Thanksgiving Whitetails and Understanding the Rut Bell Curve

by Eric Hall

In previous years, Thanksgiving would signal a transition of focus in my whitetail hunting.  Ohio’s shotgun season opens on the Monday following Thanksgiving and inevitably my bow would be hung up in favor of a longer range weapon.  Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving would be spent sighting my shotgun in while leaving Sunday set aside to allow things to rest in the timber.

That was a mistake! This is why.

THE SCIENCE

Between 1999 and 2006 the PA Game Commission conducted a study of road-killed doe and their fetuses.  Ohio and Pennsylvania are close enough in geography for me to use this study as a blueprint to determine the peak of whitetail breeding.  (Dates may slide a bit in your area, check with your local DNR to determine peak breeding for your state)

Using more science than I can understand, the study determined the date that each fetus was conceived.  Using data collected from 3507 deer, they were able to determine what date each year the highest number of the does were bred.

Here are their results from that study: (Link to the reference article)

Year
Adults
Fawns
 1999
 11 Nov
 30 Nov
 2000
 15 Nov
 24 Nov
 2001
 10 Nov
 28 Nov
 2002
 16 Nov
 26 Nov
 2003
 14 Nov
 17 Nov
 2004
 12 Nov
 23 Nov
 2005
 09 Nov
 22 Nov
 2006
 14 Nov
 26 Nov
You can see that the dates vary from the 10th of November through the 16th for an adult doe.  This equates to an average date of November 13th for when adult doe peak breeding occurs each year.  Fawns are bred approximately two weeks later, with the median date of November 25th.  The study combined both adult and fawn data to identify a total peak rut median date of November 14th.
UNDERSTANDING THE RUT
To understand why this is important, we first need to acknowledge what happens during the rut.
    • Pre Rut (Seeking and Chasing) – Bucks on their feet looking for the receptive doe
    • Peak Rut (Lockdown) – Bucks are locked down breeding and not moving unless the doe moves or he is done breeding and moving on to the next doe
    • Post Peak (Seeking Revisited)  Bucks are increasingly active again because the pool of estrous doe is declining
  • Second Estrous (Fawn Rut) – Biologically ready fawns come into estrous along with any doe not bred already

RUT BELL CURVE

Rut, Hunting, Whitetail, Deer, Deer Hunting, Whitetail Hunting, Outdoors, Nature, Ohio

The rut is a bell curve with the highest percentage of the adult doe being bred at the peak of that curve (November 14th)  This percentage declines slightly as you fall away from the peak in either direction.  This can vary slightly a few days in either direction depending on the year.

On the front side of the curve late October and early November, we note the typical pre-rut chasing and seeking activity.  The bucks are ready to breed and their testosterone continues to rise.  The majority of the doe are not quite ready to breed.  There may be a few early does in heat, and the bucks are on their feet looking for that first receptive doe.
As we move up the bell curve into the first full week of November, (closer to the peak), the number of receptive does increase all the way to the peak breeding date (November 14).  More does that are receptive means that the bucks do not need to be up moving.

Much like the pre-rut, as we fall off the other side of the bell curve into late November, there are less receptive does meaning that the bucks are going to be on their feet seeking again.  The intensity of the movement may not be on par with the pre-rut, but this is still a productive time to log hours in the stand.

STAY IN THE GAME

Thanksgiving in 2017 is on November 23rd, nine days after the theoretical peak of breeding.  Bucks that are not with estrous does will be looking for a girlfriend and becoming more daylight active. Their movement can happen at any time of the day.  The moment they release their doe, they will be on the prowl.  This time of year, there are fewer does in heat, making the bucks stay on their feet longer before hooking up again.  Spending more hours in the stand will increase the odds of encountering a cruising buck.

Tactics will remain the same by hunting pinch points and funnels with cover.  Continue setting up on the downwind side of doe bedding areas as well as hunting local food sources.  The past week to ten days has been rough with limited sightings and the trail cameras haven’t been lighting up either.  Now is not the time to waver.  Stay the course and stay in the game.

In the past, taking these 3-4 days off from Bowhunting, I was missing some prime opportunity to take advantage of a buck’s need to breed ahead of the Ohio gun season pressure.  This year, after carving the Thanksgiving turkey, I plan to carve out some time to get back in the stand and take advantage of the movement that coincides with the end of the lockdown phase.

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Good Luck everyone and Stay Afflicted with Whitetail OCD!

Stay Afflicted with Whitetail OCD!
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Author: Eric Hall

Afflicted with Whitetail OCD, I have been addicted to the Whitetail Deer since the late 1980s. It is an all-consuming and never-ending passion to learn about and ultimately preserve the heritage of whitetail deer hunting. Now I feed that addiction with the Whitetail OCD blog.

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