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Rut Research

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Rut Research

Post by Waiting4Fall on Thu Aug 16, 2012 10:18 pm

Research is only valuable to a hunter if he's able to translate the findings into hunting methods that will help him shoot more or bigger bucks. In this article, I have taken some of the most significant research on the rut and demystified it so you can put it to good use this fall.

The First Hot Doe

The Research: According to biologists R. Larry Marchinton and Karl Miller from the University of Georgia, mature bucks don't have exclusive breeding rights, only first choice. As a doe starts to come into estrus, bucks of all ages chase her for roughly a day, during which time she spreads her scent over a large enough area to attract the attention of the most dominant buck. Further, according to trail camera data collected during the past three years by Mark Drury on his 2,000 acre farm, mature bucks don't become active until two to three days before the does start to come into estrus.

Applying It: All the intensity and all the preparation for the rut culminates with the first hot doe. She's the first and only show in town and even the mature bucks can't resist acting the fool in trying to find her.

I'll hunt nearly every day of the season from late October through early January. Being out there every day for several years gives me a frame of reference, and I have seen a definite trend develop: The biggest bucks are most vulnerable just before the first doe comes into estrus. Here are some examples of this behavior.

I shot one of my biggest bucks on November 7, 1995. Three days before that, I saw him cruising the area alone. On the morning of the seventh, he came through at first light trailing a doe and defending her from another buck. It was obvious the doe was just coming into estrus.

I shot another buck from the same stand November 4, 1998. He was an old, bull-stud of a buck. Again, at first light he was chasing a doe around the small five-acre clover field that borders the narrow draw in which the stand hangs. When he stopped for a nap, the doe snuck off, and when he woke back up he literally tore the place apart looking for her. He went past seven times before he was in bow range.

My friends and I had an amazing first week of November in 2002. We shot four bucks between November 2 and November 5 with an average gross score over 170 inches. Each one of the bucks was glued to the tail of a doe. But the action cooled down to a literal standstill on November 6, when it was obvious that most of the does were in estrus.

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The biggest buck I ever hunted came past on November 6, 2004. I saw him three times that afternoon; I probably could have shot him from almost any tree within a thirty-acre area. I didn't get him, but the next day I snuck around until I found him holed up with the doe he was so obviously searching for the day before (see "Learning Curve" in the September issue). Like the buck I shot in 1998, he was very visible and totally acting the fool--but I missed my opportunity.

In 2005 I shot a great buck, also on November 6, as he was cruising around feeding areas looking for the first hot doe. He was covering a lot of ground with little of the customary wariness associated with bucks his age. He even smelled and ignored my ground scent--something mature bucks never do at other times of the season.

I could rattle off several more hunts that followed this same pattern. The best time to be in the woods each season is the three to four days leading up to and including the time when the first doe comes into estrus.

Separated For Breeding

The Research: According to biologist David Hirth, when a doe finally comes into estrus, a buck forms a tending bond with the doe and they separate from other deer. Also, according to Leonard Lee Rue III in his classic book, The Deer of North America, a buck usually stays with a doe for a day before she comes into estrus, then he spends a day copulating with her before going off to seek another doe.

Applying It: During the peak of the breeding phase of the rut, many does are in estrus at the same time. You have little choice but to hunt tending bucks. Bucks will only tend when the doe is very nearly ready to breed, and they look for a place where other bucks leave the pair more or less alone. That is why they slip away from other deer during this twenty-four- to thirty-six-hour period.

It's difficult to hunt tending bucks systematically. They aren't moving to make themselves vulnerable and you can't find them that easily. But you can take advantage of this behavior. In my experience, tending bucks usually hole up in small or secluded woodlots and thickets in open terrain near bigger timber. It can be some place as small as a brushy fence corner. I've even seen bucks tending does in road ditches.

When the rut switches to the full-tilt breeding phase, it pays to keep your eyes wide open. Shift most of your time to stands where you can watch a lot of country. Keep a good binocular glued to your eyes and study every corner of brush for sequestered buck/doe pairs. They are the key to success during the middle of the rut.

After a few seasons you'll learn the areas where the bucks and does tend to hole up. You can also find these spots by watching other bucks.

