Hunters Make Your Plans and
Check The Rut Dates

By V. Paul Reynolds

Deer camps are more than a place for a hungry, bedraggled deer hunter to lay his head or fill his belly. At night, after frying pans are scrubbed, guns are oiled and stove stuffed with dry beech, the camp is transformed into a hub of conversation. It becomes a place for talk, a place for swapping stories and pushing points of view about hunting techniques, woods wisdom and deer behavior.

Sooner or later, a spirited debate always gets rolling about the all-important whitetail rut. The eternal question is "when," when is the peak of the rut? When is a buck deer most likely to be distracted enough to make that fatal mistake? Each hunter harbors his own convictions about the timing of the rut.

Maine's trophy deer hunter R.G. "Dick" Bernier, who has bagged more 200 pound-plus bucks than most of us have even seen, is convinced that deer rutting behavior is controlled by phases of the moon. Actually, this theory, called the lunar-phase theory, has a number of proponents. Perhaps the most outspoken disciple of the lunar-phase theory is Charles J. Alsheimer, a field editor for Deer Hunting Magazine. This theory holds that the peak of the rut occurs during the second full moon of the autumnal equinox. Bernier and his father, both of whom have been watching buck behavior with an unbridled passion for years swear by the rutting- moon theory.

If you extrapolate this out on this year's hunting calendar it works out like this: breeding window this fall is Nov. 7- Nov. 21. According to Bernier, the peak of the rut will be Nov. 14th.

Most wildlife biologists part company with the lunar-phase theory. A coalition of deer biologists conducted an in-depth study of 2,500 wild and captive deer from more than seven states. This study could find no correlation between deer estrous (doe heat) dates and the phase of the moon. The study concluded " we believe it is not neccessary to revise the conventional understanding among deer biologists that mean breeding dates are primarily influenced by photoperiod (length of daylight)."

Maine deer biologist Gerry Lavigne, who participated in that study, is convinced that year after year the peak of the rut in Maine is about Nov. 15th. Lavigne writes:

"We examined 673 road-killed does in spring during 1980-89 to learn more about the productivity of Maine's deer population. Based on the embryos carried by those does, we detected no significant regional or annual differences in the estimated timing of the rut or in projected birthing dates The peak breeding period for mature does was November 17-23; yearling does bred slightly later (November 24-30) and fawns bred, if at all, in early December. The peak fawning period, after a gestation period of 200 days, was projected to be June 8-14 for older does, mid-June for yearlings, and as late as mid-July for some fawns. Both doe breeding dates, and mature buck registration patterns in November, point to the 3rd week of November as the "peak" of the rut in Maine, Interestingly, this is also the peak in breeding activity from Nova Scotia to the Carolinas, based on similar studies in the eastern part of the whitetail's range."

So what do you think? Is the rut controlled by the moon or the period of daylight? If you are a confused hunter, you're in luck this fall. As it turns out, this year the lunar-phase dates and the photoperiod dates are about the same.

Interestingly, deer researcher John Ozoga, who refutes the lunar-phase theory, hastens to point out that there are supplemental "social" factors that can have an effect on a doe's estrous cycle (the rut). Poor nutrition or deer crowding can result in a slightly early or slightly late rut cycle, according to Ozoga.

Bottom line: If you're after at trophy buck this fall, the end of the second full week in November is the best time to be skulking through that cedar swamp.

The author is a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program "Maine Outdoors" heard Sundays at 6 p.m. on 103.9 and 101.7, and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.

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