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In the Outdoors: In the middle of the first Whitetail Rut peak

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“What is this crazy time so obsessively followed, written about, and dreamed of by legions of deer hunters?”

By Oak Duke


    Now that was fun!

    That’s what I call a whitetail Rut.

    The first Whitetail Rut peak of the season broke just after Halloween this year.

    And I was lucky enough to be in the middle of it.

    Bucks were chasing does like crazy day and night, grunting like pigs as the 2023 whitetail rut, as I predicted, kicked off its first flurry of action.

    My trail cameras exploded with pictures.

    And not just mine. Other serious deer hunters who also monitor their woods experienced this same wonderful phenomenon.

    The first tip-off that something was going on…the long awaited chasing phase was evident by the sheer number of photos on the cameras.

    And then while checking some mounted along a ridge-top, down below in the woods, the snapping of branches and grunting of bucks preceded. Then, all of a sudden a doe appearing to coyly skip ahead of a young six-pointer, stopping and glancing back with a whimsical look, passed me by without a glance at about 12 yards.

    The adolescent Romeo, tongue hanging out and with a glazed look in his eye followed her by about two minutes, running her scent trail like a bird dog working a running pheasant.

    I laughed out loud, expecting a reaction at least from the buck. Nope.

    He continued on his testosterone-fueled mission… running nose to the ground, tail straight out, locked on with a one-track mind.

    And for a couple days, and nights the bucks and does ran, fulfilling their biological imperative.

    And then like a light-switch being shut off, it was over.

    What happened.

    Now the cameras are back to normal, showing regular daily movement, mostly crepuscular (dawn and dusk.)

    And here just a couple days ago during the spike in all the rutting action, bucks were running under the Full moon during the daytime more than in the normal lowlight times.

    Bow hunters, deer hunters who took advantage of this tsunami of whitetail action were treated to the feast and famine of this time of year. Meaning: If a deer hunter is lucky enough to be in the action where bucks are chasing does and each other out of jealous competition, life doesn’t get any better.

    But those who live by the sword…well as the saying goes,… we miss it sometimes too. And then ruefully curse our bad luck while sharing stories of other bow hunters who chose wisely (or more to the point…luckily) and glow with excitement, success, and photos on their phones and social media proving their success and good fortune.

    What is this crazy time so obsessively followed, written about, and dreamed of by legions of deer hunters?

    Many are not aware that domesticated animals like sheep undergo exactly the same behavioral phenomenon.

    It’s called “the Ram effect.”

    Sheep breeders know it well. Actually their livelihoods and success of the perpetuation of their flocks with the birth of lambs depends upon “the Ram Effect.”

    In order to stimulate their ewes to ovulate, shepherds introduce what is termed a Novel Ram to the flock. A Novel Ram (or a teaser ram) is a male sheep that has been isolated, or at least held at a considerable distance from the ewes, and often actually not meant to breed.

    The Novel Ram stimulates the ewes to ovulate by producing biochemical substances in scent form called pheromones that are perceived and taken in, smelled by the ewes, stimulating the onset of their estrus.

    Shepherds, sheep ranchers use Novel Rams to time the birth of lambs, in that way all lambs can be conceived and be born at the same time.

    And in the whitetail woods, much of the perceived Rutting action and chasing by young bucks is in effect, the same as the Ram effect in sheep breeding. Much of the chasing and noisy fanfare of what we perceive is not actual breeding.

    That usually comes later, when does are chased and harassed, and actually driven to finally bed down where it is safe and relatively restful under the watch of a dominant, Alpha buck.

    However, new DNA research on whitetail breeding shows that in fact, in some deer populations, 20% of does are successfully bred by spike, or yearling bucks.

    Sheep farmers often use younger rams, or those with vasectomies to create the Ram Effect, then take them away, once they have harassed the ewes and spread their pheromones.

    Then they introduce the breeder ram, generally about two weeks later when ewes ovulate.

    Likewise with whitetails, that’s why real breeding actually is set to occur in mid-November for those participants in this early November go-around we just experienced.

Oak Duke/Wellsville, NY/ November 2023 

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