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Figuring out the whitetail rut for big game hunters

Figuring out the whitetail rut for big game hunters

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Once the rut kicks in, bucks will be seeking out receptive does – one of the most vulnerable times for deer.

Big game hunters pursuing whitetail deer are coming into an exciting time as we approach what deer chasers refer to as “the rut.” This is when a doe’s estrogen level increases, a buck’s testosterone level ramps up and they begin to go through the natural process of breeding behavior.

It is normally around this time that I would talk to the late Charlie Alsheimer about his predictions for the coming big game season. With his passing on Dec. 30, 2017, we lost a true icon in the industry as well as a good friend. In his book “Hunting Whitetails by the Moon,” the “rutting moon” is set for Oct. 31 this year.

Under this full moon scenario, the rut would be perfectly synchronized to have the doe’s peak with estrogen levels, bucks top out with testosterone and the effects of the lunar cycle all come into play. The prime chase phase period would be Oct. 28 to Nov. 6 and the breeding window would be Nov. 7 to 20 under Alsheimer’s anticipated scenario.

However, not everyone agrees with the lunar effects of the rut and another good friend, Peter Fiduccia of South New Berlin, is quick to debunk moon myths.

“You should know I am not a fan of moon phases related to the influence of the rut,” said Fiduccia, the author of nearly a dozen deer-related books and host to the “Woods N’ Water” TV Series. “Declining light (photoperiodism) is primarily responsible for kicking off the rut. The preorbital gland in the corner of a deer’s eye senses cycles of waning light, hence it is the genesis of the rut.”

“As far any of the four phases of the rut (false rut, big chase, primary rut and late rut), they occur specifically in relationship to dates within the four latitude zones of the country. For instance, ask any outfitter in the west within our specific latitude and longitude of 40 to 45 degrees when you can come to hunt whitetails during the primary rut, and the outfitter is more than likely to say, ‘I’ll see you in mid-November.’ The rut is not spurred on by cold weather – that only increases daytime activity. Declining light is the single factor regarding the start of the rut within each of the zones.”

Fiduccia is quite outspoken about the lunar influences (and lack thereof) and he is quick to point out Darwin’s theory and Mother Nature’s plan.

“Mother Nature is perfect in her design,” continued Fiduccia, known around the outdoor trade show circuit at the Deer Doctor. “The law of nature leaves as little to chance as possible. It applies to all living organisms. In order to pass on genetic markers and breeding behaviors, including how long a pregnancy is and when offspring are born, it is all part of how things need to happen for basic survival.” In other words, survival of the fittest.

Fiduccia laid out his four phases of the rut, not three as many deer experts classify this important time of year in the world of big game hunting. In mid-October, you will begin to witness small circular scrapes in the woods. “These are not good to hunt over,” insists Fiduccia. “You will find that they are only around for a few days. However, 28 to 32 days forward of finding these indicators, you will witness the prime rut.”

The false rut is usually around 24 to 48 hours in length when the first large scrape appears. You might think it is “game on” only to find that it is not happening yet.

The big chase phase occurs one week prior to when the deer are mating, when bucks are chasing does. Fiduccia points out that this starts to show around Oct. 31.

“Therefore, as I have said since writing my first book, the dates of the big chase and primary rut will occur between November 7th to 18th, allowing for a few days on either end. November 14th is generally a peak day of big chase activity.” This is when rattling, calling and decoying all become more effective.

The tending phase of the primary rut is when the bucks are with the does, making it tough for males to pull them away from their female counterparts.

“The late or post rut is one of the best kept secrets for hunting,” Fiduccia said. “Bucks will react to does and they will once again become vulnerable.”

Of course, there are exceptions to these rules that will throw things off. Drastic changes in weather such as large amounts of snow and ice could place additional stress on deer in an area. Does can become so stressed that they can skip an entire cycle in the process of reproductive behavior. Too much outside pressure also can have a negative impact on this annual process.

“The normal rut is the rule of thumb,” Fiduccia said. “It takes so much to convince people that this is the way of nature that it is frustrating sometimes. Cold weather is not a key factor for initiating the rut and the moon does not place a major role in the timing of the rut. The breeding cycle does not vary from the northern part of the state to the southern part of the state. Things might be slightly different, such as the rut in the Adirondacks may be more diurnal as compared to the Catskills, where it may be nocturnal, but it is basically the same.”

Whenever the rut occurs in Western New York this year, spending invaluable time in the woods, be it in a ground blind or a tree stand, is your best chance for success. The more time you spend hunting, the better the opportunity to witness what’s happening with Mother Nature’s plan.

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