How to Predict the Peak of the Rut for Whitetail Deer
Many theories exist regarding whitetail deer hunters predicting the time the peak of the rut from year to year will occur for whitetail deer? I’m a bit of an old school whitetail deer hunter. I take for granted that I can count on whitetail deer being in the rut in the Midwest during its peak sometime between November 5th and November 25. I do not believe whitetail deer hunters can predict the peak of the rut, months or years before a whitetail rut or whitetail deer season begins by means of some scientific calculation. I believe that until you arrive at that time period to examine weather conditions, temperatures, and several other factors that its simply impossible to be able to predict the whitetail deer rut by some moon dial, or some farmers almanac, or even the intense studies produced by whitetail biologists. Heck fire, I’ve been wrong a millions times so I thought I would share the different concepts regarding how to predict the whitetail rut from year to year. Here are some theories held by professionals in the hunt industry to examine. You decide if any hold merit. Then I will conclude the article by sharing my thoughts on these theories of predicting the whitetail deer rut months before it occurs.
The Moon Theory
A whitetail doe's estrogen level peaks around November 5th, as does a whitetail buck's sperm count. With both whitetail deer sexes ready to mate, some experts say, it stands to reason a mechanism must be in place if the whitetail doe is to enter estrus and be bred under the darker phases of the moon, which are the third through first quarters. That the second full moon after the autumnal equinox, is called the rutting moon.
With each passing year whitetail deer experts have more and more data collection devices to if you can predict the whitetail deer rut. The whitetail deer experts trying to predict the whitetail deer rut also monitor air temperature, weather patterns and moonlight intensity throughout the fall. In addition they use trail cameras to record deer activity throughout each day. Some cameras monitor the wild, free-ranging deer population. The data, which is collected from October through December, is then studied via computer.
Unlike eight years ago, when no one else was researching if you can predict the whitetail deer rut, now there are many serious whitetail breeders, deer hunters and outfitters across North America (who are in the woods every day during the fall) keeping detailed journals to chronicle deer behavior in their regions of the country. This added information has allowed experts to better understand what is happening in other parts of North America during October, November and December.
Whitetail deer experts have observed that the second full moon after the autumnal equinox stimulates both buck and doe rutting activity. After 1999 these experts made a concerted effort to step up data collection, primarily because of the way the rutting moon was going to fall in 2000, 2001 and 2002. In 2000 and 2001, the rutting behavior was classic - just as predicted. However, it occurred at different times. In 2000, the rutting moon was November 11th and in 2001 it fell on November 1st.
In all reporting locales but one, the seeking phase of the rut kicked in just as expected in 2000, around the 8th of November. The high point of 2000's breeding activity took place the latter part of November.
In 2001 things were again on target, but earlier than in 2000. The rutting moon was November 1st, and where the air temperature was less than 45 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, chasing was reported to be intense by everyone collecting data. By November 10th it was obvious that the breeding was full blown, and by November 20th most of the primary breeding was over. So, because of the volume of data collected, the past two years have provided great examples of what can be expected in the future.
The whitetail deer's "peak of the rut” is made up of three phases-seeking, chasing and breeding. Each blends into the phase that follows. In fine-tuned herds, where there are a good number of mature bucks and an adult-doe-to-antlered-buck ratio of three-to-one or less these phases will encompass about 30 days. In herds where there are too many yearling bucks and sex ratios are over three-to-one, the rut is almost always drawn out, lasting as long as 90 days. When the latter occurs, rut intensity usually will be lacking.
With the rutting moon approaching, maximum levels of testosterone are flowing and bucks begin to feverishly look for estrous does. A buck's nose dictates when and where he goes, and no doe group is safe as bucks weave across their expanded territories. At this time, all the dynamics of buck behavior unite. Bucks are now finely tuned physical specimens that spend every waking hour rubbing, scraping and looking for does. Judging by research conducted for several years, an active buck might make six to twelve scrapes per hour during this phase of the rut. The frequency depends on how sexually active a given buck is.
Of all the times to hunt, the seeking phase is one of the best, especially for a tree-stand hunter.
The peak of this period is usually three to four days before and after the rutting moon. During this time, bucks are on the move but not yet chasing every doe they encounter. Their movement patterns through funnels and along scrape and rub lines are more predictable. Unfortunately, the seeking phase only lasts a short time before blending into the chase phase.
The chase phase of the whitetail deer rut often gets confused with the seeking phase. The two behavior periods overlap, but they're different. This phase usually begins three or so days after the rutting moon and lasts three to four days into the full-blown breeding phase.
During the chase phase, does are almost entering estrus, and bucks are frantically trying to be the first to find them. Now a buck will chase every doe it encounters. Such meetings often resemble a cutting horse trying to cut a calf out of a herd of cows. A buck can be persistent, knowing it will eventually find a doe that won't run. During the chase phase, scraping and rubbing continue, and in many cases can be intense, especially in a well-tuned herd. The chase phase often brings more intense fights, especially if two bucks pursue the same doe.
