Hunting the Rut When Sly Bucks Lose Their Cool
What Triggers the Rut, and How Konus Can Help Your Deer Hunting
Editor’s Note: During the rut when the bucks are chasing the does to breed and perpetuate the species, the hunter who knows what the animals do and how their mating affects their lifestyle can take deer more consistently during the rut than at any other time of the year.
Gary Moody, a longtime wildlife biologist, explains, “Actually the doe, not the buck, triggers the rut. When the doe is having her estrous cycle, she apparently secretes some kind of scent that notifies the buck that she’s ready to be bred. The doe is only fertile for a 24-hour period. During that 24 hours, the buck must breed her if she is to conceive. If the doe is not bred within that 24 hours,she will have a second estrous cycle about a month later when she is once again fertile. There is much speculation as to why the doe goes into heat, and what triggers the rut. Some believe it is caused by decreasing sunlight. However, in Alabama where I live, we have several separate ruts that occur at various times in the state, although the amount of sunlight is the same. There has been some speculation that weather triggers the rut. But we’ve seen the rut begin when the weather is pretty and sunshiny, and when it’s cold and rainy. To my knowledge, the best information available is that nobody knows for sure what triggers the rut. But we do know what happens when the rut begins. The bucks start chasing the does. The does will generally reject the bucks until that 24-hour period when she can be bred. There is some speculation that the buck can breed at any time, but because of the lack of does prepared to be bred, the bucks don’t chase them.”
Nathan Connell, a southern wildlife biologist, has been studying for some years the deer on a 14,000-acre parcel to try and predict the rut and determine what causes it. “For several years, we took about three does per year from different areas of this property. After weighing the fetuses, we determined that the rut on this land usually occurred from the last week in December through the second week in January. And this information equates with our harvest report from this property, which shows we take the largest number of trophy animals there during that time. I personally believe that decreasing daylight and changes in barometric pressure and temperature all cause the rut to begin. I know that when the weather’s cool, there seems to be more rutting activity than when we have a warm day during this 3-week period.”
Some scientists think that the timing of the rut is also inbred in deer as is evidenced by deer in the northwestern section of Alabama that were stocked in the state some 80-plus years ago from Iron Mountain, Michigan. The Michigan deer have continued to breed true and carry the characteristics of their rutting season with them, which are unlike the rest of the Alabama deer herd. In this northwestern part of Alabama, the Iron Mountain deer go into the rut in early October and begin to breed at this time. And many of these buck deer start losing their antlers about mid-December.
During the rut, the buck loses much of his natural wariness. Oftentimes he is so intent on breeding and chasing does that he will blunder into a clearing or onto a green field without ever testing the wind or looking for danger. A deer-hunting friend of mine told me, “I was just off a well-used deer trail in the mountains. As I watched, a doe passed 30 yards from my tree stand. In less than a minute, I saw a buck coming from the same direction from which the doe has approached with his head on the ground and apparently smelling where the doe had been. He never looked up, and he never tested the wind. He walked within 15 yards of my stand before I took him.”
Hunting during the rut, you’re more likely to see the deer in open places and at odd hours than you will at any other time of the year. And according to Nathan Connell, “Because bucks lose much of their wariness during the rut, the biologists at our place have found from their records that the highest percentage of trophy deer are taken in the rut.” As my hunting buddy, Don Taylor, told me, “One time I saw a doe headed my way running at a pretty fast gait. I knew I hadn’t spooked the deer. But since the rut was on, instantly I began to reason about what could have frightened the doe. All of a sudden the deer stopped, stood dead still and looked back over her shoulder into the thicket from which she had just come. I looked in the same direction she was watching but saw nothing. In a few minutes, she meandered on past. I continued to search the thicket that the doe had left with my eyes. In less than 5 minutes, I saw the ivory glow of polished antlers coming out of the heavy cover. The big buck walked from the briars to the edge of a hardwood bottom where he stopped and started to feed. Then he lifted his head and took a step from behind a big oak tree. I fired, and the deer stumbled and fell. He was a nice trophy scoring better than 150 points on Boone & Crockett and one of the finest deer I’d ever taken.”
Tomorrow: Rattling-In Bucks During the Rut and the Sportsman’s Condo
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