Opening Day of deer season is going to be exciting, but different

By Oak Duke
The Spectator
A whitetail buck

The timing of the Rut, or highpoint of whitetail deer breeding, could hardly be better for deer hunters who have dreams of filling that buck tag in New York this year.

That is one factor that will make the 2020 New York state deer season, steeped in the traditions we love, anything but normal. 

This year, deer season is unusually late, with the opener on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. 

But also, we are experiencing a spike in the Covid-19 infection rate, along with a peak of deer rutting activity. And most of us are not immune.

During this Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, hunters need to remember to be smart and safe, practice social distancing, and keep a facemask handy for necessary use, now especially and ironically when out of the woods.

The important and longed for tradition of hunters meeting up at camps, dropping in, and swapping hunting stories and refreshments is a prime way for the insidious and deadly virus to spread.

Another abnormal factor this year, New York state has sold three times the number of hunting licenses, due, according to the experts, mainly to the pandemic. Nearly $6.2 million was spent on deer licenses in the first two weeks when they were available this year in 2020 in August, compared to $3.5 million during the same time frame in 2019.  

So expect to see more of our fellow hunters out there. A word to the wise is sufficient. Please show good sportsmanship, especially in these contentious, stressful and anything but peaceful times with a lot of new hunters out there. So be extra-safety conscious with this tsunami of novice hunters in mind.       

The Nov. 21 regular season opener in the Southern Zone of NY this year should see an unusually high number of bucks running with does too, at least for the beginning of the season.

Opening Day coinciding with a peak of the whitetail rut is not always the case.

And why is it important? 

After all, deer are always there in the woods, right?

And it doesn't matter what their behavior pattern is, once the shooting starts, they move?

Well, if it was only that simple there would be a lot more buck tags filled at the end of this most dream-saturated day. 

Some years bucks have run hard by the time gun season rolls around, some in fact running off almost 25 percent of their body weight. So they need time to "rest up" and bury themselves in thick cover. They become almost entirely nocturnal. And they won't move unless almost stepped on.

But this year, a higher proportion of bucks will be running with does as the second spike of a two-pronged rut unfolds around opening day this year.

Archers experienced the first rut peak very early, around Halloween this year, but then quickly, buck activity dropped off the table reaching its low point around Veterans Day this year.

But quickly, we noticed an unusual phenomenon, i.e. does hitting the licking branches over the mostly quiet breeding scrapes. This is one of the initiation factors that stimulates the bucks again as the does ovulate.

The fuel for this opening day rutting fire? The does that were not bred in the very early first go-around back under the Blue Moon in late October, secondly, a large percentage of doe fawns that are experiencing their first estrus cycle, and thirdly, and especially those does that had late fawns, still nursing in October.            

This season, with its second late rut, a higher percentage of bucks running with does will be observed because their instinct to breed and the timing of the second rut wave coincides with the opener. 

Breeding bucks at this time are reticent to leave a doe when her estrus level is peaking.

The long-range weather forecast, at the time of this writing, predicts that the weather should at least be normal. 

Opening Day 2020 should be decent, and seasonal, not crazy high temperatures like on some years, or handing us a snowstorm, or even monsoon rains like on others. 

All in all, the early going of the New York deer season should be another banner year of filled tags for hopeful New York state buck harvesters, or at least to see the object of their dreams. 

One thing is sure, the NYS Deer Season of 2020 will go down in history as certainly anything but normal.

Oak Duke

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