Many deer hunters dream about bagging a big buck. While a lot of Wyoming and Montana deer hunters focus on mule deer, there is quite a contingent of white-tailed deer hunters. While a big buck is hard to come by — he didn't get big by being stupid — there are times that they are easier to tag.
One of the times deer are most vulnerable is during the rut. For purposes of this article, the rut is simply defined as when the does are in estrous.
I have held some beliefs on what triggers the rut, and I thought that I would do some research to confirm or discount the beliefs.
My salient belief was that weather change triggers the rut. I thought that a cold front coupled with snow would jump-start the rut. I never stopped to reason that deer have their young about the same time every spring. According to some online sources, the gestation period is roughly 200 days, so the rut occurs about the same time every fall. The rut is triggered by hormonal changes and day length.
“Weather isn't going to affect the rut very much ... The rut is going to happen regardless of weather conditions," according to an article written by Josh Dahlke in "Petersen's Hunting." "Deer get bred on almost the same day every year.”
Dahlke quotes Harry Jacobsen, a wildlife ecologist, who said, “The peak of the rut can change a little bit from nutrition — maybe as much as a week — but it is going to happen rain or shine. Does are programmed to cycle into estrous depending on their internal clock every year — it's both genetic and photo period.”
It seems that cooler temperatures, a light drizzle, or wet snowfall will get deer moving. If the weather is warm and sunny, white-tailed deer will bed down and wait for night to move about.
One factor that Jacobsen debunks is the phase of the moon. “Despite all the hype, there has been no research to demonstrate that moon cycle has anything to do with deer movement or rut,” he said.
Another person interviewed for the article, Dan Perez, focused on temperature. “If there is a 10-degree drop in temperature, you'd better be in the woods because all hell is going to break loose. I've had the most successful hunts when there has been a significant drop in the temperature — no matter where I have been in the United States.”
Hunters should also always be aware of the wind. Make sure the wind is in your face, if possible. Typically, winds advance uphill in the morning as the valleys warm and trend downhill in the evening as the uplands cool. Unfortunately in the mountains, though, winds can be notoriously unpredictable in which direction they are blowing from and therefore very frustrating.
One factor of the rut that I had not been aware of was labeled “lock down.” During this period it seems that the bucks stop moving about as freely as they had been; as though there were few if any deer in the area.
The experts contend that lock down is the result of a buck staying with an estrous doe for one to two days and breeding her multiple times before he moves on to find another estrous doe. The plan for a hunter should be to scour food production areas because the does will still be seeking food and the bucks, though they eat little during the rut, will stick with the estrous does.
This time of November is usually the peak of the rut. The warm spell we have experienced is due to come to a screeching halt today, Nov. 17, with a healthy snowstorm. Though deer have already entered the rut, you can bet they will be more active during the daylight hours. If you can manage it and get out in the field, you are probably going to experience the best opportunities to bag the biggest buck you'll see all year this week.