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The Whitetail Rut: Right on time again

By Oak Duke
The Spectator
This buck should have been a 10 pointer, but already broke off the front of his right beam, making him an eight pointer.

We say the whitetail breeding season is late, early, or right on time; depending on our anecdotal observations. 

Funny thing about that. 

I mean, our idea of timing or when things should happen in nature is determined by our time schedule, our notion of order.

But nature runs at its own speed; not like work, human relationships, or the world of cyberspace the TV, phone, or computer.

We try with all our might to impose our time out there in the outdoors.

We can cut it with a chainsaw.

We can plow it, dig it, mow it, and turn it on time.

We can and do plant it on time.

And we fence it and try our best to control our outside spaces for a time.

But wild nature is particularly problematic because we actually have little control. 

Not really.

But we do sometimes.

And I guess it makes us feel good when everything is finally, albeit briefly, in order.  

The wild is compromised when touched by man and ceases to be wild by definition.   

The most successful hunters read nature, its changes, and adapt their techniques and tactics accordingly.   

Why in the world would anyone think that nature runs on our timetable? 

Heck, even people, the icons of punctuality, have a difficult time running on time! 

And we have watches, alarm clocks, alerts on our phones, clocks built into our vehicles, GPS, calendars to go by. 

Keeps us on track.

And not one trout or bass use our calendars.

Silly, but we know that if we strap a wristwatch on the limb of a tree, the sap won’t respond to readings at all.  

We really know that. 

But we still say things like, "Leaves are a little late falling this year." Or we say, "Man, apples not ripening like they should." 

We deer hunters love to speculate on the timing of the rut because that is the most exciting time for hunters to be afield. We say, “The rut is early, or the rut is late."

Trout fishermen, with our little boxes stuffed with flies of all sizes and colors annually prove the theorem that a particular hatch or emergence of insects does not happen at exactly the same time each year. 

And bass fishermen who rely on "floaters," floating weed mats to concentrate late season bass, disprove each year that these lake borne rafts of vegetation appear yearly at the same time.

I get a kick out of hunters who pontificate with all the finger-wagging, self-assurance of a politician "... and the rut (deer breeding time) always happens November 11th. And I've bagged the deer to prove it!"    

Nothing in nature, from apples falling to zebras drinking, coincides each year on the same date. 

Our anecdotal observations mix cause-and-effect with correlation. Does that mean whitetails won't evidence rutting behavior November 11th? Sure, some years, some will.

Interestingly, Pennsylvanian researchers have had an ongoing study of the timing of the whitetail rut.    

Their technicians collected road-killed pregnant doe in the spring and through fetal measurements, estimated what they determined was the age of the fetus, and then by backdating, when it was conceived. And that was the date of the prior rut.

Their fetal measurement base, or scale, had been determined by sacrificing pregnant does with known conception dates, assuming all fetuses are the same size, having the same growth rate, irrespective of genetics, parentage, food sources, health, and weather/ climate stresses. 

And then they average all the data, knowing that whitetail parturition happens after a gestation period spanning 180 to 220 days.        

But we know that some does breed in October, most in November, and some in December. 

Our trail cameras show us each May and June when fawns hit the ground, and it is not all at the same time.

Nature is eminently utilitarian and seems most successful when it doesn't put all its eggs in one biological basket. 

This year, as predicted, our Rut will have two main spikes, one just after the blue moon, Halloween, and the other during the week prior to Thanksgiving.

Some might call it an early rut, or some might say it is a late rut, a two-pronged rut, or even a trickle rut.

But nature has its own timing and if the occurrences, from the autumn leaf fall, to the buck rut happens to coincide with our calendar, then we can look past “the cold-hearted orb that rules the night,” and as they say, “thank our lucky stars.”

Oak Duke