Wild animals live for one thing, to procreate and continue their species.
For the White-tail, the mating season occurs over a three month period beginning
around Oct 1 and continuing through the end of the year. White-tail's northern most family
members will realize a slightly earlier rut and in the Deep South a slightly, and
sometimes substantially later one. For the most part, all white-tails in the US
mate during the October December time period.
Why do they mate at this time? Simple, they mate now in order to birth their
fawns in late spring when vegetation and other food sources are becoming more plentiful.
A Doe’s gestation period is approximately 202 days. With the peak of the rut falling around
November 10 (a very hot subject in any hunting camp producing brothers who won’t speak to each
other until Christmas), with a high percentage of Does being breed at this time, the spring fawns
will be birthed late May and early June. As already noted, some Does are breed in early October
and late December, they deliver their fawns a month earlier or later. Typically though,
mature Does will be breed a week to 10 days prior to or after November 10.
How does this affect the deer population? Oh my, I could write a book on this
subject and countless numbers have already been published. The majority of books written
target the hunter, pun intended, and focuses on how the rut effects mature Buck deer.
The fact of the matter, it affects all deer.
As a Doe goes into estrous, she chases away her yearling fawns, the Bucks
obviously enter a rather excited and wild eyed state of being and the poor Fawns have
no clue what’s happening to them. The dominant Does seek out the most dominant Bucks
while fending off the advances of the lesser boys as she wishes to pass along her strong genes
with another set of domineering genes of the male. The lesser, younger Does are also
trying to do the same but may not have the aggressiveness nor intelligence to supersede
the dominant Does in her group and will more than likely be breed by a lesser Buck.
The Bucks themselves go CRAZY and begin searching high and low for any
receptive Doe and are most affected by the rut. For the most part, a White-tail lives its
life within roughly a one square mile range. During the breeding season, a Buck’s range
can expand 10 fold. He will travel from Doe range to Doe range in search of all who will accept
his advances. Hence, the fall mating season is the one time of year in which any of us have the
best opportunity to view a very large racked and mature Buck. He is traveling in areas he only
visits a few months each year and will risk exposure in hopes of gaining a mate. I had the
pleasure of seeing some extremely large and dominant Bucks in my day and have watched them
encounter one another. Bucks fighting one another is a lot more common than most people
realize as it’s their way of determining the hierarchy with the extended ranges. Two decades ago I
had the pleasure of watching two massive Bucks go at it in a middle of a harvested corn field.
These two world class Bucks would have been pictured on the front of any wildlife publication and
here they faced off with one another for the most brutal fight in nature I have personally
witnessed. It raises the hair the back of my neck to this day. They clashed their antlers together so
hard it made me twitch each time they did so. They were also so well matched one didn’t simply
overpower the other. They fought for nearly 20 minutes. Shoving one another, twisting their
heads, hooves digging in, throwing dirt everywhere, and foaming from their mouths. It all stopped
as quickly as it started with each walking away exhausted with what seemed to be no winner at all.
I venture to guess they took up their battle again on a later date. Afterwards, I viewed their
“arena” and was amazed at the mess left behind, yet it all occurred in an area roughly 200
foot square. Tine marks in the dirt, hoof prints six inches deep, old corn stalks dug
up and thrown many feet away and even a little blood spattered here and there.
It was a most impressive nature moment and one I will never forget.
In a nutshell, deer go through a transformation during the rut.
In their world, there is nothing more important than passing along their genes to future
generations. Their interactions with one another change radically and their day-to-day
activities focus on procreation. So much so that a Buck deer may lose 30% of his
body weight in 90 days and Does will disband her family unit.
This brings me to a point regarding safety of feeding deer during the rut.
In my article, How to Feed Deer Safely and Successful, I speak of keeping your feeders
set at a distance from your home and in such a way to keep human/domestic animal to deer
interface from occurring. Throughout the rest of the year deer will typically be shy and elusive of
people and pets. BUT, during the rut, the very same deer will act very differently. Sex crazed
Bucks have been known to attack all sorts of weird things. I’ve heard stories of Bucks beating up
cars, ATV’s, bushes, trees, the corner of a garage and even read a story about one toppling a
hunting camp outhouse, luckily unoccupied. It is also the one time of year in which Bucks are
known to attack humans for no reason. Even people out for a morning jog have been attacked
along with construction workers, Grandma hanging out bed sheets, etc… This goes for Does too.
Although far more rare, a Doe has the potential of being more aggressive this time of year.
As we interact with deer throughout the year, we become complacent with their shyness
from the previous 11 months. Don’t be complacent during the rut, even if you
don’t feed wildlife. Drive your car with a thoughtful eye for traveling deer, hike the woods
more carefully and report any type of incident to your local wildlife authorities.
Can and should you continue to feed your deer? Absolutely as attacks or aggressive
actions are extremely rare! This is the best time of year to see large Buck deer and to witness
social interactions that will not happen at any other time. It simply means we need to be more
aware of the potential of aggressive, sex crazed deer. Keep your feeders set well away from your
home and in an area that will limit the human to deer interface to zero. Fill your feeders during
daylight hours when you can see the surrounding areas. If deer are near your feeders, wait until
they have positively departed. A little common sense and thought will go a long way. Your deer will
more than likely wish to have a good dinner if they are hanging around the feeders and are NOT
there to beat you up. Attacks are EXTREMELY rare and I only speak of this as the aggressive
nature of deer escalates during the rut. If you are not comfortable with any of this, simply
remove your feeders until January and restart your feeding program then.
The key to catching a glimpse of this astonishing time of year is to attract the
deer to your home. The fact of the matters is, attract the Does and the Bucks will follow.
Keep your feeders filled and if you can, set up a night light to illuminate your feeding station.
Much of a deer’s life is spent foraging during nighttime and much of this action occurs then.
Keep your eyes open at all times though as Bucks will be sleeping little and traveling heavily and it
is very common to have them tracking a Doe at midday too. I have had Bucks visiting my feeders
at all times of day and night and will never eat a thing. He has his noise to the ground following a
Doe who is coming into heat. I watched one Buck travel back and forth across my yard,
into the woods, back again and go around and around my feeders following the Doe’s
scent trail. It’s almost comical. Simply leave him alone and let him do what
nature intended for him to do and enjoy his antics.
Meanwhile, keep your feeders filled, add another NEW Hurley-Byrd feeder to your
current feeding station or begin a brand new hobby that will be enjoyed for years to come.
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