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If small bucks seem to be paying undue attention to a certain area, odds are good a buck has sequestered a doe in that location. Don't waste any time. Get out of your stand and slip into position for a shot as quickly as you dare. If you're hunting with a bow, this is the perfect time to test your stalking skills.

Who Rubs The Most?

The Research: John Ozoga suggests that 31⁄2-year-old (and older) bucks make most of the rubs. However, Marchinton and Miller's research produced a slightly different conclusion. They studied rubs for several years, with the conclusion that a rubbed tree must be at least six inches in diameter (that is darn big) before you can assume with reasonable confidence that a fully mature buck made it.

Applying It: "Hunt where they are" is common advice, but it can be tough to figure out which areas contain mature bucks. One way you can is by focusing your scouting on locating areas with lots of rubs. This signifies, to Ozoga's satisfaction anyway, that a mature buck has made this his fall range. Marchinton and Miller would take this one step further and require that you find at least a few really large rubs before you can be sure you're hunting a mature buck. Either way, areas with lots of rubs are a good starting point.

A Realistic Second Rut

The Research: Dr. Harry Jacobson states that in nutrition-rich ranges, such as the Midwest and portions of the Northeast, as many as 80 percent of all doe fawns will breed during their first autumn. On poorer ranges, typified by a lack of agricultural crops, the rate is lower. In the southeastern U.S., the rate is roughly 40 percent. Consider that the average adult doe has 1.5 fawns on quality ranges, half of which will be does.

Applying It: These doe fawns usually come into their first estrus at least one cycle later than their mothers, making them prime fuel for an active second rut. Also, when the ratio of does to bucks is higher than about four- or five-to-one (as it is in most loosely managed hunting areas), there will be some adult does that simply aren't bred during their first estrus cycle. They will not be bred until their second cycle, roughly twenty-eight days later.

The numbers suggest there will be at least 60 percent as many does in estrus during the second rut as during the first. This would lead one to believe that the second rut has 60 percent of the overall intensity of the first, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to work out that way. Other factors suppress daylight buck activity.

For one, hunting pressure has made bucks very shy and unlikely to move much during the day. One might be tempted to think that the does simply aren't bred due to this hunting pressure, but researcher Dr. Grant Woods once told me that regardless of the amount of pressure, breeding occurs--it just occurs at night.

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OK, so how much activity does the second rut generate? You will see a little chasing and cruising, but nothing like you saw a month earlier. On average, if you are hunting typical locations that see moderate hunting pressure, you may or may not even notice a second rut.

Most of the serious late-season hunters I know don't pay much attention to the second rut. They wait at least two weeks after the firearms season ends before they start looking for bucks on feeding patterns. The second rut is just icing on the cake if it happens to bring a buck out a bit early to look for a hot fawn at a feeding area.

Predicting The Rut By Moon Phase

The Research: The timing of the whitetail rut is governed by photoperiodism, the decreasing amount of daylight that occurs like clockwork every fall. Nationwide research done with trail cameras and trail timers by Charlie Alsheimer and his network of helpers leads him to conclude that the amount of moonlight also plays a role in tweaking the timing of the rut.

"Once the doe's reproductive cycle is reset by a specific amount of daylight, her estrus cycle is ready to be cued by moonlight," said Alsheimer. "A northern doe's estrogen level and a buck's sperm count peak around November 1. Both sexes are primed for breeding; all that's required is a mechanism for setting all these natural forces into motion. My research has concluded that this mechanism (north of the 35th latitude) is the rutting moon--the second full moon after the autumnal equinox."

Applying It: The rutting moon this year will fall on November 5. Based on Alsheimer's research, we can determine the following: What Alsheimer calls the seeking phase of the rut, which begins a few days before the rutting moon, will start kicking off around November 1. The chase phase usually begins a few days after the rutting moon and will hit high gear around November 7.

Largely, these are the times when most deer hunters should plan to be in the woods. You will see more buck movement at these times than you will during the peak of breeding, which Alsheimer predicts will occur during the third week of November.

