I going to say that there are five deer hunting seasons. In Wisconsin there are several seasons (early archery, firearm, muzzleloader, youth-hunt, etc.), but I mean seasons as the deer see it.
The main thing to understand about deer hunting seasons is the rut. The rut is when the does are in heat (ready to mate). They are only in heat for a few days. This is so the fawns are born in the spring and then have all spring, summer, and fall to grow big before the next winter.
So you may read in books and magazines about: the pre-rut, the rut, and the post-rut. Here in Wisconsin the early archery and youth hunt occur before the pre-rut really begins. During this time you will likely see only does and small bucks. They will be traveling between their bedding areas and their feeding areas. If your goal is big bucks, then you will be hunting the pre-pre-rut with only a hope of getting lucky. During this time you will hunt more for the enjoyment of being out rather than actually expecting to shoot a big buck. But big bucks are shot very early, and I shot my biggest buck with a bow on the first day of one year's early archery season.
During the pre-rut you will begin to see more deer activity. The bucks will be on the lookout for hot does. They will be rubbing trees with their antlers. And making scrapes.
|Sideways picture of a buck rub|
The purpose of a rub is to work out aggression for the bucks. Rubs often show up in lines (multiple rubs on a line of trees). These are not as hunt-able as scrapes, but they do show that bucks are in the area. Rubs are usually on trees in sizes between your finger and wrist. The one pictured above is one of the biggest I have ever seen. Note the lines in the bark below where lots of the bark was worn off, this is from the points of the deer's antlers. They will be between your knee and waist height (a deer needs to lower his head to rub a tree). You will be able to see evidence of rubbing on a deers antlers between the base of the antlers and the first point. The antlers will usually be worn smooth at this place.
Scrapes are patches of ground that have all grass and leaves "scraped" away by a deer's front hooves. Scrapes will be located under thin branches that are about your chest, or head, height. The bucks break a small branch over the scrape and rub the broken branch with their heads and leave their scent. The plan is that there will be a bunch of scrapes made on, or near, trails and when a doe is in heat she will urinate in the scrape. Then the bucks will walk over the scrape occasionally and smell for a hot doe.
During this pre-rut the bucks will be looking for hot does. You will begin to see the bigger bucks because they spend more time looking for does and less time hiding or as nocturnal animals. The bucks will chase the does but the does will always run away.
This is when scents and calls will be most effective. The bucks will be looking, listening, and smelling for any kind of sign that there is a hot doe around. You may also see bucks fighting during the pre-rut.
During the few days of the rut the biggest bucks will be out and about and the bucks and does will be moving around much more. During the peak of the rut the bucks and does will be running around very early. They will be running literally at full speed, much of the time. Often you will see multiple bucks chasing one hot doe. The peak night is often the most exciting time to be out.
If you are only able to hunt for a few days of the year then you want to hit the peak of the rut, several days before, and a few days after. Take your vacation days from the pre-rut through the rut. If you can figure out when they happen, and each geographic location will have its rut at a different time. The rut occurs in the first week of November in central Wisconsin, and, I think, in December in Texas. The timing depends on the timing for the following winter when the fawns should be six months old, or older.
After the rut comes the post-rut. The post-rut is similar to the pre-rut. During both times the bucks will be looking for any sign of a hot doe that they can find. While the rut is happening calls and scents will not compare to the actual does, but before and after the rut calls and scents can help get a buck's attention.
During the post-post-rut you will once again just be hoping to get lucky. Once all of the does are out of heat for the season, the deer's priority will be to eat a lot before the winter. This is the time when baiting is most effective, especially if where you hunt has snowy winters and food is hard to find.
I don't hunt much past the post-rut. By that time I will have hunted a lot for the year already, the big bucks will not be seen much, and in Wisconsin it gets cold in December.