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM
- Location: Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma
- Date and Time Taken: November 22, 2022 (08:40 A.M.)
- Program Mode: Manual
- Aperture: f/7.1
- Shutter Speed: 1/800 sec
- ISO: 1000 (Auto)
- Exposure Comp: 0
- Focal Length: 500mm