What Triggers The Whitetail Rut?

Ohio Buck Rubs

by Eric Hall

Trail camera pictures are lighting up with more and more mature bucks.  Rubs and scrapes litter the landscape.  It is only mid-October but the activity in the whitetail woods is picking up at a furious pace.

Very little outside an encounter gets a whitetail hunter as excited as the explosion of buck sign in the woods.  Saturday’s hunt was slow in the morning, so I decided to go check a camera on a travel corridor in the small block of timber I am hunting.  Fifty yards from my treestand was a fresh scrape in the woods.   Fifty yards from that were numerous rubs.   I counted no less than nine rubs and 11 scrapes both in the woods and on the field edge.  That buck sign wasn’t there two weeks ago when I last hunted that area.

Numerous other hunters are reporting the same things in their areas.  Rubs and scrapes are popping up in the timber and along the field edges.  Bucks have been sighted bumping doe groups.  One hunter even rattled in a mature seven point that he has been targeting for the past few years.  Needless to say, the bucks are ready, they are just waiting on the doe.

Fresh Rub

Sunday, there were two bucks standing in the open hay field at 5:15 PM.  Neither deer was a mature deer, but the activity is picking up.  Last year, on the 18th of October, I watched a young buck cruise across the open field at dusk to check a group of doe.  The rut is inching closer and the deer know it.

What type of rut will we have this year?  It is hard to tell.  The deer sign is heavier than in the past five years in my area.  It is reminiscent of the 2014 season with the heavy sign and early checking of does being reported.  Many articles are calling for an earlier rut based on the timing of the full moon on October 24th.  Many people believe that the Hunter’s Moon triggers the rut in the midwest.  This follows the teachings of the late Charles Alsheimer and his moon theory of the rut.  When the Hunter’s Moon is early, like it is in 2018, the rut will be an early one with peak seeking and chasing activity around October 24th through November 2nd.  Lockdown during this year would fall around November 5th. The typical October lull period (which we are in now) will be marked with increased rutting activity (rubs, scrapes and early bumping of does) much like we are seeing so far in 2018.  There is not a lot of scientific facts to back that up.  The unscientific facts remain.  We have a Hunter’s Moon on October 24th and in mid-October, the sign in the woods shows plenty of pre-rut activity.

Conversely, studies at Penn State University show the rut happens at about the same time every year.  They base this off of studies conducted on road kill doe who are pregnant and determine the date of conception based on the development of the fetus.  This study disputes the fact that the Hunter’s Moon impacts the rut in any given year because the timing of that moon phase changes drastically year over year.  In 2017, the Hunter’s Moon was on November 3rd.  In fact, the date of the Hunter’s Moon moves from October to November every 3 years, yet the peak breeding dates remain steady.

Scrape 50 yds from stand

A 2014 article by the QDMA provides a graphic showing the full moon and the peak rut activity over a nine-year span.  From  1997 to 2005, the study looked at peak rut and the dates of the full moon.  They found that there is zero correlation between moon phase and peak rut activity.  Rather, the length of photoperiod (amount of daylight) is the triggering factor in the whitetail deer rut.  The study was conducted in Canada so their peak is off from what biologists say the peak breeding is in the midwest.  In Ohio, for example, the peak breeding is on or around November 14 while their study shows the last two weeks of November for that region.   What I found interesting was the peak breeding fell within the same seven-day window over the nine-year span with eight of the nine years falling in the same four-day window.  Per this article, regardless of when the moon waxed full, the breeding happened at the same time each and every year.  The article titled No Link Between Moon Phase and Rut Peak is an interesting read.

No matter how you slice it, the woods are heating up and buck activity is on the rise.  Moon Phase or Photoperiod, this is the time whitetail deer hunters dream about eight months out of the year,  Get in the stands, decide for yourself!

Good Luck Everyone!


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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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