Science continually delves into the mysteries of our wildlife, but we seem to still have a long way to go before we have anything approaching a consensus of opinion or agreement even among researchers, let along hunters and those of us most interested in nature.
Maybe it is not so much that we don't or can't understand the new scientific findings; as much as our prejudices, favorite fantasies, and personal goals get in the way.
It's the old, "If I hadn't of believed it, I wouldn't have seen it."
But still, some of the findings are exciting, even if we don't swallow them "hook, line and sinker."
Take a recent Pa. four-year study on whitetail deer as one example.
For years, Pa. game biologists vehemently defended their moratorium and suspension of the whitetail deer season between the archery and rifle seasons as a time to "let the deer breed." Saying that it always was the peak of the rut or breeding season.
Meanwhile New York runs its deer seasons without a pause; archery, right into the gun season.
But those of us who follow these things closely, know that the real rut peaks actually shift back and forth from the late days of October through the early weeks of December, depending upon year.
So Pennsylvania’s moratorium between seasons was known to be a flawed concept for years, but still, out of tradition continued without question.
Now that may not be significant to many people, but to those of us who take days off from work to hunt, want to know when is the theoretical best time to hunt deer.
For instance, last season (2009) had a major rut peak around the 10th of November. That was the time to be in the woods. But this year (2010,) that time around the 10th of November was “dead” in the woods, with the rut having two pronounced waves or peaks, one in the last few days of October, spilling into the first few days of November, and then a second peak of rutting action the weekend before Thanksgiving.
So the rut varies.
Science points to a number of keys to the actual timing of the rut, with many pro’s and con’s and theories. But it has been proven that there is a significant correlation between years when the moon’s phases lands on the same days.
If you hunted in 2,000 and remember the timing of the rut then, you can expect the same timing during the deer season of 2011.
There have been many studies measuring whitetail fetuses from road-killed does. Fetus growth has been shown to be a constant and therefore a determinant for the time of conception (and therefore the rut or actual breeding time.) But new studies have surfaced questioning the efficacy of the fetal studies because the control fetuses (taken from does with known conception dates,) are on the one hand conflicting and on the other hand, small samples.
But still, 90 percent of the adult does in one study had conception dates from Oct. 27 to Dec. 10. Female fawns however, were from Nov. 5 to Jan. 16.
A growing number of deer hunters and researchers subscribe to the theory that there are really three ruts each year, an early rut when old does come into estrus, the rut itself, usually 26 days later when the bulk of the mature does come into season, and the third rut, approximately 26 days later when about 25% of the female fawns of the year come into season.
This new study validates the third rut as the time when the female fawns are bred. The study concluded that 91 percent of the adult does were bred and 26 percent of the female fawns were bred.
Evidently there are regional aspects to consider three being; topography, range and hunting pressure. Northern female fawns in Pa., closest to the New York border showed only 10 percent pregnancy rate. While in the southeastern corner of the Commonwealth, almost 50 percent were pregnant.
Sporadically scrapes (pawed up areas in the ground made by rutting bucks) can be seen as late as January in some years in the Northeast and the Midwest. Researches concluded that bucks were actively seeking a few remaining un-bred doe when the scrapes appear.
And now we have more scientific validation that the rut ebbs and flows, trickles and surges, pauses and then explodes throughout the entire hunting season in three main waves.
Makes for exciting times.
Oak Duke: email@example.com