The Moon-Phase Rut Prediction Calendar (whitetail rut, or white-tailed deer rut) has been scrutinized by many deer hunters over the past couple of decades but the theory behind how it works has a lot of credence. For those unfamiliar with this tool, it is essentially a guide developed by Wayne Laroche and Charles J. Alsheimer that allows one to plan when, where, and how to hunt based on the predicted rut schedule for a certain area. This is accomplished by breaking the rut down into its primary parts and distinguishing when each of these phases should occur according to the deer’s breeding pattern in concurrence with the waning and waxing of the rut moon. This is the second full moon after the Autumnal Equinox and happens to fall on Thursday, November 10th of this year (2011).
Right now I can already imagine several readers rolling their eyes thinking, “We’ve heard this hunting gimmick before. Of course someone would say the rut will be in the fall around November, we all know that.” I however, want to encourage you to keep an open mind to this theory because the science behind the claim makes sense and has been tested.
In one study, whitetail deer were transplanted from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere when breeding times should be opposite due to seasons and light variances being reversed. However, the deer that were transplanted amazingly switched to the breeding patterns of the Southern Hemisphere deer even though the species normally only breeds once a year. Following the breeding season the gonads of the deer hibernate thus reducing or eliminating the desire to breed. Knowing this, there must be trigger that tells the whitetail species it is time to reproduce.
Just as humans are affected and controlled by hormones so are animals. A major player in the hormonal balancing system in the body is the Pineal Gland. It regulates and controls the amount of melatonin secreted into the body based on the amount of light stimulating it. The levels of melatonin are critical in the reproduction cycles of many animals. (Horses, sheep, hamsters … and, yes deer) For all you science nerds out there, or guys who need a little more proof, here’s the explanation: Pineal Gland and Melatonin (a link to the Colorado State University’s biomedical hyper textbook).
As stated earlier, Laroche and Alsheimer studied deer movement and activities in relation to the moon phase and discovered that the whitetail rut actually took place in 3 cycles (seeking, chasing, and tending) which overlap each other according to the amount of light remaining. Feeding and resting take place before and after each sequence. I will quickly explain the phases before detailing the expected dates that each is supposed to take place.
The seeking phase of the whitetail is the first noticeable sign that the breeding season is almost at hand. Buck activity spikes dramatically due to their desire to find receptive does. Does are not yet in estrus and are not interested in the other sex. Often it is young inexperienced bucks roaming early as their hormones are changing for the first time and they are trying to figure out the whole breeding game. As the seeking phase progresses bucks will test the scent of a doe to see if she’s coming into estrus by flehmening (lip curling) and normally walk straight into the wind to see if one is nearby.
*Tip: This behavior makes for great stand hunting as bucks are on the move. Be patient in your selection because the young bucks will be more plentiful than the bruisers who have done this dance before and are waiting for the does to heat up. Bucks become especially susceptive to calling and rattling since they are establishing a hierarchy and any outsiders’ presence is viewed as a threat. Capitalize on a mature buck by giving him the impression you are challenging for his home range.
The chasing phase is the segment of the rut that emerges as does are about to enter estrus and are not as eager to get away from bucks. Often does will run a short distance and stop to make sure a male is nose to the ground trailing her and not giving chase to another doe instead. A buck’s pent up hormones often cause him to be over eager and aggressive, which can lead to long exhausting chases until the time when a does allows him to join her.
*Tip: Recall all the areas that mature does roamed during the spring and summer. Your trail camera pictures and thorough notes will help you lock down their home ranges. This information will become crucial during this part of the rut when they come into heat. Remember that while you may not have spotted a mature shooter in your area the scent of a doe that is hot-to-trot will bring in the boys who typically roam at night as well as bucks from different “area codes”.
The tending phase of the rut is marked by bucks finally getting the opportunity to accompany a doe. Their daily routine will be identical for roughly the next 24-30hrs as she is bred. A buck will only leave the doe’s side to chase off intruders who are trying to sneak in quickly while he isn’t looking. Once the doe is bred the buck will leave her and resume the pattern of searching (seeking) for another doe in heat.
*Tip: Often hunters feel the woods went “dead,” when in fact the bucks are actually tied down or in turkey hunting terms, “henned up.” If this occurs take note because your buck to doe ratio may be skewed. More does may be present in your area and readily available to bucks. If this is the case the bucks do not need to search heavily or travel far to find another doe so deer activity is kept to a minimum. Tracking and still-hunting with the aid of optics may be the method of choice as the bucks are 8 doe to himself, but don’t expect him to travel far since he doesn’t want to lose sight of her!
Check out my next blog coming Tuesday, which will detail the expected dates these events are scheduled to take place.