According to Alsheimer's predictions, this year should produce a classic rut. I've always had a lot of respect for Charlie and his research, but year in and year out, I've always felt that November 7 (plus or minus a day) is the best single day for shooting a mature buck, moon or no moon. I'm certainly not going to be sitting at home on the days leading up to November 7 on years when the moon would suggest a later rut.

Scrap The Scrapes

The Research: Marchinton and Miller conclude that once does begin to come into estrus, bucks have little use for scrapes and stop using them. In their findings, they state that only mature, dominant bucks produce large numbers of scrapes, and that they scrape most intensely just before breeding begins.

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Applying It: The biologists weren't able to say whether the bucks actually go to "their" scrapes each day, or if they only freshen scrapes they happen upon while traveling. The significance of this point is huge. If they are scraping only when it's convenient, then scrapes only tell us which travel routes a mature buck might be using. The scrape doesn't serve as an endpoint, but rather as one point in a line.

But if mature bucks travel to freshen specific scrapes each day, then scrape hunting is the very best method for shooting them. You could find a fresh scrape, set up your stand, wait for Mr. Big to come back, then shoot him. If only it were that easy. My experience suggests that mature bucks scrape when it's convenient and rarely go out of their way to freshen the same scrapes daily.

Use scrapes only to identify travel routes that at least one mature buck is using. In other words, you should look for scrape lines. If you find an individual scrape that isn't along a believable travel route, it's not particularly valuable.

Based on reported findings, the earlier in the fall you find scrapes, the more significant they are. Early pre-breeding is the best time to hunt scrape lines.

Outside of opening morning of the firearms season, there's no better time for a deer hunter to shoot a good buck than during the rut. But you still have to hunt smart and make the best use of available information. Even though rutting bucks are vulnerable, they usually aren't dumb.


Tactical Tip: Timing The Whitetail Rut

Here's A Rough Timeline To Help You Understand The Progression Of The Rut.

•Opening day of archery through mid-October: Feeding patterns prevail. Very little rut activity.
•Mid-October through the end of October: Bucks are starting to move more each day. This is a good time to hunt scrape lines.
•November 1-10: Prime time, prior to peak breeding. Hunt travel funnels near food sources in the evening and near doe bedding areas in the mornings. November 6-7 are my favorite dates.
•November 11-18: Peak breeding. This can be a tough time to see a mature buck because they are mostly holed up with does. Look for sequestered pairs in secluded cover.
•November 19-26: Rut wind down. This can also be a good time to shoot a mature buck. You won't see as much buck activity, but you should see some big ones.
•November 27 through month's end: Breeding activity is mostly over. Feeding patterns will again prevail. Look for great food sources.


Tactical Tip: Scouting For Hot Does

Here's How To Improve Your Chances Of Finding The Best Action.

Scout each day for the first signs of aggressive chasing in the open fields and lanes in your hunting area. Experts say a doe's estrus is preceded by at least one day of chasing where she spreads her scent all over the area. Look for zigzagging running tracks. They're hard to miss because they'll be cut much deeper into the soil than typical tracks. When you find signs of a chase, hunt a good ambush site nearby as soon as you can.


Biology Of The Rut


Deer pheromones, the scents given off by deer, are used as a means of communication. Pheromones serve to stimulate a behavioral response in another animal. White-tailed deer pheromones are present in the forehead, interdigital, tarsal and metatarsal glands while estrogen and testosterone are found in the urine. There may also be pheromones associated with the pre-orbital gland and saliva. Many of these scents are used in combination during self impregnation (rub-urination), and sign post marking (rubs, scrapes) and are interpreted by individual sexes and age classes differently. When used by themselves these scents may be interpreted differently than when they are used in combination with another scent or scents.

Recognition and Trailing Scents

Tarsal scent from the gland on the inside of the rear leg is used in combination with urine as the primary recognition scent in whitetails. This scent is both sex and age specific and deer encountering tarsal scent from another deer can determine the sex and relative age of the other animal by it's scent. Tarsal is used in combination with urine during rub-urination all year long when the animal urinates over its rear legs. All deer rub-urinate, often just after rising from their beds. Bucks rub-urinate more frequently during the rut while making scrapes. Rub-urination is used by moose and possibly elk in response to danger, probably as an alarm signal. Deer often sniff and lick each other's tarsal area during social grooming for identification, which helps to reinforce the social hierarchy. Because of this they know the smell of all the animals in their areas. I have noticed flared tarsal gland hair when bucks fight, and tarsal scent may serve as a danger or dominance signal in this instance.

