Yes once again it is time for your annual report on the rut for deer season. First things first, what is the rut? As you know your humble outdoor writer is trying to be helpful. The friends, family, wives, husbands, girlfriends, and significant others out there that put up with us hunters year round may or may not know about such things. So, gather round children for a little sermon on the rut!
As we have discussed here before the term rut is used to describe the mating season for the various members of the of the deer tribe, that is the family Cervidae. This includes whitetail and mule deer, moose, elk, and caribou. The deer family have their own way of manifesting behavior during this time. Remember that deer, like many animals, only go through this mating and procreation fiasco once a year, not 365 like humans do. More is the pity.
Most of the year the deer family are shy and secretive and do their best to stay hidden and out of the limelight. We are told that when the daylight hours start to decrease in the fall this triggers certain internal mechanisms in the buck deer and they begin to change their character. The antlers they have been growing all summer harden and the outer coating of velvet starts to peel off. (The deer family have antlers, which grow every year and they fall off after all the rut business is over. Horns are different, horns grow on goats and sheep and some antelope and buffalo, horns are permanent and don’t fall off. Sometimes, just for meanness, I will call deer antlers “horns” just to aggravate purists who don’t like the use of the word for deer antlers. I know, I have problems) The bucks start to clean and sharpen these antlers on various trees and bushes and these marks on the base of the trees are called “rubs”. (Rut Fun Fact! The deer hunters in your house are fascinated with rubs! And here is another tidbit, deer hunter lore says that the bigger the base of the tree the buck is rubbing antlers on, denotes the size of the buck, so the bigger the tree, the bigger the buck. Proof of this phenomena is sketchy but in general deer hunters believe this)
So while the buck deer are starting to get ready for the rut they are making rubs, their neck is swelling, they are starting to joust a little with other bucks in the neighborhood, and they are doing something else. While they are wandering around waiting for the doe deer to get in the mood the bucks are also making something called a “scrapes”. Now the deer hunter in your house is if anything, even more fascinated with scrapes than rubs. The buck makes a scrape by pawing in the leaves on the forest floor and exposing bare ground.
The scrape is almost always located directly below a low hanging limb or stick. The buck needs this limb to rub his face on so that he may (we think) leave scent on the branch from his preorbital (in front of the eyes) glands and the nasal glands, and the buck may also chew a little on the branch. The buck will also usually urinate in the scrape to leave scent. Another controversial issue here is if you the hunter should (and I am not making this up) urinate in the scrape yourself. Some say it will attract bucks, some say it will scare them away. The jury is still out.
Now why exactly a buck deer does all this is sometimes controversial and can be fodder for discussions, arguments, and fist fights at the work place, gun store counters and hunting camp. (Much like the behavior of the rutting bucks) Is the buck doing this to attract does? Is he establishing his territory? Is he simply giving hunters and outdoor writers something to talk about? Only the bucks know for sure.
If you are starting to get the gist of how this rut thing affects the behavior of buck deer, here it is. This is the time of the year when deer are the most active, even old and wise bucks with what looks like a rocking chair on their head will throw caution out the door and expose themselves to all kinds of danger to run around and chase the girls. (Much like their human counterparts)
As usual we have gone on too long and not gotten to the meat of what most deer hunters really, really want to know about the rut. What is the best day to be hunting during the rut? When and what day will the bucks be most active? This my friends is the 64,000 dollar question. I have noticed in recent years that hunting magazines, websites and blogs, will go to great extremes to tell the you the exact day, the day to be on your stand and do not miss that day for anything. The headline or title for the article will be something like “Do not miss this day during the rut! It will say November 17, the 22nd or whatever, and don’t miss that day, quit work if you have to!
Now how exactly the experts determine this day is somewhat unclear. As we have mentioned here before, is it the phase of the moon, the temperature, the predominant color of the wooly worm caterpillar, or what the Farmer’s Almanac says about winter this year? I don’t really know and I am not sure the experts do either. (Yes I will catch heck for that)
As always, trying to be helpful, I would suggest this. Hunt when you can and everyday you can. Don’t worry about what others say on when to hunt. Get on your stand every day you can and want to. Load up on crackers, sardines, potted meat, and Little Debbie Cakes so that you can stay all day.
Go hunt and have fun, take a kid with you, and don’t talk to any wool worm caterpillars.