Sunday, February 27, 2011

Timing The Whitetail Deer Rut

© By Othmar Vohringer

“When does the whitetail deer rut occur?” This is the most frequently asked question wherever I talk to hunters. In a previous article, Understanding the rut, I explained what the different phases of the rut and the triggers for that event. No other subject of whitetail deer hunting is as controversial and myth laden as the rut.

Here at Whitetail Deer Passion I always try to use the latest scientific research combined with my own field observations and a good helping of commonsense to provide information about this controversial subject. As I stated many times before, when it comes to whitetail deer behaviour nothing is written in stone. What was scientific fact a few years ago has been proven wrong while others remained fact to this day. Add to this old school thinking and beliefs that have been passed on through generations and it can become quite an opinionated discussion at times.

To start with this discussion there are two irrefutable facts to bear in mind.
  1. The rut does not start at the same time, or date, across North America. Saying that the rut starts sometime in the first week of November no matter where you are is simply wrong.
  2. The next irrefutable fact. Deer have a gestation period of 198 to 200 days.
It is the second fact that will help you to time the start of the rut in your area. Deer birth is timed to take place when it is most advantageous for a high fawn survival rate. Meaning, when there is plenty food available and the appropriate mild climate. It would be counterproductive for deer in a part of North America where still winter conditions occur in April or even Mai to give birth to fawns when there is still snow on the ground and very little nutritious food available to them. It makes sense then that deer in these areas give birth later than deer living in Florida for example.

By observing when the majority of fawns are born in your area and then counting back 198 to 200 days lets you make a fairly accurate estimate when the peak of the rut takes place. For example here in my area of British Columbia the peak of the whitetail deer rut is around the first and into the third week of November. Adding 198 to 200 days the majority of fawns will be born between May and June. This is the time when it is optimal for fawn survival because the climate is moderately warm and there is lots of nutritious food available in non-agriculture areas too.

There are fawns that are born later by does that have not been bred during the first oestrus cycle or young does that entered late into their first cycle. Does cycle every 28 days and the later they’re bred the later in the year they give birth. Late born fawns have much harder time to survive than those born earlier, because by the time they are born important browse food will be much harder to obtain and therefore the fawn has to exert more energy than those born earlier.

Establish the peak of the rut in your area by observing at what time of year you see the highest number of fawns. Then just count back 198 to 200 and bingo you established the peak of the rut. From that you can take it a step further and observe when the first rubs appear and scrapes are refreshed. This will tell you when start of the pre-rut occurs.

Nature does not keep to a rigid schedule and neither do deer. There is simply no way that we can find all the answers in science, the moon phase, photoperiod or what ever you may have heard and read about the rut. The only conclusive answers come from being out in the woods and fields and observe deer behaviour patterns.

This blog post has been brought to you by Othmar Vohringer Outdoors


H C said...

Some very good information! In Louisiana we have multiple peak rut times. The swamp and hill deer rut approx. a month apart. Catch the full moon at the peak time and the bucks are more active.

Anonymous said...

Good info; I'm a hunter roughly 70 miles N of Milwaukee, Wi. Ok getting a better understanding but now article leads me to ask, 2014 was a real late almost no mild spring weather snow cover and deep frost from frigid winter made everything including farmers planting late. Does the rut reflect yearly seasonal conditions or does it take several years for this to occur?

Othmar Vohringer said...

Hi Anonymous.

Yes it would take deer at least two years to adjust. How do we know that? Several years ago a Texas Game Ranch acquired deer from Michigan. It took the Michigan deer two years to synchronize the rut with the Texas deer.

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