Friday, September 22, 2006

Understanding the Rut

Lately the phone has been ringing a lot more and my email in-box has been filled up with emails from hunters across North America wanting to know when the rut begins in their area. As much as I would like to answer with, “here is what you do…” I cannot. There are many variables as to what triggers the rut and when it occurs.

While most hunters think that the rut is an event that only takes place a few days or weeks, a number of rut phases lead up and follow the actual rut, the peak rut. All of these phases involve sexual activity and are part of the rutting process. This process can take many moths starting as early as August in some southern areas of North America and lasting well into February in some northern parts of North America.

The most important aspect to learn about the rut is the timing varies from area to area as well as from one year to another. In short there is not a set date when the rut starts and ends. If you heard or read, as I did, that the rut starts everywhere during the second week of November then you would be very wise to doubt that statement. Because it just doesn’t happen that way, at least not in my experience.

You should also be aware that much what is reported as fact is actually theory. We simply do not know all the answers about why deer do whatever it is they do or when they do it.

Generally speaking bucks are capable of reproduction the moment they shed their antler velvet. But the does are not ready at that time. We have identified four stages that lead up to the peak-rut, where most does are ready to be breed, or follow that period.

As the temperatures begin to fall the bucks shed the antler velvet and begin their sparing matches. These are not life and death fights but simply a push and shove affair where bucks get rid of some frustration and test their competitors. It’s almost a joke on the bucks from Mother Nature that they are ready to breed but the does aren’t. At this time bucks still live together in bachelor groups.

Chasing Phase
About two to four weeks after the Pre Rut the chasing phase begins. The mature bucks begin now to leave the buck groups and lead a live in solitude, beginning to follow the does around, chasing them. At about this time the does begin to produce pheromones as the estrus nears. It is believed that this pheromones advertising the estrus cycle causes bucks to produce more male hormones.

At first bucks follow the does in some distance, shadowing the does. While there may be several bucks that follow a doe, it will be the dominant bucks that follow the doe at a close distance. As the doe nears her full estrus cycle the bucks chase becomes more intensified.

The Rut
The estrus period, where a doe is most fertile, only lasts about 24 hours. The doe will now stand still for the buck rather than run away from him the moment he tries to come very close to her. She will now tolerate that the buck mounts her. After breeding the buck will stay with that doe throughout her estrus period before he goes off to find a new estrus doe, commonly referred to as “doe in heat”. Bucks breed several does in a very short time frame. Not all the does come in heat at exactly the same day.

If a doe has not been breed the first time she will come in heat again after 28 days. Researchers have found that some does can go trough six to seven estrus cycles. However, most does are breed the first time around.

It is the few does that repeat their estrus cycles in 28 days that lead up to the post rut.

Post Rut
The post rut is the same as the Rut but very much less intensive as the first rut. Bucks are still wandering about and checking out doe feeding and bedding areas to find the last un-breed doe.

What triggers the rut? As I said before the doe entering the estrus cycle triggers the rut. The next question then would what makes the doe come into the estrus cycle? Well there are many different opinion and theories. In my experience, that is shared by many experts. The trigger is a sharp drop in temperature. The first cold snap may be what causes the doe to come into estrus. This also would explain why the rut takes place at different times in different areas and years. While in the north the rut may come with the first frost of the year in the south it may be just the difference of a few degrees in temperature. There are also theories that the moon plays some part in the rut too, but I have no data or experience to verify this phenomenon.

Researchers are constantly researching the rut and one day will perhaps find the answers we are all seeking. In the meantime, the best advice I can give to hunters is to be out in the woods as much as possible. The odds of harvesting a big buck are directly linked to the amount of time spent in the outdoors.

Discuss this and many other Hunting and Fishing related topics at.
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Anonymous said...

hey Othmar Vohringer,
my name is jared boyette, I am from little Rock, Ark, and i was reading your passage about the rut, and I wanted to thank you for the advice, and let you know yea your right about everything on there, and again thanks and good luck this year hunting.

Othmar Vohringer said...

Hi Jared I am glad you found the information in this article helpful and I wish you a good and save hunting season too.


Anonymous said...

You are incorrect in saying that what causes the rut or what brings the does into heat is a sharp drop in temperature, the fact is, it is all dependent on photoperiod!

Othmar Vohringer said...

Anonymous – I am sorry to tell you that the “photoperiod”, as you call it, is not a fact. As I said in my article there are many theories, not facts, as to what triggers the rut. I also said that we simply do not fully understand all the events that trigger the rut. We do know that the shortening of daylight hours and temperature do have an affect on the rut. Through observation we know that the rut will be delayed during times where it is exceptionally warm in the late fall. From that we safely can assume that temperature does play into the triggering of the rut.


Corey said...

Thanks for the info. I do not have alot of chances to go hunting so I have to make my time count. I will be able to pin-piont the bucks activity better and hopefully get the big one...Thanks again!!

Othmar Vohringer said...

Hi Corey. I am glad you find the information helpful. Most hunters have not as much time as they would like to spend in the outdoors and that is the reason why we have to make it count. Observation will tell you when the time to be in the woods count.


Donald said...

I have heard hunters claim rut happens at this time or that time of the year. My recent experience (October 22/23, 2009) when the temperature in East Texas dropped about 30°, my little heard of deer came into rut. I believe, based on 40 years of hunting white tail, that shorter days and colder temperatures influences rut season, especially the first estrous cycle. I also believe there are several ruts, varying ages of off-spring of the does seem to bear this theory out. Your article is spot-on in my experience. - Don

Anonymous said...

I have a background in biology, and have studied whitetails a long time. It was my dream to be a deer biologist, but it didn't happen. I am 52 years young, and will never get a chance to become the biologist to prove my theory. So this it, it is just my theory and I am thankful for a place to express it.

If animals responded to cold snaps to enter the rut, then you would have ruts appear one year in October when it was unseasonable cold and others in December. Its as they say, as "unreliable as the weather". Not that it doesn't influence their behavior to some degree, but photo periods happen on a regular basis the same as tides and have been doing it since the beginning of time. Multiple factors influence it on the local level.

I have noticed over the years that the does have times where they are excitable, run around,acting crazy, mounting each other, teasing bucks, and it would happen in September, and again about a month later in October. I have always thought, that the does are coming into heat all fall on a regular basis and are fertile at this time (like cattle), but the bucks are not reseptive. Photo periods, maybe lunar periods too, and weather increase the production of testosterone in the bucks. Shortening of the days triggers the increase of testoterone production (or whatever the actual trigger is), just as longer days trigger antler production. At sometime the bucks become receptive to the does scent and behavior. When this happens, and the does come into heat and are fertile, the breeding begins. Thats why you have on occasion, bucks chasing does early trying to breed. The "rut", as we know it, is when the various doe groups come into heat at the same time, and the bucks are trying to breed them all, running around crazy. It is to the deer advantage to have as many does come into heat at the same time and have as many as bred as possible, rather than to have it happen sporadicly (like cattle). Does that are missed, come in heat again 28 days later, and this is what we call the secondary rut.

It's my theory, that the rut is determined by when the does become fertile, while the bucks are in this receptive mode (the buck running mode is when the bucks have entered this phase, but the does aren't ready), that determines the rut, rather than something happening to the bucks. This is why it doesn't happen exactly the same time each year or even place to place. The does cycle montly, in no particular rhythm, it just happens every 28 days. It may be off a couple of days at one place to the other. When the bucks finally are ready (early November running) and this heat cycle rolls around again, boom, the rut starts.

Thanks for the place to express my opion and theory. Jerry from Ohio

Othmar Vohringer said...

Great comment Anonymous.

I too wanted to become a biologist but then changed and became a animal behaviourist. You make some very good points and I thank you for your input.


stew7503 said...

Actually, anonymous is correct. I have extensively studied biology as well as embryology,and one characteristics of mammals is the estrous cycle, while humans also have a sub cycle of it known as the menstrual cycle(basic difference is there is sloughing of the uterus, tissues deteriorate, blood vessels rupture, and fluid oozes from glands, this is unique to humans and primates). Lower taxonomical mammals have an estrous cycle that is triggered by the amount of sunlight within a 24 hour day.
There are 6 stages to the estrous cycle, which are: proestrus, which is when the endometrium(inner layer) of the uterus begins enlarging and preparing for implantation, estrus which is the heat or time of ovulation, metestrus 1 is when the uterus is ready for implantation, metestrus 2 is when the uterus is reabsorbed, Diestrus which is rest and repair of the uterus, and anestrus which is the non reproductive period.
The pre-estrous stage would actually be the pre rut in deer. This is caused by activation of the hypothalamus sending a signal to the anterior pituitary gland to release FSH(follicle stimulating hormone) and LH(lutenizing hormone). Through pre estrus, FSH levels are rather high, and drop off closer to the time of ovulation(Estrous stage). During the time of ovulation, LH levels are at the highest point of the cycle along with increased levels of estrogen. This high level of hormone production is what triggers behavioral change in both males and females. This period of ovulation will be the prime of the rut. If implantation does not occur, the cycle will continue several more times.
Whitetail deer along with other lower mammals go through an anestrus period which is a non reproductive period. The reason for the fall/winter breeding season of whitetail deer along with many other species is that the focus of the reproductive cycle is due to development periods. The optimal time to give birth for non humans would be to give birth in periods of plentiful food and low threat, which makes spring birth best.
As for bucks, they are always ready for breeding due to the process of spermatogenisis. This process is simply the production of sperm within the testes. As I said before, the increased levels of LH and estrogen cause behavioral changes in both males and females. The bucks can smell when the doe is ovulation due to this hormone production which also stimulates him as well. This is when the time of copulation and fertiliztion occur.

Anonymous said...

is there a word limit, if yes, wat is it. it said somehting about limit of 4,600 html (idk what that is) n i wrote way less than that

Othmar Vohringer said...

Anonymous - I do not know what the problem is. There is a word limit on what you can post in the comments and it is much less than 4,600. What you described sound like an error message.

Try again.


Anonymous said...

I disagree, Photoperiod causes the rut
from Outdoor Wild Life magazine
"Deer Biologist are unanimous in agreeing that the onset of the rut is triggered by photoperiod"....."as day length shortens in the fall, it triggers hormone production in a deer's pituitary gland...."Where ever you live and hunt, no matter how cold or hot the weather is, how intense hunting pressure gets or even when the moon is full, study after study reveals that the rut occurs at the same time every year.."In pursuit of his doctorate, King Ranch chief wildlife biologist Mick Hellickson radio collared 125 deer and tracked their movements over a three year period, collecting more than 1 million 1 minutes records of movement activity in that time. At the same time, he was monitoring weather, humidity and barometric pressure. 'After all that data and all that number crunching, we discovered, like most other research had found before us, that its really hard to find any weather pattern that has a significant impact on deer movement'. "Hellickson says, 'As a hunter, i would swear it does but science proved it did not'". ..... " 'If hot weather moves in as deer prepare to breed, they will simply do it at night when its cooler and hunters aren't there to witness it. written by, Doug Holett “ largely from experience, that in northeast Montana, the rut begins about Nov. 13. Peaks on Nov. 17” the last quote was from Andrew Mckean………. CONTINUED on other two blogs

Anonymous said...

CONTINUED : Peter Fiduccia ("Deer doctor"... "Has hunter for 31 years across north America. Has taken 116 racked bucks- a dozen of which are record book class animals. Since 1984, he has been the host of 'woods n' water' television series and has hosted several award winning deer hunting videos. he is a contribution editor for 'sports afield' n many other outdoor magazines” white tail strategies.. + he is a deer biologist)..... ..Peter says the same thing. "Mother nature must rely on a much more dependable stimulus mechanism to set the breeding cycle into motion. Light, or more correctly stated, photoperiodism is what Mother Nature depends upon to initiate the breeding cycle of the white tailed deer. as fall approaches, there is a 'decreasing ratio of daylight to darkness that triggers the start of the reproductive cycle in whitetails' this has been documented with deer moved from one hemisphere to another. these deer adjust their breeding cycled to the current photoperiod in which they are living".........."after all I have heard and read as a young hunter emphasized that the best hunting for bucks would be when the cold weather brought on the rut. in fact throughout my early hunting years, i often planned my strategy to pursue bucks that coincided with colder weather. to do this i decided to hunt in the northern regions of my home state when the cold weather came early and stayed late" ( in early 60's)...." i took my vacation in late November where i thought the rut was 'on' because of the cold weather. it wasn't until the mid 70's that through sheer experience i discovered there was a flaw in this philosophy. i saw the same amount of breeding activity, whether it was warm or cold. And it didn't matter whether i was in the southern or northern part of the state.

Anonymous said...

CONTINUED (last one) ."cold weather generates more buck/ doe activity levels”. “ I have talked with Justin Henry, owner of a hunting lodge in Sherwood park Alberta about his several times. Henry is noted for having guided many of his clients to take some of the largest racked and heaviest white tail’s in North America..during one conversations, I asked Henry when he thought I should hunt at his lodge, he said ‘I’d be a fool if I dad you here any other time than the peak of the prim rut. A good time would be any time during the second or third week or November”. “ in case u missed it, Henry’s lodge is in Alberta, CA, where its cold n snowy and the peak of the prim rut is the same as the peak of the prim rut in the east: mid nov”… “A peer and Friend, Gene wensel has often told me that in his state of Montana, ‘our doe’s come into heat about Novl 16-18’. “the peak is very close 2 the exact dates I suggest are the peaks of the rut throughout new England and the rest of the country” ...that was written by Peter Fiduccia in "Whitetail strategies: a no nonsense approach to successful deer hunting

Othmar Vohringer said...

Anonymous - Three very long comments in which you basically just copy paste from articles that you read somewhere. If you read my article you will notice that I never disputed that photoperiod does not play a role in the deer rut. What I said is that the photoperiod is not the sole trigger for the rut, that there are other factors too that influence the start of that event.

Since you make a big deal about the credibility of your "sources" I might interest you that I am an animal behaviourist and studied deer behaviour for many years. I am also a hunting strategy consultant, and a hunting seminar speaker.In addition to all that I've written many hunting magazine articles on deer hunting strategies.

Over the years I've received many letters from hunters and outfitters, telling me how much my consulting,seminars and writings have improved their success rate. As a hunting strategy consultant you can't afford to be wrong to often if you want to stay in business. I been doing that now for over 10 years.


Othmar Vohringer said...

One more thing Anonymous. why do you not comment under your name? Just wondering why a person with supposedly so much deer hunting knowledge would stay anonym.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Vohringer,

Your statements are %100 accurate. There are many things that trigger the rut. Which one has the largest effect is all theory-based. Just like the trees changing colors in the fall, it isn't solely temperature, barometric pressure, or daylight hours, but the combination of them that make them change. Also, whoever claims your theory is WRONG must realize it is theory based, no one understands nature to the T... Your article was extremely interesting and useful, thank you.

Fisheries and Wildlife

Keith Johnson said...

WOW, Really interesting topic. I'm sorry to say I do not know enough to agree or dispute any of this. A THEORY I am familiar with is, Like was mentioned, Deer in the north go into rut earlier than deer in the south. My understanding was that is related to the following years winter. Deer in the north rut earlier so there off spring are born earlier in the spring to give them more chance to mature and develop to survive the harsh winter in the north. A doe will rut earlier one year than another in the same area because mother nature has a way of knowing how harsh the fawns or yearlings first winter will be and will give them the chance they need to survive.
Again this is a theory but I have known this theory for 20 years and it has stood true. If there is a early rut then in fact the following winter was more intense and the opposite for a later rut.
What is important hear is that we all keep in mind we need to be in the woods during the rut.

Othmar Vohringer said...

You are not so far off with your theory Keith. Weather conditions and south versus north play indeed a far greater roll in the start of the rut than the photoperiod (lessen of daylight hours).


Chad said...

Othmar, Thanks for the great article. What is your theory on areas like North Florida where the average rut dates vary greatly within a few hundred miles (November in the east part of the panhandle to February in the western part)? Could this be the result of a poor buck doe ratio for many years? Here in Florida we can take 2 bucks a day but only have 1 week to harvest does other than bow season.

Othmar Vohringer said...

Hi Chad and thanks for your comment on this interesting subject. Your observation is absolutely correct in the regard that the start of the rut varies form area to area. This alone proves that the photoperiod is not the only trigger of the rut as so many claim.

As I outlined in my article there are many other influences we must take into consideration that perhaps to a much greater part trigger the rut. However, the buck to doe ration, as you fear, has nothing to do with it.

The only influence the buck to doe ratio has is in the behaviour of the bucks. With fewer does bucks tend to be more aggressive toward each other. When there are more does, like 20 does for each buck as is the case in most non-managed places, bucks are less aggressive with each other since there are many more does to go around. In these situations a buck stays with a does group and breeds them as they come in heat with little to no competition form other other bucks. Because of that "peaceful" behaviour the rut activity becomes less obvious to the observer.


chance said...

ive heard alot about rut starting to kick because of the shortage of daylight, i live in northern pa, it seems like the shortage of daylight and cold both have a big play in it in my opinion, im not sure though, whats your opinion on that? thanks, names chance

Othmar Vohringer said...

Hi Chance and thank you for your comment. As you can see from the comments the rut creates a very lively discussion. As I stated a few times, the shortening of day light hours certainly has an influence but it is not the actual trigger of the rut. There are far more important triggers. The timing of the birth. Females give birth when the climate conditions are near perfect to guarantee a high survival rate of the fawns. That means a time when the weather is mild and plentiful food is available.

If the rut would be triggered by the shortening of daylight alone then the rut would have started here in my area,like further south, but it hasn't, and for good reason. If the deer would start to bread here the fawns would be born when we still have knee deep snow up here.


Victoran Rachal said...

I always been amused by hunting deer. Unfortunately this year is my first time hunting and don't know very much about it. Is there any pointers or tips that I can use to be successful at it

Othmar Vohringer said...

Hi Rachal and thank you for your comment. I a good way to learn about deer hunting is to read this blog. :)There is just about everything here worth knowing.

David said...

Ive been out hunting nearly every morning and evening since the last week of October. I hunt the big woods of North central Pennsylvania. I must say the rut activity seems non existent. There was seeking and chasing happening the last few days of October and November 1st. Since then its like the rut completely shut off as if we are in post rut. Lately ive been using fresh pure doe estrous from a local deer farm, maintaining mock scrapes and using trail cams. Even nighttime movement is very little with bucks. I even have one picture where two immature bucks were together two nights ago and a mature buck hitting a licking branch with an immature buck watching. There was no aggression. That was on November 4th in the middle of the night. Lately its just sporadic very small buck at night and doe's passing through too.
My question is WHERE IS THE RUT!!?
Was late October it!? Or was that just an early estrous doe and the main rut is right around the corner.
Any theories would be highly welcomed. Thank you
P.S. out hunting now and no action whatsoever once again lol

Othmar Vohringer said...

Hi David.
Thank you for your comment. It is quite common that a mature buck tolerates the company of a small subordinate buck. You are not the only one wondering what happen to the rut. Even here in our region of Canada we see less rut activity than we have seen in past years. We also see more wolves and cougars and that might influence deer behavior. But whatever it is the rut will take place as fawns need to be born at a certain time to ensure survival.

Unknown said...

Been hunting whitetail for 50 years, it's the light and weather and the smell of the does in heat but it seems to always fall on the 17th of Nov. Why because I'm just a simple man not a biologist not a warden but if you pay at ten the deer are different all around the country just like humans and the one that's got the size speed and confidence he is the toughest and dominate can bread as soon as September after he sheads

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

During the rut has any women been attacked? I was just asking because I normally feed my dear where I work apples all the time and I noticed that the Bucks are up near the doze currently. I just wanted to make sure there was no chance of me even getting in between a buck chasing a doe.

Gary said...

Yup.. Men too

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