The Metatarsal gland on the outside of the leg is largest in mule deer, next largest in blacktails and smallest in whitetails. It's been suggested that blacktails, and possibly mule deer, use Metatarsal scent when alarmed to express danger. It's not totally understood in whitetails.

Interdigital scent from the gland between the hooves of all four legs is used by deer to track each other. Does and fawns use it to locate each other, bucks use it to track does. The scent of each individual deer is so specific that one animal can track one individual no matter how many others are in the area, and because scent molecules evaporate at different rates an animal can also determine which direction the other is traveling.

Forehead scent from the sudoriferous glands between the antlers is used as a recognition and dominance scent. Prior to the rut bucks take part in social grooming, sniffing and licking the forehead and tarsal area. Later, when sparring and fighting begin, dominance is established and the bucks recognize each other by scent and associate it with social level.

Bucks are able to recognize the scent of other bucks once signpost marking begins, and know which rubs and what overhanging branches at scrapes have been visited by which buck. After being threatened or attacked during the pre-rut and rut, subdominant bucks soon realize they should not be in area's near a dominant buck and it's rubs and scrapes.

Recognition scents are present all year and can be used any time during the rut, or any time of the year without fear of alarming deer. However, forehead scent is most prevalent during the rut and is more effective at that time. Because deer are curious about their home range, and often exert dominance (even does) in their core area they may investigate any new scent to find out what deer had been in the area.

Territorial and Dominance Scents

Both the signposts of rubs and scrapes are "dominance areas" of mature bucks. These signposts mark the areas used by the buck. Each rub contains scents from the Forehead glands. After rubbing bucks often lick the rubbed tree, and because they sometimes lick their own tarsal after rub-urinating there may be urine, testosterone, tarsal and saliva left on the rub. This combination of scents is a territorial signal proclaiming dominance by mature bucks.

These same scents may occur on the overhanging branch at a scrape (urine, testosterone, tarsal and saliva, possibly pre-orbital) because the buck sniffs, licks, rubs and chews the branch with his forehead and antlers. Urine, testosterone and tarsal are deposited in the scrape during rub-urination. The buck also leaves interdigital scent on the trail of his rub line and in the scrape as he paws the ground. This combination of scents is again a dominance and territorial signal to other bucks and a sign of a mature, dominant, breeding buck to the does.

The complex combination of scents left on signposts occurs primarily during the rut. The scents at the rub occur when bucks begin to shed their velvet. The scents at scrapes begin shortly after rubbing begins, but become most evident about a month later. These scents can be used anytime during the rubbing phase to attract bucks, but they become less effective after the first breeding phase. Because a dominant buck makes rubs and scrapes as a prelude to breeding as a proclamation of dominance, he is impelled to investigate the smell of any unknown buck intruding on his territory.


Estrogen in the urine of a doe signals sexual readiness to bucks. Bucks readily respond to estrogen, or other scents that are present when a doe is in heat, soon after they shed their velvet through the second and possibly the third estrous, which may occur as late as January, even in northern latitudes. Because bucks are curious estrogen can be used anytime of the year to attract them.

High amounts of testosterone in urine signal a buck's sexual readiness to does and dominance to other bucks. Testosterone may attract does to a particular area, in turn attracting bucks because the does are there. In one study from the University of Georgia buck urine attracted deer better than estrous urine.

Does travel extensively when they are in heat, often traveling outside their core areas, possibly in search of healthy dominant bucks to breed with. It has been suggested that does can determine the physical health of the buck by the amount of protein in its urine. The doe chooses the buck she breeds with, possibly by the combination of the protein, testosterone and tarsal from rub-urination. I've seen does wait in the vicinity of a scrape of a dominant buck until he showed up.

