The Steeple Chase

Posted on September 29, 2015

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Up men! Arouse for the chase!

The wild buck is quitting his lair.

The hills are gilded with light,

And there’s health in the balmy air.

                                                                 George A. Perkins

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Round and round they go, and where they stop not even the whitetail knows. With his thump, thump, thump cadence, outstretched neck and head held close to the ground in bird-dog fashion, the buck, blind with love, chases any deer with a skirt. His rhythmic choppy steps and guttural grunts usually herald his forthcoming long before he makes his entrance onto the stage. This fatal flaw in his otherwise adeptness and cunning behavior has provided countless hunters the reward of a few seconds in which to ready their arms for his arrival. Whitetails don’t get stupid during this time as they’re so often labeled. They may temporarily throw caution to the wind, as has many a fine lad when smitten with love, but by no means should that be taken as dim-witted.

The mighty lion, which propels itself headlong into the chase after its next meal, hunger as the sole reason for its intense focus, runs with reckless abandon after the fleeing prey. Its only resolve at this point is to bring down supper. He has little regard for and pays no attention to anything that may deter him from obtaining his prize.

 

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Although the buck is not vying for his next meal, the instinctual longing to obtain that which has remained dormant for many months is as great a pull to him as the lion’s need to fill its empty belly. His resolve is completely on catching the doe and little at this moment has the ability to disrupt the all-consuming spell he is now under. Food, water, sleep and security all take a back seat to his rambling ways as he seeks to quench this insatiable desire.

 

The Attractant

 

We know from the previous posts that the light of the moon was the initial impetus that set the bucks into motion, and now, five days later as that reflective light source has reached all of its full autumn glory, the mounting intensity within the buck population has reached its zenith. At the first hint of the scent of a pre-ovulating doe the males literally go berserk. There is not a doe that is safe at this point as the buck is fully juiced and has reached a point of no return.

 

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Not only does the full moon have an effect on the buck population, but it begins a chemical transformation within the doe as well. Estrogen levels start to increase which in turn produces the all-enticing pheromones within the female’s urine. As unpleasant an odor as it would be to us, this is one of the most satisfying and easily discernable scents to the nose of a whitetail buck. At the outset, the doe really has no idea that her scent is arousing stimulation within the male. She’s going about her usual business while he is all but doing cartwheels to get to her. This attractant is so powerful (it has to be to ensure propagation of the next generation of deer) that a buck will place himself in compromising positions ordinarily avoided when acting rationally. Many a fine set of antlers adorn a huntsmen’s wall as a result of this temporary lack of restraint.

The chase phase begins in earnest with the full moon, five days after the seeking phase has begun. Because whitetails are a lot like people, and the rut is equivalent to a marathon race, some bucks will be off as if shot out of a cannon while others will be a bit slower out of the gate. This constitutes why the chasing phase will overlap the seeking phase to some degree.

 

The Buck’s Behavior

 

The buck becomes tenaciously persistent in his escapades and being put off or denied is not an option. Testosterone now being at its peak, his entire demeanor has completely transformed from docile to highly aggressive. This five-to-seven day period is probably the most chaotic, energy depleting part of the entire rutting process for the male, and until he finally experiences release that comes with copulation, the buck will continue in this highly frenzied state of mind. This can be readily seen in both his actions and facial expressions. The buck’s eyes take on a penetrating look of defiance, anger and narcissistic lust.

 

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His temperament is such that at the drop of a hat he will engage another male in an all out battle-royale. He has no tolerance for any other buck being anywhere near him. In human terms, a buck in this condition would not be the kind of individual that anyone would want to be around. He has become frighteningly belligerent, ready to explode at any moment.

With his neck outstretched and head postured close to the ground, he ingests every molecule of scent that has been dispersed. Each time he comes into contact with a spot where the doe has urinated, the buck will lick and deeply inhale the fluid, sampling it for signs indicative to a doe’s readiness to breed. This behavior known as flehmening is a simple process that enables the male deer to decode the complex chemicals within his brain.

 

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Located in the roof of the buck’s mouth, just inside his upper lip, are two receptacle pinholes called the vomeronasal organ; and as he raises his head and curls his upper lip, the fluid flows towards this area intensifying the scent. If the buck detects any indication that the doe is nearing estrus, he will follow her trail as if on a string and begin a continuous verbalization of short, pig-like grunts. If not, he will break off his pursuit and continue his search for another likely candidate. The more seasoned a buck is, the better his ability becomes at quickly making this determination, thus wasting less precious energy for no reward.

 

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The buck now ranges far and wide, covering thousands of acres, which will take him well away from his normal home range. And with this wanderlust comes the overlapping of another male’s home turf. This trespass, more so than those altercations resulting from two bucks vying for the same doe, is responsible for the greatest amount of buck fights. Despite their fragile egos and short-tempered spirits, bucks will make every attempt to avoid having to clash if possible. The offended party will initially attempt to intimidate by lowering his rear quarters, extending his neck, laying his ears back flat against his neck and he will stare intently at the intruding buck. If this doesn’t elicit a favorable retreat, the buck will then roll his eyes forward in the socket so as to reveal the whites of his pupils and emit a warning snort-wheeze grunt. By now, unless the buck is either completely inept or is looking to tango, he has vacated the premises. However, when two equally dominant males meet under these conditions with neither willing to back off, a battle will begin. First, the hair will stand erect, causing their appearance to look larger than what it actually is. Then, with heads lowered exposing sharp, pointed antlers, the two bucks begin circling each other. Without warning, one of the two will strike. Fights generally last no more than two-to-three minutes with most of the action being comprised of a whole lot of pushing and shoving. Depending on their individual dispositions and the disparity in size and strength between them, they will battle until one of the two combatants decides to cut and run.

The Doe’s Behavior

 

Other than being rudely and forcibly treated by their male counterparts, the doe population remains in status-quo. They cannot understand why this sudden appeal is being drawn towards them, and as the tempo heats, they begin to fear for their own well-being. It’s one thing to have an occasional disruption by an uncivil buck, but when this begins to become a regular occurrence, the doe does her best to hide to protect herself from an aggressive male carrying a head full of antlers.

 

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In fact, during this time doe activity will diminish as buck activity escalates. Her only defense against being antagonized and possibly gored is to retire into the security of the thickest, most impenetrable part of the forest. While the process of gliding through close knit trees and shrubs is a simple, graceful act for the streamlined doe, the burly buck with a wide rack will find maneuvering in these surroundings painfully slow and tedious.

 

Prediction

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Like any forecast, predictions are not fool-proof and can change due to unforeseen circumstances and variables. With that disclaimer, here is what I see for this year’s Northern rut:

The second full moon following the autumn equinox falls on October 27th, which is early.

Bucks will begin seeking on or about October 23rd. As the full moon draws closer, so too will the seeking intensity.

Chasing will start on the full moon as this phase overlaps the seeking stage of the rut. From this point until actual breeding bucks will be going full steam during all parts of the day and night.

On or about November 3rd the first does will begin to ovulate thus starting the actual breeding phase of the rut. Over the course of the next 14-days bucks will breed as does come into estrous. The final phase, the recovery stage, will take place just after the middle of November; this is the time when bucks revert back to their lairs to recoup lost energy and body mass lost during the rigors of their rutting behavior.

 

Final Thought

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To catch the buck who’s quitting his lair, at least for this fall…go early!

 

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© 2015 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

 

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer