The time of year commonly referred to as “the rut” is a bit misunderstood. At least, that’s how Peter Fiduccia of South New Berlin in Chenango County sees it. Fiduccia, known around deer hunting circles as “The Deer Doctor,” is host and senior producer of the Woods N’ Waters TV Series for over 30 years. He is the author of no less than eight books, all on deer.
“Don’t get caught up in all of the hype about the rut,” says Fiduccia. “The fact is that the whitetail’s rut lasts for months. As long as a buck has antlers on his head and a doe has not been successfully bred, both are willing and able to breed whether it is in October, November, December or even later.”
The Deer Doctor has been studying whitetails for more than 50 years. He has come to recognize and rely on photoperiodism as the primary catalyst for getting the breeding process started.
“The best way to describe photoperiodism is that it is totally responsible of causing a diminishing ratio of daylight to darkness,” says Fiduccia. “Photoperiod acts as the space within a 24-hour time that an animal (or plant for that matter) is exposed to the light of day from the sun. Photoperiodism is said to be also responsible for development and behaviors throughout the year in animals (and plants). In the world of the white-tailed deer, the photoperiod is the trigger for the deer’s breeding season, as it controls many hormonal productions tied to the breeding season.”
The timing for us in the northeast doesn’t vary that much from the midwest or the northwest for that matter. Between the 40th and 45th latitudes, the primary rut occurs between Nov. 10 and 15 according to Fiduccia. “Of this fact you can be sure,” he says, “give or take a few days. Those dates change accordingly, depending on what parallel you are on, north or south -- earlier to the north; later to the south.”
According to Fiduccia, the deer’s internal trigger is the preorbital gland, located in the corner of each eye. It helps the deer respond to these key photoperiods that start up each fall with the diminishing light. Combined with the exocrine gland, the deer excrete pheromones and other chemicals and deposit them on overhanging branches, twigs and grasses as a red flag to other deer through the sense of smell.
“The pheromones might serve to establish a buck or doe’s hierarchy within a herd,” says Fiduccia. “As the deer prepare for breeding season, they mark vegetation with their scent. These chemical secretions trigger a buck’s brain to recognize the start of the rut. The demeanor of deer, especially adult bucks, goes from tolerant and benign to aggressive and irritable.”
Of course, the rut corresponds with the time period when the females become fertile. Hence the important breeding period. However, Fiduccia points out that if a doe is not successfully bred during the peak rut, she will continue to come into her estrus cycle every 28 to 32 days unless she encounters an extremely stressful situation.
So how does the moon play into all of this? Fiduccia is not a fan. “I’m particular annoyed by some of the moon-phase claims. I don’t place a lot of confidence in the moon dictating the precise dates of activity levels in the whitetail rut. While it is possible that a particular moon cycle might happen to coincide with an active rut one year more than another, basing my hunting strategies and my valuable hunting time to align with different cycles of the moon is more than I’m willing to support.”
There is no sound scientific basis to support it according to the Deer Doctor.
“Mother Nature sets the dates for the rut and when breeding will take place,” insists Fiduccia. “The things that can alter when those annual dates are each fall come from stressful influences like drought, severe snow storms or lack of food.”
Now that the “rut” is nearly upon us (if it’s not here already), there are different strategies that can be used to try and trick a buck into range. One is to use a fake deer tail. Hang it from a tree branch nearby and flick it every once in a while. Place a little bit of estrus scent on the tail and give an occasional doe estrus blat to try and attract a rack into range.
Fiduccia also likes to use a mock buck rub, using buck urine early; tarsal gland scent later in the breeding phase. Mock scrapes are also interesting tools of the hunt, but they can be difficult to work with when attempting to ascertain the subtleties of a primary versus secondary scrape and what to lie down.
As far as the actual calling tactics, this time of year is when the Estrus Adult Blat will outperform the grunt call by 10 to 1 according to the Deer Doctor. If you do use a grunt call, you have to sound “beatable” – give that bigger buck a reason to come in and check an animal out. Soft grunt-growl sounds can sometimes trigger a larger buck into checking something out – and you know what curiosity did to the cat!
Fiduccia believes in common-sense tactics – duplicating what nature has to offer. It’s a good lesson to learn and an alternative way of thinking when chasing deer this time of year…with or without the moon. Good luck out there and stay safe!