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The Rut: The Greatest Show on Earth

Alternate Titles:

The Rut: Leveling The Playing Field

The Rut: What, How and When

The Rut: Falls Breeding Frenzy

There is a time of year-a brief window- in which deer hunters can get an amazing glimpse into the world of the

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rutting whitetail deer. It’s the ‘show of shows’ for well seasoned hunters who run to their employer’s vacation calendars in an attempt to schedule vacation time to coincide with traditional rut dates in their area of the state. Having a front row seat while you watch this testosterone driven frenzy unravel around you will have you hooked for life. It’s hard to believe that so many different behaviors can be packed into so little time.

Questions fly through our minds like a swarm of mosquitos on a hot summer night. Even as we get older, seasoned hunter we still have questions to be answered that were sprouted but the answers to the questions we received during you’re you and day gone by.

 

Questions like,  “What is the rut?”

 Have matured into,  “How can I time the rut in my region I’m planning to hunt?”

 The rut: word derivative. Old french origin> meaning to ‘roar’

 Basically the rut is the period when antlered Ungulates (hoofed mammals divided into 2 groups, even and odd toed) with even toes, (split hoofed) mate. This even toed group includes the Whitetail Deer, Mule Deer, Elk, Moose, Caribou, Ibex, Goats, sheep and the Pronghorn-Asian-African Antelope. The breeding season for deer and elk starts in the fall.

The rut is not broke down into regions, but instead by Latitude. The upper north latitude of Minneso

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ta has an average peak of the rut around November 12th. Go 7 days on either side and this roughly gives you the start and end. Missouri, or mid line Latitude has it’s peak around November 18-20th. Again go 7 days either side for the start and end. Then Texas has it’s peak of the rut December 18th. This means its approximate start is the 11th and it’s end would be around the 25th.                                       Remember that the actual start of the rut for each species not only differs from state to state, but throughout different sections of the state as well. The average hunter can calculate the average start of the rut by comparing the previous years, but if you check your hunting calendars, you can see that sometimes it varies by as much as 10 days or more. This is what makes exact timing of when the rut will start next to impossible. The best way for you to find out when the rut starts in a particular area is to simply ask. The farmer or land owner whose land you obtain permission from, is one of the best sources of information available. They are on and around the land basically 24/7. If he can’t tell you what you need to know, the most knowledgeable sources are the Terrestrial Biologists at the nearest Department of Natural Resources, Department of Conservation or Division of Wildlife. They are there to help and will gladly answer any questions you may have about the rut. Most DNR branches have an 800/888 number you can call. Then you can ask to talk to the biologist when he’s available.

What factors have an influence on the start of the rut?

The main triggering mechanism for the rut is Photoperiodism. It’s a real head-scratcher of a word, but the process is really interesting. Photoperiodism is the diminishing ratio of daylight hours in contrast with lengthening hours of darkness. This yearly changing of the seasons from summer to winter, along with a few outside contributing factors like the New Moon and weather, are what jump-starts the doe’s reproductive cycle. The deer’s brain automatically control’s this whole process simply by looking at the world through her eyes. The retinas of a deer’s eyes receive images from the lens of the eye in sync with the optic nerve.(instant identification). One of the layers of the retina contains rods and cones that are sensitive to light. The control room of the brain (Hypothalamus, located at the base) records this information and checks it’s data files (memory) under ‘history’ to compare how soon it needs to tell the pineal gland ( the translator of photoperiod data) to start releasing melatonin. (The hormone that starts the doe to cycle). The brains control center’s main responsibility is to maintain and regulate the life sustaining functions of the deer such as heartbeat, wake and sleep cycles, regulation of body temperature, and of course the start of estrus.

Estrus is the reoccurring period when does/ cows are the most fertile and the only period in which they are receptive to the bucks/ bulls sexual advances. It lasts for 24 hours on average, and as long as 72. If they are not bred successfully the first time they will cycle again in 28 days. It is not unheard of to have a 2nd and 3rd rut in the northern Latitudes of the United States, and in the southern United States a doe can cycle year round until they are bred.

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What Other Factors Have An Influence On Its Timing?

The New Moon Phase can be a little confusing as it actually refers to the period when the moon is absent from the nighttime sky. This is a period of absolute darkness that occurs at the time when the start of the rut is already 44waiting in the wings, and it can fool the brain into interpreting that the days are noticeably much shorter, which signals   the doe/cows pineal gland to release hormones into the blood and start the rut ahead of schedule. The initial start of the rut was close to begin with and this short stretch of no moon helped push the peak of the rut ahead of schedule by days. But a sudden change in weather can also effect the rut adversely…

A severe drought can make the rut seem nonexistent. Poor food supply results in less healthy deer, without a good supply of acorns the bucks can’t bulk up to survive the rut and winter combined.

Weather’s Influence

It is said that cold snaps will trigger an early spurt of the rut. To some degree this is true, after all a cold snap will usually be accompanied by dreary, overcast days and nights. Deer do get more active on cooler days as a rule, but the main contributing factor is the clouds restriction of sunlight.

On the other hand it is said that abnormally warm weather will put the brakes on the rut completely. Not so, they just take advantage of the cooler nighttime hours. Since we see minimal movement during the day, we make the assumption that the rut is on ‘hold’. When the rut is on in hot weather, so are the players.

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Severe droughts not only cause crop failures and springs to dry up, they also can cause doe’s to delay estrus.

Sometimes if conditions are extreme, doe’s may never enter the breeding cycle at all.

How Long Does The Rut Last?

