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The Blue Moon’s silent rut

The Evening Tribune
Ten-pointer rutting under the Blue moon.

The big buck broke out of his trot as he approached the breeding scrape. He picked up his knarly-racked head to better drink in the heady scent, left by other deer there.

A shudder of trepidation, fear rippled through his nerves. It was mid-morning. He hadn’t gotten old and big by running around in the daytime. 

Everything seemed ok and yet not right at the same time.

Intoxicating scents, deposited at the scrape by other bucks and does crowded out and overpowered his normal ultra-cautious nature.

And as he detected other dominant buck pheromones there, his ears moved slightly back in anger. His body hair stood erect.

But the desire to leave his personal olfactory-based, pheromone-infused, calling cards took control. 

He emitted a long, low, quavering grunt and stretched out his neck to mouth and taste the overhanging branch above the leaf-covered ground scrape on the forest floor. 

Under our Blue moon, actually the rare second Full moon in October this year on Halloween, buck interaction at scrapes is being played out uncountable times throughout deer country; in brush lots, deep woods, and field edges.

A question of timing. 

We all know it.

We all want to experience it.

But what is going on underneath?

What if we were able to peal back the hair and hide, twig and soil, even analyze the air around the scrape with a microscopic perspective?

Pull back the curtain.

Can we chronicle the biochemical drivers, the precursors of the buck’s behavior?

Researchers have come up with some clarity allowing us to delve into this awesome wild mystery.

Blue Moon blue print:

Pheromones are chemical signals. Three types are: priming, releaser, and informer.

Priming pheromones are used by sheep farmers to stimulate estrus by bringing a ram close to the ewes. This bio-stimulation effect is caused by the priming pheromones in the ram. Melatonin inserts are also inserted into both rams and ewes to augment nature. 

In this way, through technology, not only will more lambs be born, but more will be born in a tighter, more efficient, and cost saving window.

For other wild Ungulates such as whitetails, this phenomenon occurs primarily and naturally at the breeding scrape.  

Here, dominant bucks actually suppress subordinate, younger animals   while attracting does with releaser pheromones. 

So sometimes that dominant buck lure we doctored our scrape with might actually turn away, or scare off some of those younger, or non-confrontational bucks we might like to tag.

But right now, in real time, under the Blue moon this year, whitetails are experiencing what the old timer’s have called, “the Silent Rut” or the Silent Estrus. 

And we see chasing, especially by younger bucks, as does have their own priming pheromones on the upswing and some even in fact do breed. That’s where we get those outlier early May fawns. 

But most does that participate in the Silent Estrus, do not produce enough progesterone or estrogen to set up the housing for a fetus, even though they ovulate.

Here under the Blue moon, bucks and does are synchronizing their breeding patterns through this exchange of priming pheromones so that both sexes can in effect, get biochemically on the same page in a few weeks when the major rut will occur.

Whitetails naturally know when to breed by sensing the lengthening nights of autumn, set by the first Full moon in October, this year the Harvest Moon the closest Full Moon to the Autumnal Equinox. 

As a deer’s eyes detect decreasing day length (actually the Suprachiasmatic nucleus, functions like a regulator, or a governor switch for the Pineal gland) the major site where melatonin is produced. 

As the days shorten, the amount of melatonin increases, stimulating the reproductive system in both bucks and does. 

To a whitetail’s sensitive eye, the bright full moon seems to have the effect of dialing back melatonin production, operating as a fine-tuning mechanism. 

And as the moon wanes (darkens), melatonin production reaches a peak. And we observe the rutting behavior of whitetails mirroring the crescendo of hormones.     

The big buck rolled his eyes back like a horse as he mouthed the overhanging branch above the scrape, depositing his saliva-borne enzymes and pheromones there. 

He drank in, tasted, sensed; smelling the intoxicating cocktail of rival bucks and does through their odiferous calling cards … their pheromones.

He stepped back, and with ritualized pawing, removed the leaves With lowered head, first with one front hoof, then the other, quickly exposing the muddy patch on the forest floor we call a scrape, further priming the biochemical machine and imperative.   

Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.

Oak Duke