2013 Whitetail Rut – Whacky and Unpredictable

Posted on October 8, 2013

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                                                                    ” See her as she flies
                                                              Golden sails across the sky
                                                                  Close enough to touch
                                                                   But careful if you try
                                                        Though she looks as warm as gold
                                                            The moon’s a harsh mistress
                                                               The moon can be so cold”
                                                                                                                    – Judy Collins

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For you that have followed my rut predictions over the years, this year’s rut timing is a carbon copy of what transpired in 2010. For the most part, each day can be either hot with buck activity or stone cold, as if there wasn’t even a breeding season. This year’s rut is what is commonly referred to as a “trickle rut.” For those not familiar with my rut theory, or for those of you looking for a refresher, the following is a brief synopsis of how it all works.

After more than a dozen years of research, it is my clear belief that the 14-day breeding window, the time frame when 70-80% of the adult does will enter estrus, begins five to seven days after the second full moon – the rutting moon – following the autumnal equinox (Sept. 23). This holds tighter the closer to November 1 that the rutting moon falls, which in turn intensifies the rut and facilitates a more predictable breeding timetable. The light of the full moon is the visual cue that stimulates the bucks, and as it wanes over the next 5 days, the darkening nights become the impetus that triggers the does to begin ovulating.

On the other hand, in years when the second full moon after September 23rd falls on or later than November 14th, the rut is less intense, and is commonly referred to as a “trickle rut.” Breeding will begin on the full moon under these circumstances.

To better define the commonly used word “rut”, let’s define it as the actual breeding period and the events leading up to it. Due to the three overlapping stages involved in this forty-day process, bucks will exhibit distinct behavioral changes. As the rut develops it becomes equivalent to a marathon rather than a sprint.

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Seeking: This sudden transformation in the buck’s chemistry urges him onto his feet in search of does. The animal’s nose dictates the direction of his travel. Rubbing and scraping intensifies and with each doe encountered, the buck will test her urine by ingesting the scent through the vomeronasal organ located in the roof of his mouth. This behavior, flehmening, routinely called lip curling, immediately discloses to the buck if the doe is approaching estrus.

Bucks will begin seeking about a week prior to the full rutting moon. As the reflective light becomes full, a buck’s search becomes accelerated and his travels now take him far and wide from his normal home territory.

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Chase:  During the process of seeking, a buck will finally pinpoint a doe near estrus. In his frantic search to locate and be the initial suitor, he will chase every doe encountered. This activity usually begins anywhere from two days prior to, or a two days following the full moon. Frustration mounts within the buck fraternity, as trees, shrubs, ground cover, and even each other become the recipient of brutal attacks.

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Tending:  Five to seven days following the full moon does will enter into estrus. When this event begins, all other rut related activity such as scraping and rubbing ceases with the buck’s full attention now riveted on the act of breeding. This phase will encompass fourteen days, peaking at the halfway point. During this period, 70-80% of the mature does will be bred.

 How it all works

Hunting whitetails by the moon is not meant to be rocket science, nor does it require the consumer to be an MIT graduate in order to comprehend the data. Once you understand how it works and when each of the phases begin, the why of the matter really becomes a mute point. Trust me, there is no hidden scientific jargon to confound the simplicity of the annual event; it is really as simple as it appears. Those that once lived closest to the land were people with little to no formal education, yet believed wholeheartedly in the moon having an effect on the whitetail’s breeding season. This was insight that ultimately became crucial to filling an empty belly. The best news about this information is the fact that it can be predicted out to infinity. All you need is a calendar that documents moon phases and you have the necessary tools to predict when the rut will be on any given year. Understand that the data being presented here is for states north of the Mason Dixon line. Although the rut for southern states still correlates with the moon, those dates are one-to-two months later depending on how far south you go.

When the second full moon falls in either late October or prior to November 14th, the rut will go off in traditional fashion. Bucks will begin seeking five days prior to that full moon. Somewhere towards the end of that five day run, the buck population will start to chase females as the does begin to smell ready to them. Near day ten of this sequence of events, or approximately five days following the full moon, the first does will start to cycle into estrus and allow the buck to breed them. For the next fourteen days, up to 80 percent of the adult doe population will be bred. Once the breeding has about run its course, the bucks will then vanish from sight and spend the next three-to-five days on their bellies recovering from the ordeal.

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With an unusually late second full moon appearing on November 15th or later, the breeding season will essentially become what is known as a “trickle rut.” Buck activity will suddenly increase around the time of the first full moon in October following the autumn equinox. At that time a brief flurry of breeding activity will transpire and then, just as quickly as it started it will abruptly come to a halt. Because the males will now be confused as to why the party was suddenly shut down, they will be reluctant to stray far from the ladies. Hence, competition between bucks vying for breeding rites is reduced based on their restricted travel patterns. Lack of opposition absolves the buck population’s need to open up scrapes or rub trees. Directly on the full moon in November, does will begin ovulating and the breeding process gets underway. For the next fourteen days bucks will either be in the company of an estrus doe or transitioning to the next available female. Once breeding culminates, the buck population will begin entering the final phase known as the recovery period, a three-to-five day period when the male will ultimately crash from physical exhaustion. They will retreat back to their sanctuary where they will spend up to 75% of the time bedded in an effort to recuperate.

 This year’s prediction

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Observation is the key to science, and I, like you, will be a keen observer during this fall to actually see how this rut unfolds as compared with 2010. We have a full moon on October 18th with the second full moon following the autumn equinox appearing on November 17th. The question that needs to be answered is, which moon will the whitetails key on?

Here is my OPINION; it is not conclusive but simply what I think will transpire: I believe bucks will begin chasing does on the full moon of October and begin breeding 5-to-7 days later, October 23-27. Some, not all does will be bred during the following 14 days. The middle two-weeks of November may well have bucks constantly in motion wondering who shut down the show. Does will be hiding in an attempt to elude confused and aggressive bucks. With no customary build-up, I believe breeding will resume on November 17th, but it may well be a short and sweet breeding period that lasts only a few days.

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I know it’s not much to go on, but after all, the moon this fall is indeed a harsh, cold mistress.

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© 2013 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

 

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