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Rut Predictor For This Year And Beyond

By Scott Stankowski - October 1, 2013
Oftentimes when the subject of the rut comes up amongst hunters I think it should be categorized as a four letter word. Simply for the reason that it can never be agreed upon and everyone has a different opinion. The key word in that last sentence is ‘opinion.’ We are inundated with articles and stories in every printed wildlife publication from the moment hunting season starts through the gun hunt and sometimes beyond. So called experts, give their ‘opinions’ based off of what they feel may sell them more magazines because their ‘guess’ is different than others. So who are we really supposed to believe when it comes to the rut and predicting it? The answer is Mother Nature herself, and also within that we must realize that there is no set recipe when it comes to it. What we can do is look at the major components that make this rut soup and try to decide what will control it.
This much we know and is relatively undisputed: whitetail bucks are rutting before does, and nature itself is controlled almost exclusively by day length. Owners of greenhouses throughout the nation artificially control day length in order to get flowers to blossom and fruits to mature. This is a major reason we no longer have seasonal vegetables.

The whitetail deer does not live in a greenhouse so it is dependent on natural day length, which is consistent from year to year. Hormone levels in the whitetail deer are governed by specific day lengths. This being said we can pretty much predict and count on a consistent rut from year to year. It must be this way in order to insure optimum successful reproductive chances so that the species may succeed. Fawns born too early or too late the following year struggle to survive. Fawns are consistently born every year during the same time. What does this specifically tell us? That again, the rut is controlled by day length, this would be the stock of our soup.

A doe goes into estrus for twenty four hours and bucks sense this through pheromones and scents. A doe will release these chemicals prior to ovulation and bucks will chase does until she is ready to be breed. In some areas, the dominant buck is able to fend off all competition and the doe will be ‘tended’ to in what we call the lockdown phase, where the does sits, and so does the buck.

The additional ingredients adjust annually but play a lesser role and are more unpredictable. Daytime rutting activity changes from year to year based off of what I believe are two main ingredients. One is obviously moon phase, which we hear so much about. The other is temperature. I suggest however that a word of caution be given when discussing these two items because when a doe goes into estrus, she will go into estrus and activity will change around that doe.

Activity may also be influenced by human pressure as well. I have seen wounded deer breed does on opening weekend of gun hunting, obviously both of those deer had experienced pressure and still went about their routine. What I would encourage everyone to remember is that deer do not perceive pressure like we do.

Big bucks are often shot during the middle of the day during the rut, research suggests these bucks are ‘lost’ and not in their home range as the urge to breed was greater than protection from their home environment. Therefore they are out during daytime hours when they are more vulnerable. Do not be surprised to see visitors that you had never seen on trail cameras or during the early season.

I finally want to point out that as people we want to categorize deer in general. What we must realize is that deer individually act differently based off of their genetic disposition and environmental factors. What may hold true for one individual or group may change with others. In other words, deer, when it boils down to it, are individually unpredictable. How many times have we heard someone say "This scent worked great last year" or "I heard this worked great, but when I tried it, they ran away." We have all been through that to prove my point. The bottom line is, trust the true controller of the rut, the sun, and be consistent from year to year and your luck may go up.

Author Scott Stankowski
Scott Stankowski
Scott Stankowski is the senior outdoor writer for and produces weekly articles, typically highlighting getting kids active in the outdoors. His family prides itself on living off of the land. Scott also takes the mantra into the classroom where he teaches environmental science at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High School. Scott and his sons have won numerous titles in turkey and deer calling at the state level. Scott and his sons have a national outdoor television show titled Growin' Up Wild and can be found on Facebook.
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