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Rut Timing – Does it Really Change?

Every year hunting magazines highlight their “rut forecast” and tell us what to expect in regards to the timing and intensity of the coming whitetail rut. Some outdoor writers use things like moon-phase to determine not only the timing of the rut but the intensity. They have even come up with terms like “trickle rut” to describe what deer hunters can expect to witness in the whitetail woods. Based on my conversations with other deer hunters it seems that many of them fully believe every word they read and expect to see a rut that unfolds exactly as the magazine experts predict. I am not one of them.

Before I get into the details of why I dont buy into these theories regarding the timing of the rut, let me give you a little background to help you understand just how I came up with my own ideas regarding the whitetail rut.

Way back on a frosty November morning in 1979 I shot my first whitetail, a 9-point buck that was obviously out searching for does when his luck ran out. When I walked up to that fallen buck my whole world changed. I went from being enamored with all the outdoors to becoming solely focused on whitetail deer and specifically big mature bucks. God lit a passionate fire in my heart for big whitetails that morning that just burns hotter with each passing season.

Over 20 years ago that passion prompted me to get a small herd of captive deer in an effort to become a better deer hunter. Over the past 2+ decades I have focused my captive deer studies on whitetail nutrition and genetics. Along the way I picked up a lot of other tid-bits of information that have helped me take my whitetail hunting success to levels I never dreamed possible.

For decades I have also read everything I could get my hands on regarding whitetails. However I learned a long time ago that the things I read about do not always work when applied to real world deer hunting. Before ever accepting what I read as fact, I always test it against my personal experiences. Many times I have read about some new sure-fire hunting tactic that never worked for me despite my best attempts to make it happen.

I also read the rut prediction forecasts each year and just shake my head. These theories simply do not correlate at all with my experiences with both captive and wild whitetails over parts of the last 5 decades. My opinion regarding the whitetail rut is really very simple; I strongly believe the whitetail rut happens at the same time every fall. Here is what I base this opinion on –

From my experiences with captive whitetails over more than 20 years, the fawns were always born at the same time every spring. This means that the does got bred at the same time each fall. Think of all of the various moon phases and weather conditions that happened during the rut over all those years and yet it never once affected when the fawns were born the next spring.

Secondly, some individual does would come into heat on almost the exact same date every fall. It didnt matter at all what the moon phase was. If one of these does came into heat on November 12th one year, she would come into heat within a day or two of November 12th every year and most years on that exact date. This makes sense when we consider that it is photoperiodism (daylight hours) that triggers estrous in whitetails, not moon phase. If an individual doe is “programed” to come into heat at a certain point pertaining to length of daylight, she would naturally be triggered into estrous at the same time every year.

Now I have to admit that my “sample size” for these observations was limited to the point that my “opinion” probably woundn’t stand up to intense scientific scrutiny. Still, I witnessed more than 200 heat cyles of captive whitetail does over that 20+ year period. I have also intently observed the rut among wild whitetails over an even longer period. These experiences have led me to conclude that the whitetail rut happens at the very same time every year. However, that does not mean that what we as hunters observe the same rutting activity from year to year.

What we witness during the whitetail rut is closely tied to the weather, or more specifically, temperatures. Some hunters mistakenly think that cold weather “triggers” the rut. What actually happens is that colder weather results in more rutting activity during daylight hours. When temperatures are cooler, bucks spend more time on their feet searching for does, checking scrapes, and chasing does. When it is warmer these activities are curtailed and happens mainly at night but breeding still happens.

I dont claim to have all the answers regarding the whitetail rut. In fact, the more I learn about whitetails the more I realize just how little I actually know. I have condensed the information here to fit this brief blog but could expand on it a good deal. I think I have made my point however and hopefully given you something to consider.

By continually being a student of the whitetail and comparing what I read to what I have observed, it becomes easier and easier to separate the good information from the not-so-good. I am certainly not trying to point fingers or over-shadow those who have come up with theories regarding the timing of the whitetail rut but my first-hand experiences garnered over several decades in the whitetail woods simply won’t allow me to buy-in to the idea that the timing of the rut changes from one year to the next.

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