The chase phase can be a great time to hunt, but it often gets frustrating because the action can take bucks out of range as they chase does.
This is the stage that gives the rut its name. When a doe finally enters estrus, it will accept a buck's company wherever it goes. When breeding begins, scraping nearly ceases and bucks curtail much of the activity that took place throughout the rut's seeking and chasing phases.
The breeding phase usually begins about seven days after the rutting moon and lasts approximately 14 days. We've found that 70 to 80 percent of the mature research does will be bred during this time.
Of all the rut's phases, the breeding time can be the most difficult to hunt. This is because does move very little. Consequently, bucks will only move when the does move. At this time, one of the only ways tree-stand hunters will see action will be to place their stands in a hot doe's core area or in sites frequented by doe groups.
So what will be the peak of the rut for whitetail deer during 2009? Experts have calculated this by the moon. The 2009 whitetail deer season sees the Hunter's Moon (the first Full Moon AFTER the Harvest Moon) on October 7. Most years, the Harvest Moon rises on a September night.
But not this year. The Harvest Moon, by definition, is the Full Moon closest to the Autumnal Equinox (the First day of Fall). And this year the Equinox falls on September 23. The Full Moon in October is closer to the equinox than the September Full Moon, therefore, the October Full Moon is the Harvest Moon. And the Hunter's moon always follows the Harvest Moon.
Hunters will read the telltale, preliminary signs of the formation of the Breeding Nucleus in the first week of the 2009. That's when the bucks and does will be creating overhanging-branch scrapes. Also, there should be good (better than normal for the first week of November) buck movement this year during the moon's First Quarter. And a greater tendency for daytime movement will head into the following week (Full Moon.) That's when we will hear stories of some giant bucks being arrowed at noon.
Then, on the following weekend, hunters will be heard saying "the rut is on," as the cycle reaches a climax of activity (November 13.) Wild times in the woods as the Breeding Nucleus reaches critical mass, and expect the breeding explosion to extend into the middle of November, tailing off by the third week of that magical month. Again this information is collected by whitetail experts to predict the whitetail deer peak of the rut by use of the moon.
Some whitetail deer experts rely on fetal backdating to predict the peak of the rut of whitetail deer. This fetal backdating is determined by measuring the fetus and comparing those measurements to fetus’ with known conception dates.
Every year there are periods of higher whitetail deer breeding activity and exceptional movement. There are different trends stuided of whitetail deer activity through the hunting seasons. Much of which is collected to predict the rut of whitetail deer.
Whitetail deer rut prognosticators down through the years have attempted to devise a foolproof pattern to predict these bouts of peak hormonal flow, when the whitetail bucks run almost day and night for a few days each year, forming the Breeding Nucleus.
There are always three sequential patterns of breeding activity, about a month apart and they each vary in degrees of intensity.
Those interested can easily validate when the previous year’s Breeding Nucleus was formed in their state or region by checking the Rut Activity posts on the hunting Web sites.
When 2008’s first week of November rolled around all went quiet, just like it did in 2005. And as the middle of the month approached, the whitetail bucks were settled in and bedding with the does. Once again this is another way whitetail experts are able to try and predict the rut of whitetail deer.
The gestation period for the whitetail deer is about 200 days, give or take a few, according to researchers. A known variance from the 200-day pregnancy period in whitetail deer is partially due to environmental factors (like a tough winter, or an unusually mild, warm winter;) health and age of the doe, and nature's variance. As we know, a woman's gestation period is nine months, but children are often born early or later than that target date. Recent whitetail studies indicate a large percentage (25%) of twin fawns, and triplets have different fathers. We know that whitetail does drop their fawns about seven months from conception. Elaborate breeding formulations based on fetal measurements, many taken from road-killed does did not pay homage to the fact that the differences in size of the fetus, may have been in part due to the difference in the size of the father and his propensity within his genes, not to mention the aforementioned health of the doe and winter climate. Now if we traveled back in time seven months, counting from the middle of May, that would put us in the middle of October and put many of us up in a tree stand. A far cry from late November.
A late November rut would produce newborn fawns in late June. A mid- to late-May fawn crop seems about ideal for the Northeast, not too early and not too late. Other areas of the country have different peak rut dates tuned by their environments. For example, Mississippi has a December peak rut date so that the fawns are born in late June. Deer along the Mississippi delta never had to worry about a late winter or an early winter, instead their fawn drop needed to dodge winding up coincidental with massive flooding.
