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The Roving Sportsman… Hunting the Rut – Part I

For baseball fans, the World Series is the highlight of their favorite pastime. Football fans anxiously watch their teams work their way toward the playoffs and the big day for football fans – the Super Bowl. For those whose greatest sporting challenge is hunting mature whitetail bucks, the wait is almost over. The time is rapidly approaching when the rut is in full swing!

Charles Alsheimer is recognized as one of the greatest authorities on whitetail deer, their habits, and their habitat. For almost 20 years, his passion has been studying the timing of the rut and making predictions on his findings. His predictions are largely based on the cyclical changes in the illumination of the Earth’s sun and moon that initiate and synchronize active breeding among whitetail deer. The timing begins with the occurrence of the autumn equinox (the fall day in which there are 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness – usually on or about September 23 each year). The first full moon after the autumn equinox is referred to as the “Pre-Rut Moon.”

The second full moon after the autumn equinox is called the “Rutting Moon’ and this year; it is much later than it was last year and most years in general, occurring on November 19th. Accordingly, the majority of the rutting activity would be later than we have witnessed in the past couple of years. You might also be thinking that here in Pennsylvania, our early archery deer season ends on November 19th! Does that mean that we will not be able to take advantage of the rut this year?

No. Fortunately, even though most rutting activity is forecast for the third and fourth week in November, there are numerous peaks and valleys of rutting behavior that occur off and on over late October through mid-November. Further, the good news is that observations by many archers throughout Lycoming County and adjoining counties have been revealing an increase of rutting activity, with sightings of scrapes, rubs, and bucks acting “rutty.”

Those hunters who have been spending time in the woods over the last week have enjoyed this increase in deer movement and rut behavior. Those who spend the final few days of this archery season should have a really good opportunity to see deer movement all day long – from daybreak right through to the last minutes of legal shooting hours.

Many of these bowhunters reveal that grunt calls and occasional rattling have been increasingly effective as the season continues. As these last few days of the season unfold, both of these techniques will continue to produce increased sightings of rutting bucks.

Charles Alsheimer adds that the major “seeking” behavior usually picks up around November 7th and continues until November 14th. Thus, the upcoming days of our archery season will be prime time for whitetail buck encounters.

Bill Winke of Midwest tends to agree with this, saying that he feels the calendar is the most accurate rut predictor.

As the season unfolds, the rut is triggered by photoperiod – the amount of sunlight (number of hours) in each day, and that pretty much occurs the same time every year. He always likes to hunt during the week that starts ten days before the peak; thus, November 5-12 is his preference.

Mark Drury, one of the well-known Drury brothers, believes that the rut occurs at the exact same time each and every fall but goes on to share that the closest full moon does influence daytime activity.

After putting all of these theories into the mix, it appears that there is validity in all of the different points that are made.

But, the bottom line is that we have until November 19th to maximize our time in the woods, and, after all, that is where the deer are! Whether you have scheduled your vacation days so that you can hunt over the next few weeks, or can only manage to slip out for a day here and there, the greater amount of time you can be in the woods over the next few weeks will directly affect your chances of success. So, pack a big lunch, get into the woods well before daylight, and plan to stay put until dark. Then, maybe, just maybe, your efforts will be rewarded by the approach of a rutting buck!

Good Luck!

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