The does are sexually receptive to bucks only during a brief 24 hour period when they have ovulated.(released an egg from their ovary.) The buck will follow these ‘hot’ does for roughly 3 days breeding her until she will no longer stand for him. The overall rutting period will last 10 to 14 days and within 3 weeks the first rut is complete. This is normally how long it will take for most does to come in to estrus and be bred, not all does reach peak estrus at the same time. After the first rutting period, factors such as the buck to doe ratio and the strength of the initial rut (percentage of does bred) play a role in the 2nd and sometimes 3rd rutting periods.

The start of the rut occurs earlier in northern states and later as you go south. In warmer climates, the buck to doe ratios plays a big role in when the rut starts and ends. Does in southern states can cycle as many as 7 times if not bred during previous cycles.

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Why is the rut so important to hunters?

During the start of the rut, bucks are in hot pursuit of does in estrus. Estrus does are a hot commodity and every buck 1 ½ years old and up are going to be looking non-stop for a doe in heat. Bucks will focus on little else but breeding, they will rarely eat (if at all) or sleep. They will be on the move constantly night and day. The bucks know that they only have a small window of opportunity to mate with does in estrus, and competition is fierce. Because they are pre-occupied with breeding, bucks make themselves susceptible to deer hunters arrows and bullets. They throw caution to the wind and are many times seen in the open as they frantically search for a doe. A mature buck is far from being the elusive, extremely cautious adversary of 3 weeks ago. Hunters are assured of seeing more deer (bucks) than at anytime during the season. More deer on the move means better chances for hunters to fill their tags and freezers.

 

What Hunting Techniques work the best During The Rut?

There is one key factor that should not be overlooked. The power of the doe close to or in estrus. Treat your women right and you will have a leg up on the rut. There is one technique besides a funnel set-up that works very well. Does stay in their home range. Therefore if you can locate where the main bedding area is, your way ahead of the game.

Tony’s 157 3/8 proves that set-ups just off of bedding grounds will produce results as the bucks travel between them ‘bump checking’ Does.

Between Food and Bedding.

Until does start estrus, they rest and eat in their home ranges and rarely if ever leave it. Whether you prefer a ground blind or treestand, a set-up between these two locations will allow you to actually watch the bucks as they travel from bedding area to bedding area in search of the first doe to come in heat. They will approach every doe in that spot and ‘bump check’ (nudge to see if she’ll stand) her. If his advances go unrecognized, he moves to the next group of bedded does. In the fall these bedding grounds are normally found on, and near the top of south facing hillsides. The trick here is to position your stand just out of sight of the beds, and above the main trail leading into them. Be sure and use the wind correctly so your scent doesn’t drift towards the beds or you might as well sit in the middle of a picked field.

Funnels

Funnels work all year, but during the start of the rut they are the best stands going. Funnels can be natural or inadvertently made by man. Funnels basically force deer through a narrow opening that connects one type of terrain with another. In hill country deep ravines are common. At the start of them is a freeway that connects both hillsides together, as you descend, the ravine gets deeper and wider..very tough to cross. Placing a stand at the uppermost start of the ravine (funnel) will definitely double your chances of filling your tag. Other types of funnels are saddles,(visibly lower dips along ridge tops) fence rows, narrow crossings of rivers and streams and wind breaks (thin  lines of trees planted between fields). These are all great spots for ambushing deer during the rut. Hunting scrapes during peak rut is a mistake, the mature bucks are already pared with does in estrus.

TTMRCO#320 Hunting the Burns can be Productive

Kyle dropped his buck with one shot from his .270 WSM, but its size wasn’t totally evident until he and his father 88walked up on the downed deer.  His father said, “Kyle, it looks like a bush has attacked your buck!” and the true size of the 43-point, 300 inch monster became evident!

 

Each year thousands of acres of forest land are charred by fires which move all of the game out of the area, but the following spring the forest edges hold high concentrations of both deer and elk.  When a fire removes old growth the ash and other exposed minerals start the re-growth cycle of new, green forbs.  This lush feed is highly desirable to wildlife and the burned areas resemble agricultural plots of alfalfa or corn.  The wildlife won’t feed during the day, but they’ll be present in the early morning and late evening.

 

To gather data on where deer and elk enter a burn area look for tracks along the edges and water sources like small springs and look for new growth adjacent to the heaviest cover or places with difficult access.  When conditions allow, check after a fresh snow when game is moving and tracks are visible.  Many burn areas cover thousands of acres, and to pin down the best places hunt spend a morning or evening glassing from a high vantage point to locate deer and elk that are on the move.

 

When scouting for an archery hunt check soft ground for trails showing repeated use then set up where the burned area meets unburned cover and the tracks reveal high traffic areas.  Large, open areas are notorious for changing winds.  Tape a short string attached to a down feather on one end of your bow to detect the slightest changes in wind direction.  As the morning sun heats the ground, air currents move up hill and in the late afternoon the currents reverse.  Plan your blind location with this in mind.  Remember that storms and frontal systems traveling through the area can override the thermals so watch the feather.

 

One fact easily overlooked is that deer and elk seldom travel on the top edge of a ridge – instead they prefer side hill travel.  They use saddles (low areas in a ridge line) whenever possible traveling from point to point as it requires less energy. 

Large bodied animals using an open feeding area usually enter from a low spot in the clearing and feed along the edge.  They seldom cross open country during daylight hours – watch the edges.

 

The feather wind indicator is good for muzzle loader hunters also even though the wind isn’t as critical because of their extended shooting range.  Don’t allow your scent to blow back into cover because you’ll never see your trophy animal again.  Rifle hunters rely on long distance skills and need to cover the best areas by choosing a location above the feeding area.  Adjust your location to be able to view a wide area and when an animal appears where they’re least expected use the available cover to get within shooting range.

 

Follow these tips and you might bag a real trophy.  It might not look like the buck Kyle’s buck that measured over 306, but the odds of finding a trophy are much better in the burn areas.