Environmental Factors to Predict the Rut of the Whitetail Deer
Barometric Pressure: This is widely held to be one of the chief catalysts for deer movement. Whitetail deer activity seems to be greater when the barometric pressure is changing and at its highest when pressure was rising.
Temperature- Deer are dressed in their winter coats by November. If you put on all your warmest clothes and then try to run around all day long in 80-degree heat, how long will you last? The higher the temperature the apt whitetail deer are not to move while robed in a winter coat. Whitetail buck movement declines when the temperature rises more than 15 to 20 degrees above the norm.
Wind: The first few days of a high wind (above 15 mph) produce less deer movement. When a high wind gusts and reaches speeds high enough to snap off branches and blow debris from the trees, deer will stay put and wait until it passes. Such conditions generally are associated with a passing front and don't last more than a day. High winds reduce scenting ability and to the fact that, because they can hear so well, they become extremely alert and nervous.
Rain and Snow: Whitetail deer move well in the light snow that comes with a weak winter front. A misting rain associated with a falling barometer is also generally fine and deer will move well in it during any part of the whitetail deer season.
Morning or Evening: Whitetail Deer Record Book applications indicate that the number of trophies per man-hour is skewed toward the morning.
Age Structure of the local whitetail deer population: Young does breed later than older, mature does.
Sex Ratio: The more does in the herd, the longer the rut period.
Health of the herd: Whitetail deer in prime range and in excellent health breed earlier and with more intensity than animals in marginal areas.
Genetics: It was found in one experiment that deer transported from to Georgia from Wisconsin bred two months earlier than those in Alabama.
Latitude: Proximity to the equator seems to play a role. In northern states, the breeding period for deer is more compacted and intense. To the south, it’s more protracted and less feverish.
Movement of the Earth Around the Sun Predicts Whitetail Deer Rut
Some experts believe that the movement of the earth around the sun is the major engine that drives the breeding cycle in whitetail deer. Studies show that whitetail deer that had rutted in November in the U.S. shifted to an April period when taken to New Zealand. The conclusion was that annual changes in solar radiation and lunar illumination, not the calendar, dictate when the rut of the whitetail deer takes place, thus making the rut of the whitetail deer predictable.
Animal physiologists say that this theory can be explained by the existence of a “pineal gland” in the brain of deer (in fact, in all animals with a cranium, including humans). The sole function of this gland is the secretion of the hormone melatonin and how much of this substance is secreted is controlled by light intensity. Low light levels stimulate the production of melatonin and high light levels inhibit it. Researchers maintain that the light data is received through nerve pathways originating in the eye. When light levels are low over prolonged periods of time, high levels of melatonin trigger the release of sex hormones from the pituitary gland bringing the animal to sexual readiness. “Photoperiodicity” is the term used to describe the amount of light reaching the eye.
So, since scientists know all of that, why can’t they predict the rut of the whitetail deer each year? That may be because there are several factors that influence photoperiodicity. One, of course is the revolution of the earth around the sun while it tilts 23 ½ degrees on its axis. Others may be “precession,” the wobbling of the earth as it rotates, and reflected light from the moon. And, how about localized factors such as drought, unusually high temperatures, storms and human disturbance? Any or all of those may influence whitetail deer in a small given area.
One thing that research has shown is that does who don’t conceive during their first estrus of the season usually enter another reproductive cycle, sometimes called the “second rut,” 21 to 32 days later.
Those are but a few theories behind being able to predict the rut of the whitetail deer. I believe all the aforementioned theories hold both merit and mistake. Maybe a correlation or mixture of the studies formulated in some larger calculation would predict the rut of the whitetail deer. While I do hold multiple college degrees and have been an avid whitetail deer hunter, whitetail deer outfitter, and have harvested 15 Pope and Young Bucks I have a much simpler theory. It’s better to simply have a lot of knowledge and experience of your given area. As a resident of the Midwest for 44 years I can tell you that each year no matter how many people tell me they have successfully predicted when the whitetail deer rut will occur I don’t pay much attention. I know in the Midwest that the first week of November trophy whitetail bucks are up and cruising the timber for hot does. The second week of November these whitetail bucks move from a slow interest or cruise to an excited frenzy or trance phase. If I was booking a whitetail deer hunt during the rut or trying to predict the rut of whitetail deer I would suggest sometime between November 1 to November 20, with the peak of the rut somewhere in the middle, dependent upon environmental conditions.
The first week of November presents archers with shots at deer that are easier to make as trophy deer aren’t running through the woods chasing does 100 miles per hour, but they are up cruising the area. The next couple weeks is whitetail mania. There has been many a whitetail buck I couldn’t get to stop long enough to shot at during this time, however I see more trophy bucks at this time.
While each year we pray for an early rut and look to whitetail biologists and experts for advice the truth is we know the peak of the rut for whitetail deer varies, however its pretty predictable to the veteran whitetail deer hunter.