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In the Outdoors: Forecasting the 2023 Whitetail Rut

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“I’ve been at this business of predicting the annual whitetail rut longer than just about anybody else”

By Oak Duke, Pictured: Whitetail fawns like these twins last May are always in the oven about 200-days. Researchers validate the date of the prior rut by counting-back

     Here we are in the middle of October.

     The Holy Grail of deer hunting is almost within reach.

     Of course I’m talking about the Whitetail Deer Rut.

     Hard to find a hunting magazine right now, online or in print, that’s not trumpeting the perennial answer for the whitetail rut.

     What’s the big deal?

     The big deal, simply stated is that the rut is THE time to see whitetails doing their thing during daylight and darting across the road at night…or at any moment during this magical time.

Sparing matches between bucks is quite ritualized, usually lasting for a few minutes, but may go on for an extended period of time.

     Yes, the breeding process of the whitetail goes on every year, like geese migrating, robins singing, and leaves falling.


     But the precise timing of the peak of activity on our calendar shifts each year in a peculiar pattern… by up to three weeks.

     The moon’s 19-year pattern is termed by astronomers as the Metonic cycle, which is much easier to pronounce or spell than Enneadecaeteris.

     And for deer hunters, missing what was called in the old days, “the running time” by a week or so can mean the difference between unforgettable memories vs. boring sits in the deer woods.

     This year, the whitetail rut is primed to have two explosions, the first kicking off just prior to Halloween, what hunter’s have pegged in the past “an early rut,” and the second taking off in the middle of November just in time for the Regular (gun) season.

     How can I be so sure?

     Well, for full disclosure, I’ve been at this business of predicting the annual whitetail rut longer than just about anybody else in print (in newspapers no matter their form, whether on paper or digitally) since the 1990s, those long-gone pre-internet days.

     So when it comes to predictions, 10-day out weather forecasts by professional meteorologists are right about half the time, admits NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.)

     As the prognosticator’s time period shortens, accuracy increases. Like a five-day forecast is correct 90% of the time, they say.

     The best computer simulations of NFL games have a successful prediction level of around 75% last time I checked. Algorithms are being run thousands of times on each upcoming game! 

      And AI models are now being coded for the deer woods.

     But my way is old school, an Excel spreadsheet chronicling 50 years in the deer woods.

     Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.

     And my way is very old…ancient in fact because I use the moon.

     The key moon is the Hunter’s Moon, which is always the first Full moon after the Harvest moon (the Full moon closest to the Autumnal Equinox.) 

     The Hunter’s Moon will be peeking up over the eastern hills soon, October 28th this year, with the Full Moon phase extending through Halloween into early November.

     Some years the Harvest moon is in October, placing the Harvest moon in early November. On those years…we have a later rut, often what is termed a “trickle rut.”

     A trickle rut could be defined as when the whitetail breeding cycle is spread thin, like too little butter on a piece of bread, and doe are coming into their estrus cycles in bits and pieces.

     Some years the whitetail rut explodes in one exciting bell curve of action, and other years, like this year and last, there are two main peaks.

Whitetail bucks usually undergo a ritual before pushing each other around

     Last year (2022) the first main peak of breeding occurred during the first week of November, tailed by a secondary peak during the first week of December.

     This year, bump that timing up…earlier, so the first peak of action is set to happen in late October, but starting about a week earlier.

     And proof was the May fawn drop.

     We had our first flush of fawns hit the ground by mid-May, and then another, the second flurry overwhelming predators alighting in early June.

     Trail cam photos of these two age groups of fawns, born almost a month apart was evident by their size, as fawns grow so quickly.

     Of course the constant is that no matter when a fawn is conceived, time in the oven is about 200 days, give or take a couple.

     As the first rut peak approaches, whitetails become more active, that means on their feet and often chasing each other.

     As the rut approaches, we often we hear or see a flash of deer running through the woods and fields, and it’s bucks chasing other bucks.

     Reports come in saying, “The rut’s on! I saw chasing!” But usually, not always, it’s bucks wanting to beat up on each other and young bucks have to literally run for their lives.

     Of course, during this time period, motorists in deer country (which is our area in Western and Central New York… should drive with extra caution.

     Because deer-auto collisions always reach an annual high water mark during the rut.

     A caution for vehicular drivers is that when a deer runs across the road, slow down… expect another one to be right behind it during the rut, especially at dawn, dusk, and at night when the moon is riding high.

Oak Duke/Wellsville, NY/ October 2023

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