2011 Rut Recap – Misconceptions and Unbelief

Posted on January 17, 2012




“I’ve yet to know an experienced whitetail hunter, then or now, who doubted the moon’s importance in determining hunting tactics and timing.”

                                                    – Former Buck Sense columnist -John Wootters




It easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, and even easier to completely dismiss research that runs contrary to what you might believe. However, before you throw the baby out with the bath water it may be prudent to ask yourself a few basic questions such as, “Have I even studied the facts, looked at the evidence or lack thereof, from both sides of the argument, and could this ‘theory’ actually aid me in my deer hunting quests?”

If indeed you are of the opinion that the moon plays absolutely no role in the whitetail rut than you need not read any further; the wisdom emanating from facts gathered over nearly two decades will only be lost on you.

After all, according to some self-proclaimed experts, bucks are in the woods, all you have to do is find them.

Please understand, just because someone is touted in the sporting press to be an expert doesn’t automatically make them what they desperately desire to be and statements like, “go find them” reek of superiority and arrogance.

If you have followed my research over the years along with that of noted nature photographer, Charles Alsheimer and former Vermont Wildlife Commissioner and biologist, Wayne Laroche, then you are acutely aware that decreasing light – not specifically daylight – during the fall is the basis from which the rut cycle begins, with the actual trigger being the second full moon following the autumn equinox. Although this runs contrary to conventional views that breeding north of the Mason-Dixon Line occurs each year from November 15th to the 30th, hard evidence has proven otherwise.


Just because someone has a biology degree, or spends the entire month of November in the woods doesn’t automatically deem them an expert. After all, Helen Keller said it best, “Seeing is not necessarily observing.”

You must ask the question, has the biologist done the necessary research to disprove the hypothesis?  Dr. James Kroll, a highly acclaimed professional biologist that has worked with whitetail deer in research facilities his whole career wrote, “Try as we have to disprove the hypothesis that the full moon triggers breeding, we have not been able to reject it. We have disproved the hypothesis that moon position has any real effect on activity.”


Realize that when making assertions that other folks will read, memories have a way of failing and are geared more towards being favorable to those creating the memory.  Wisdom would then dictate that your next inquiry be, has the guy that spends the entire deer hunting season in the bush for multiple years taken the necessary steps to painstakingly record his observations and environmental data so that he prove his assertions, as most professional biologists would do, or is he just a chap out to secure his buck who looked no further than the means to an end?


The Research


Research is done through observation and deduction based on frequency of activity over at least a three year period of time. In order to accomplish this the researcher must have several avenues in which to conduct the study, including, but not limited to, trail cameras, snow to observe tracks, a telemetry system to track deer, the ability to locate new born fawns in the spring by spending countless hours following pregnant does and/or use of an implanted vaginal monitor, and a research facility that houses whitetails.


Here’s a misguided quote that really reveals the great divide between those that actually have done the hard work of real research and those that may have been better served talking about something else in which they actually have credibility: “The people that are trying to convince us that the moon decides the rut, are doing their research in a controlled environment (i.e.) a fenced enclosure. I don’t believe good research can be done that way on a wild animal.”

If we were to buy into that discriminatory statement it would immediately dismiss most, if not all, of the sound, biological research conducted by some of the nation’s top whitetail researchers such as, Dr. Deer, James Kroll, Karl Miller, Aaron Moen, Valerius Geist, Harry Jacobson, Larry Marchington, Mickey Hellickson, and John Ozoga, just to name a few. In fact, much of Ozoga’s studies on the whitetail deer came as a result of his 30-year career working at Michigan’s Cusino Wildlife Research Station where, according to former D&DH editor, Pat Durkin, “Despite more than 30 years of working with hundreds of individual deer, John is ever the scientist. Never does he let himself fall victim to naming deer or referring to them by anything other than an ID number. These are wild animals after all, (behind a fence) and his respect for them runs so deep that he refuses to domesticate them in any way.”

And then there is this recent admission from Dr. Steve Demarais, research biologist from Mississippi State University Deer Lab, “We have conducted a series of studies designed to reveal the degree of truth behind these long-held assumptions about breeding. It is almost impossible to intensively study behavior in a free-ranging population of white-tailed deer, not to mention the fact we can’t determine which bucks sire fawns, if any, through visual observation alone.”


I will let you be the judge as to who has the greatest credibility, the nations top deer researchers or a guy trying make a name for himself at the expense of others. And just so you will know, there is no one attempting to convince any hunter, myself included, about the rutting behavior pattern of whitetails as it relates to the moon. It’s merely helpful information based on years of research brought forth in print for the benefit of all deer hunters – period. “Interestingly,” according to Wayne Laroch, “the only way to disprove this theory is to witness behavior that contradicts it, such as seeing most does bred within seven days of a first quarter moon. Failure to observe predicted behavior, however, proves nothing, as it might be caused by unrelated factors, such as poor visibility, bad weather or low deer numbers.”


2011 Rut


This year’s annual rut was what is referred to as a ‘traditional rut,’ and it played out as predicted. My evaluation comes from both eight weeks of personal observations conducted in two States and one Canadian Province, data from Charlie Alsheimer and a few other trusted individuals that kept detailed activity logs. Here’s the run down:


Prior to November 5th , whitetails were behaving normally; feeding, bedding and making a few scrapes within normal travel patterns. Around the 5th, bucks began to march, specifically younger males. By November 10th, the full moon, buck activity escalated with bucks beginning to relentlessly chase does, forcing the females into thick brush and diminished activity. I witnessed the first breeding activity on November 14th and from that point forward until November 26th, bucks were either in the company of a doe, following a doe or in search of a doe. All rut activity came to an abrupt halt beginning on November 27th. The only alteration to this year’s annual breeding cycle was unseasonably warm temperatures, which shifted what would have otherwise been great daytime activity to primarily a nighttime occurrence other than the first and last hour of the day.


Experience has always been my best teacher. That wisdom has come in various forms: firsthand observations, trial and error, trustworthy instructors, mentors and most importantly, the whitetail deer itself. I am neither a biologist nor a scientist.  There is no PhD following my name, yet through my intense involvement with the deer, my thirst for knowledge and accurate reliable data gathered personally and by close associates, I’m convinced the moon indeed holds the key to unlocking the mystery of the whitetail’s breeding timetable.

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer