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.
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 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.
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.
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