need to choose your rut-cation dates now? let biology be your guide

Outdoor Life - - HUNTING -

For those with a tight sched­ule and lim­ited va­ca­tion time, be­ing able to plan your rut hunts is cru­cial. For­tu­nately, most re­search in­di­cates that this is pos­si­ble. When it comes to the tim­ing of the white­tail rut, many in the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity be­lieve that pho­tope­riod (the amount of light over a 24-hour in­ter­val) is at the core of ev­ery­thing.

“It’s a domino ef­fect,” says wildlife biologist Matt Ross of the Qual­ity Deer Man­age­ment As­so­ci­a­tion. “As the pho­tope­riod changes, testos­terone increases in a buck. There’s a di­rect line be­tween the deer’s eye­balls and the pineal gland in the brain, and that re­leases a type of hor­mone, which tells the testes to pro­duce more testos­terone. And it’s the same thing with does—the pho­tope­riod drives the tim­ing of her es­trus cy­cle.”

These chang­ing lev­els of hor­mones in bucks and does de­ter­mine when deer can breed. Be­cause these hor­monal shifts are tied to pho­tope­riod, which changes at a con­sis­tent rate and at the same time every year, the peak of ac­tual breed­ing ac­tiv­ity, for most the coun­try, is quite uni­form.

Rod Cum­ber­land, a deer biologist from New Brunswick, reached a sim­i­lar con­clu­sion through the study of road-killed deer.

“From Jan­uary un­til June, when fe­males were car­ry­ing fe­tuses, we would open up the re­pro­duc­tive tract and mea­sure those fe­tuses,” he says. “That would give us a pretty good es­ti­ma­tion of when they would have given birth and when they were bred.” He then looked at this data and com­pared it to a num­ber of po­ten­tial rut-trig­ger­ing fac­tors— such as the moon phase, baro­met­ric pres­sure, and cloud cover—but only one thing matched. “No ques­tion,” he says. “It was pho­tope­riod.”

What this means for hunters is that tim­ing the best rut ac­tion of­ten­times re­quires noth­ing more than a cal­en­dar. In most ar­eas of North Amer­ica, other than the Deep South, a con­sis­tent peak of breed­ing oc­curs around mid to late Novem­ber. A Penn­syl­va­nia study con­ducted from 2000 to 2007 con­firmed this. Bi­ol­o­gists ex­am­ined more than 6,000 road­killed does and fawns and found an aver­age peak breed­ing date be­tween Novem­ber 12 and 18. A sim­i­lar 2016 Illi­nois study found peak breed­ing from Novem­ber 8 to 11, and Cum­ber­land’s New Brunswick study found a slightly later peak, be­tween Novem­ber 26 and 29. On the other hand, in Mis­sis­sippi, stud­ies es­tab­lished an aver­age con­cep­tion date of Jan­uary 1, with sig­nif­i­cant re­gional dif­fer­ences within the state—which seems to be the norm for many of the South­ern states. To nail down this tim­ing for your own area, con­tact a lo­cal wildlife biologist, who likely keeps track of re­gional fawn drop and con­cep­tion dates.

Mid­west deer hunter Corey Fall has taken ad­van­tage of this pho­tope­riod con­sis­tency by pri­or­i­tiz­ing the cal­en­dar over all else when plan­ning his rut hunts.

“What I’ve found is that the ac­tual peak breed­ing time around here is be­tween Novem­ber 13 and 17—some­where in that ball­park, every year,” says Fall. “About seven days be­fore is when you’re go­ing to see that peak seek­ing and chas­ing hap­pen­ing, when those bucks are look­ing for re­cep­tive does.”

Fall plans his sched­ule to be in the woods dur­ing this time frame re­gard­less of tem­per­a­ture, moon phase, or other fac­tors. “For me, I know that every year there will be great rut ac­tion some­time be­tween Novem­ber 4 and 10.”

A per­fect ex­am­ple of Fall’s suc­cess­ful plan­ning came in 2015, when he cleared his job com­mit­ments and trav­eled to Iowa for a week­long rut hunt. De­spite day­time tem­per­a­tures that climbed into the mid-70s, he made it a priority to be in a tree on Novem­ber 4— and that’s when he killed a 147-inch buck. Fall has repli­cated that suc­cess sev­eral times in the last 10 years. He’s taken six

ma­ture bucks be­tween 130 and 170 inches dur­ing that time frame across Ohio, Michi­gan, and Iowa. On these hunts, he fo­cuses on typ­i­cal rut lo­ca­tions such as pinch points be­tween large blocks of tim­ber, ter­rain fun­nels, and stands down­wind of doe bed­ding ar­eas. But most im­por­tant, dur­ing those magic few days of the year, he sim­ply puts in his time even if it means all­day sits.

“You’ve got to grind it out,” he says. “Even though it’s tough men­tally when you go hours on stand with­out see­ing a deer, it can hap­pen at any minute. Re­gard­less of other fac­tors, those bucks have a strong de­sire to breed, and those does need to be bred dur­ing that week to 10 days, so it’s go­ing to hap­pen. You’ve just got to make your­self be there when it does, and hope it takes place in day­light.”

a ma­ture buck scent-checks an ohio field edge while trail­ing a hot doe.

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