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Everything A Hunter Should Know About The Whitetail Deer Rut Season

The Whitetail Rut

Forget everything you have ever seen on TV, read, heard your buddies suggest and experienced yourself. When is the beginning of the seeking phase? Well this is probably earlier than you think. When bucks actively pursue does can start more than a month before tending or breeding season.

There is a good chance that you have learned all you have in error. Our use of "pre-rut" and "peak-rut" are prime examples. The peak of the rut to some hunters is when the deer are scarping and rubbing like crazy and chasing does all around the woods. Technically this wrong as what they are describing is the pre-rut seeking phase. It is when the buck is guarding a hot doe in estrus that is the actual peak. This is the worst time to be in the woods as the deer, for five or six days, are locked down and there is nothing happening.

For this article we will use the peak of the seeking phase to be the ultimate time to be in the woods. Let's clear up some of the other misconceptions before the next trip out to your stand.

Defy Common Rut Wisdom

What every whitetail hunter needs to know above all is the timing of when the rut occurs. However no matter how many people you ask in your local area, the answer will always vary from person to person. Biologists who specialise in deer all agree that the onset of the rut is triggered by the photoperiod.

As the length of the day becomes shorter in fall, hormone production is triggered in the deer's pituitary gland. The buck's testerone levels in bucks and estrogen levels in does begin to rise. However, from pre-rut to peak to post can stretch over a period of several weeks or several months depending on a number of factors. These factors are believed to have some impact on the timing of the rutting behavior as well.

Such factors can include, the age structure of bucks, buck-to-doe ratios, nutrition, the individual health of deer, the weather, hunter pressure and that old chestnut and controversial matter of the moon phase. So much misinformation exists because of the variety of these factors.

The Variable Rut

Across the whitetail range there are variations as when exactly herds rut. In south Florida some deer herds begin rutting in July, while the famed Black Belt rut in Alabama can be as late as February. In most cases, however, November is the month when it occurs. Studies reveal that the rut occurs at the same time every year despite where you live, how cold or hot it is, how intense the hunting pressure gets or even if the moon is full. There is just not going to be a 10 to 20 day difference from year to year.

You have to remember that deer still move. It is the timing of the movement that alters. Rather than moving two hours after sunrise or two hours before sunset on a hot day, it could be the bucks move only a half hour on either side. You need to know when, historically, the rut occurs in your area and ensure you are in the woods at that time without fail.

Pinpoint the Rut

The exact dates of conception can be determined by your or your club on your property by fetal aging does taken in the late part of the season. You could of course ask the state biologist and then overlay his suggestions with your own historic observations.

The method used in fetal aging is to take the fetus of a pregnant doe taken in the late season and measure it from forehead to rump using a designed aging scale. This scale will pinpoint the actual day of conception.

Using this information a hunter can then determine the precise range of days does are bred. This information can then be utilised in future seasons within their area to work out exactly where the rut occurs. This information, along with trail camera data, is important because intensive management is leading where rutting activity varies from state-to-state and also from property to property.

Build Yourself a Better Rut

You might have thought managing your land and raising huge bucks was enough but another reason for this is for when the breeding seasons stretches out over a period of time. This may be due to a poor Sex ratio or poor habitat. The result is poorly observed peaks for hunters and leads to the confusion where the hunter is unaware the seeking phase of the rut is occurring.

By improving the nutritional value of your land, harvesting does whilst letting small bucks age to bring the Sex ratios back into line, can constrict the rut's length and create a more intense peak for you to hunt.

Clubs have, over several years, managed to shorten the breeding period to 44 days from 100 days. This resulted in the peak breeding season occurring over just three days. What is astonishing is the length of the rutting period was unique to the property being managed.

Importantly this did not change the timing of the rut and this should be noted. It was the period of the rut that being shortened that took place. This created a more noticeable micro-rut of activity for the hunters. You can therefore control the length and intensity of the rut to your benefit by improving your property and managing your herd to your benefit.

Does the Moon Matter?

From a biologists point of view, the science simply isn't there to support a true relationship. However, many hunters are of the opinion that a full moon has an impact on rut activity. There are many theories, but no relationship between the moon and rut activity can be found.

By Preston Barrows -

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