Lunar Factors and the Rut; The Real Truth

Several outdoor writers believe they have found a way to predict the peak of the rut by using moon phases. One writer believes that the rut will begin 5-7 days after the second Full Moon after the fall equinox, which occurs on September 21/22. He believes that the peak of the rut will occur during the New Moon. Two whitetail researchers, who also write, believe the rut will peak during the Full Moon and Last Quarter of the moon. Another writer believes that the peak of the rut will occur 5-7 days before the first New Moon following the second Full Moon after the fall equinox. What they are all saying is that peak breeding will occur somewhere between the Full Moon and the following New Moon. That would mean the peak of the rut would normally occur before the New Moon in November.

There are several reasons why the "5-7 days before the New Moon" theory may not hold up. The main reason is because the study was based in part on a study of Water Buffalo in India. While the theory may apply to Water Buffalo in India, deer biologists are quick to point out that Water Buffalo are not deer, but a form of cattle. Several researchers also point out that the tropical weather conditions in India are far different from the temperate conditions of North America.

There are two basic problems with these theories. One is that they are so new that they have not been thoroughly tested or proven yet. The other is that they each predict a slightly different time frame. One theory suggests that the peak of the rut will occur before the New Moon, one suggests that the peak will occur during the Full Moon and Last Quarter, and yet another suggests that the peak of the rut will occur 5-7 days before the New Moon. They can't all be right, yet it would be hard to say that any of them are wrong, because peak breeding in many areas usually lasts from 2-3 weeks. The chances are those 2-3 weeks would include portions of both the Full Moon and the New Moon, and everything in between.

One thing that must be made clear is that all of the breeding activity does not occur during the one to two weeks of the peak of the rut. Larry Marchinton's studies in Georgia, and my own studies in Minnesota, show that the breeding season often lasts 90 days or more. While the peak of the rut may occur in November, these studies show that from 10-20 percent of the does may be bred in October, 40-60 percent in November and another 20-30 percent in December; depending on the area, buck to doe ratio, the health of the deer, and the age structure of the herd. In Marchinton's study the 1 1/2-year-old does came into their first estrus in October and November. In most northern areas 1/2 year old does come into their first estrus in December. Generally speaking, in northern areas, the November primary rut will last three weeks, with the peak of the breeding occurring from one and a half to two weeks after the first doe comes into estrus in November.


The theories about breeding activity and the moon involve lunar light, melatonin and reproductive hormones. Melatonin is believed to be a regulator of hormones, and as such it may have the ability to affect the growth and shedding of hair, and affect estrus cycles. It is believed that melatonin is produced during the dark. Because melatonin regulates the production of hormones, some of the writers/researchers feel that a reduction in melatonin during the full moon triggers breeding activity. Supposedly, it takes a few days for the reduction in melatonin levels and the corresponding rise in reproductive hormone levels to occur. Then supposedly, peak breeding activity occurs 5-7 days after the full moon. However, the effects of low light conditions that affect the rutting period of white-tailed deer are thought to be in relation to the reduction of solar light, or daily photoperiod, during the fall; not the increase of lunar light.

To check the validity of this theory I spoke to several well-respected deer researchers. Dr. Valerius Geist says he does not believe there is a correlation between melatonin, moon phase and estrus cycles. He doesn't believe there is enough light during the full moon to affect overall monthly melatonin production. He also agrees (with me) that the prevalence of clouds during the fall would eliminate most of the lunar light during the full moon. Dr. Karl Miller does not believe there is a correlation between moon phase and whitetail estrus cycles either. He told me that in their tests with melatonin that the deer grew winter coats earlier than they normally would, but the average first estrus dates did not change. This suggests that melatonin is not the only thing that controls estrus dates.

Estrus Cycles

These theories may be based, in part, on the misconception that the estrus cycle of whitetails occurs every 28 days, which coincides with a 28-day lunar cycle. However, neither the moon nor a whitetail deer has a 28-day cycle. It actually takes the moon 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 2.8 seconds to orbit the earth once; and not all whitetails come into estrus every 28 days. Studies by Dr. Larry Marchinton in Georgia show that whitetail does come into estrus from 21 to 30 days, not every 28 days as previously thought. Therefore, even if the first estrus of a doe fell on a specific moon phase during one month, the second estrus could be as much as a week before the same moon phase a month later. I mention the first estrus because several studies on whitetail deer and other hoofed animals suggest that females experience a silent, or non-estrus, ovulation prior to having their first estrus ovulation. If this is true, and the moon phase does affect the ovulation cycle of deer, then the first "estrus" of the doe may not occur during the same moon phase a month later, because the doe may not come into estrus exactly 28 days later.


