Sunday, October 04, 2009

Do we get an early rut this year?

© By Othmar Vohringer

In the third week of September I observed something very strange that I have never seen before. While scouting a new area I discovered fresh and re-freshened scrapes. Usually scraping activity does not start around here until the first to second week of October. Did the deer know something I didn’t?

When on October first the weather changed drastically overnight from a mild Indian summer to subzero temperatures and the first snowfall occurred I thought that this early cold snap might have something to do with the early scraping activity and may have triggered a false rut.

But then reports came in from as far south as Tennessee and Florida where hunters too observed scraping activity. I even got some reports from hunters that have seen bucks chasing does in the first week of October. Now I could understand that the cold front we had up here in the southern interior of British Columbia may have deer fooled into early rutting activity, but in the south of America where the temperatures are still in the mid and upper 50’s?

I am still puzzled about this early rutting activity and asked some deer biologists if they had any idea what could have happened but thy are not sure either.

If that keeps up I may have to hunt the rut in mid October. Wouldn’t that be crazy? For me the bigger question is. If the deer are indeed beginning to breed that early they also will give early birth when weather conditions are not favorable to raise offspring. Indeed there might be still snow on the ground in many areas of North America. This in turn could lead to heavy fawn mortality. Whatever it is I sure don’t like it.

I would like to know what you guys observed in your hunting area and what your opinion is on this very unusual phenomenon.

Othmar Vohringer Outdoors
Founding Member of Outdoor Bloggers Summit

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CDGardens said...

I observed pre-rut bucks sparring in the front yard on September 1st. Then on September 23rd I watched some bucks following what I assume to be does in estrus. The bucks were in hot pursuit...Clearly, this too would be at least three weeks ahead of what would be considered the regular time we are to expect the rut.

I would be interested to know also what would trigger the rut to begin earlier than usual as well.

Ronbo said...

I think what is being observed (early scrapes and chasing) here is the result of the increasing levels of testosterone in the Whitetail buck. This level continues to increase & peaks about Halloween. At that point it will be up to the Doe to trigger the actual breeding. The Bucks will be on the prowl and may follow Doe or Doe groups but actual breeding will not occur until the Doe enters estrus. This will normally occur during the first couple weeks of November each year give or take a few days. Temps, sex ratios and human activity will influence the amount of daytime activity. The actual RUT has three main phases, Seeking - Chasing - Breeding. With all three phases occuring during a 2 - 3 weel period in very late October through the first 12 - 18 days of November. You could see some individual Does that come into estrus earlier or a little later but for the most part these dates are the "Prime Time". In the north my best advice is to try and be in the woods during the first couple weeks of November each year. Good Luck!!

Othmar Vohringer said...

Thanks for you comment Ronbo.

Your comment has some value but what this is about is the unusual early rubbing and scraping activity that was observed this year throughout North America. Here in my area bucks started rubbing and scraping almost 1 1/2 month BEFORE the regular time frame.

Biologist say that this has not been seen since the mid 70's and we where wondering what may have triggered that short lasting activity.

As for you elaboration on the rut. It is not quite as cut and dry. The lack of space here in the comment box does not permit me to elaborate in great detail how the rut works. But is is suffice to say that the rut can not be scheduled on the calendar. The biggest mistake, and unfortunately a very common one, is to assume that the rut will occur every year and throughout North America around the same time. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The rut dates varies from area to area and even from one to the next year. The best way to figure out when the rut occurs is to observe deer activity not the calendar.

The rut is the rut. There are no different phases. It's just a figure of speaking. The actual rut starts with the first does coming into heat and continues for several months until the last doe is breed. During that time there are fluctuations in activities based on the does 28 day estrus cycle, not all does cycle at the same time. These cycling waves do not represent district rutting phases.

In my opinion based on observation and studies, there are only two stages of the rut. The pre-rut, when bucks get ready and the actual rut when the does come in heat.


Pam said...

I live in Wake County, NC (Raleigh). I've been feeding about 18-20 deer (both bucks & does) since early summer. I am not a hunter, just an observer from my deck. I wasn't sure what I was witnessing until I researched it, but I saw bucks in my back yard making rubs and scrapes since late August/early Sept. and witness a violent fight between an 8pt.& a 10 pt. buck the first week of Sept. Most of the bucks have disappeared since that time---I've only had 3 buck sitings in recent weeks, but I have about 9 does who come by to feed 3-4 times per day. Yesterday I noticed them "running from" a small buck with a very small rack---there was also a small buck with only one horn and appears to be crippled--he fed all summer and typically ran with the other bigger bucks---he was a runt and they challenged him whenever he tried to eat. He followed the others around like a puppy, and to see him solo worries me---he didn't eat much but went after the does. Four of the 9 does are fawns that I've watched mature since May. They are nearly as big as their mother. I observed one of them attempting to mount one of the older does, so maybe it's a very young buck??? No antlers yet. I also see the does squatting to urinate within the past couple of weeks and wondered if this signals estrus? At any rate--you are discussing this oddity of early signs of the rut---I'm no expert but I have noticed this behavior since around the last week of Aug-1st week of Sept. They didn't come by to feed as much or as often for about a month even before that.

Matt said...

Have seen some strange things here in northern PA, rubs on trees, bucks grunting at doe already, even watched 2 small buck fighting on October 4th.

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