The amount of light that affects the rutting period of white-tailed deer is thought to be in relation to solar light, not lunar light. Most deer biologists believe it is the decreasing number of hours of daylight during the fall (referred to as photoperiod) that triggers the rut in white-tailed deer. In northern regions above the 40th parallel whitetails generally breed when there are 9 1/2 to 10 hours of light per day. This photoperiodic change occurs once every year, roughly every 365 days, and so does the rut. But, the rut for deer herds in different areas may vary by days or weeks.

Fawn Survival

The time of year when whitetails breed in each area is dependent on the survival rate of the fawns in the spring. Spring fawn survival depends on weather conditions that are warm enough so the fawns won't die from exposure, and on the availability of spring forage, so that the does have enough to eat to produce milk for the fawns. Through trial and error, and selective survival over several generations, the deer in each area have adapted their breeding schedule so that they breed approximately 200 days before the arrival of spring in their area. To ensure that at least some of the fawns survive each year not all of the does breed, or produce fawns, at the same time. An extended fawning season ensures that some fawns will live even when there is a late spring. Because of this, the length of the breeding season in most deer herds lasts six or more weeks, which makes it hard to predict when peak breeding occurs, especially if it is in associated with the phase of the moon.

Peak Breeding

The rut in most northern areas above the 40th parallel occurs from 180 to 210 days before spring warm-up and the emergence of new growth in that area. However, spring conditions occur at different times in different areas, and so does the rut. Because spring and summer last longer below the 40th parallel, southern deer are able to breed over a wider range of dates than northern deer. Peak breeding on Blackbeard Island off the Georgia coast occurs from mid-September to mid- October, while peak breeding for southern mainland Georgia occurs from mid-October to mid-December. Peak breeding dates in different areas of Louisiana and Texas range from as early as October 15 to as late December 15. Peak breeding in many of the northern states occurs in mid-November.

If you want to know when to expect bucks to be acting stupid during the day, and you want to know when peak breeding activity occurs in your area, check my Rut Dates Chart, it has peak breeding dates for every state where whitetails are found, or you can call the local game managers and ask them. Then you can hunt the two weeks before the breeding activity, when individual bucks are most predictable as they make their rubs and scrapes. You can also hunt the two to three weeks of the breeding period, when the bucks throw caution to the wind in their efforts to find estrus does. Or you can hunt the week after peak breeding, when the bucks are trying to find any does that remain unbred.

What You Are Not Being Told

Although I have read several articles on lunar rut theories, what the average hunter is not being told is that does go through what deer biologists call a "silent" ovulation approximately 12 to 23 days before they experience " estrus" ovulation. During the silent ovulation the does ovulate, but there are not enough reproductive hormones present for the doe to conceive and become pregnant. What this means is that, if the moon does influence breeding behavior, and the moon does affect the estrus cycle of the doe, it is the moon phase the month before the doe comes into estrus that starts the process, and there is the crux of the problem.

Let's suppose that the full moon does trigger a reduction in melatonin level, which in turn triggers the first ovulation cycle of the doe (5 to 7 days after the full moon). In much of North America whitetail does are bred in November. That would mean that it was the full moon in October that triggered the ovulation cycle. Remember, does come into a first "estrus" ovulation until 12 to 23 days after their "silent" ovulation. And we have to add 5 to 7 days for the "melatonin effect" to the 12 to 23 days between the silent ovulation and estrus ovulation.

What that means is: IF a doe experienced a silent ovulation 5 to 7 days after the October full moon, and IF she experienced an estrus ovulation 23 days after her silent ovulation, she COULD come into estrus during the November full moon. But, what if she comes into an estrus ovulation 12 days after her silent ovulation? Then she would come into estrus nine days before the full moon. Now remember that the moon theories suggest the doe will come into estrus from 5 days before to nine days after the full moon. It just doesn't add up.

Priming Pheromones and Rut Synchronization

I've already mentioned that whitetail does experience a silent ovulation prior to having a normal estrus ovulation, which is when they can normally be expected to breed and conceive. And I mentioned that it appears there is no correlation between the phase of the moon and peak breeding. We do know that it is the shortening number of hours of light each day that triggers the rut. But, is there anything besides the sun that helps assure that bucks and does are ready to breed at the same time?

Miller, Marchinton and Knox presented a scientific paper in 1987, in which they suggested that the scents left behind at rubs may serve as priming pheromones, and help bring does into estrus when the does come in contact with the scents. When bucks rub a tree they transfer scents from their sudoriferous (forehead) glands to the tree. The scent from these glands has been correlated with a bucks age and probable social status. In other words, does may be able to tell how old a buck is, and probably whether or not it is a dominant buck or not, by the scent it leaves behind at a rub. But, what matters is that when does smell the scents at a rub it may cause them to come into a silent estrus. Since rubbing usually peaks early in the rut (mid to late September in many areas), and because the does don't all come in contact with the scents at the rubs at the same time, many of them may come into a "silent" ovulation in late September early/October, and come into a normal estrus from late October to late November.

Interestingly, during Marchinton's 1985 study the full moon occurred on October 28 and again on November 27, with peak estrous occurring November 9, showing no correlation with the full moon. This lack of a correlation between moon phase and peak rut was to be expected because of the lateness of the November full moon. I suspect that when the full moon occurs too early or too late the rut will occur when it usually does, during mid-November in the many areas.

Even if the amount of moonlight causes does to come into estrous, Marchinton's research shows that not all does come into estrous during a particular moon phase, or even during the same month. As mentioned earlier, Marchinton found that the estrous cycles of does ranged from 21 to 30 days, with an average of 26 days, but the moon phase changes every 29 1/2 days. Therefore, if a doe came into estrous during the full moon in October, and assuming it wasn't bred, it's second estrous could occur as much as a week before the full moon in November; and two weeks before the full moon in December.

The Moon and Rut Related Activities

My studies, research by Kent Kammermeyer, and research by Grant Woods, suggest there is a correlation between increased daytime deer activity and the moon. These correlation's are related to the position of the moon and the earth; the distance of the moon from the earth; the position and speed of the moon in its elliptical orbit; and combinations of these factors. The position of the moon (not the amount of light) during the full moon phase may cause increased gravitational pull; the distance and acceleration of the moon during the perigee (when it is closest to the earth in it's elliptical orbit) may cause changes in magnetics. The independent or combined effects of these two factors appear to increase daytime deer activity.

Because the elliptical orbit of the moon (the time it takes the moon to revolve around the earth) has a 27 1/2 day cycle, and the light phase of the moon has a 29 1/2 day cycle, the full moon and the perigee can occur on the same day, or as much as two weeks apart. This difference in cycle lengths may be the reason why deer movement is high during the full moon in some years but not in others. I suspect that when the full moon and the perigee occur at about the same time (as in 1997) it may cause increased daytime movement of deer.

No one really knows if and how these lunar factors affect deer activity; which lunar factors influence deer activity and how much; or what happens when the perigee and the full moon occur two weeks apart. The key thing to remember is that daytime deer movement (including breeding activity) appears to be highest during the week of the full moon each month. However, hunting pressure, the rut, food availability and the weather can completely override any affect the moon has on deer. My studies show that during November, when both the hunting season and rut are in progress, there was no noticeable peak in daytime deer activity.

Even though we may not be able to predict when peak breeding occurs, there may be a correlation between lunar factors and daytime deer activity. When normal deer activity, caused by the weather, the rut, or lunar factors, occurs during the day, you would expect that rut related activities such as rubbing, scraping and breeding would also occur during the day. Because Dr. Grant Woods has researched several other deer activities I asked him if this assumption was true. Woods says that when lunar forces cause increased daytime deer activity you can also expect rut activity, including rubbing, scraping and breeding, to occur during the day. Incidentally, I found that the Moon Indicator is fairly accurate at predicting when peak scrape activity will occur.

"We will be forever known, by the tracks we leave behind."- Native American Quote

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