Whitetails on the Move

“Estimates and Sympathy.” That’s how a collision shop in Livonia once advertised its auto body repair services during the annual whitetail deer rut a number of years ago. Deer are beginning to move once again this year for several reasons—all of which are related in one way or another to the upcoming rut, or mating season. And unfortunately, vehicle collisions with deer will be on the increase as a result.

Whitetail does are in the process of dispersing this year’s fawns, most of which were born in late May or early June. After five or six months of motherly love, the doe begins to break their familial bond by attempting to separate herself from her offspring. If they persist in following her, they may well receive a painful bite or a flailing kick from her front hooves as she tries to chase them away so that she can mate again next month. While a doe may tolerate her female fawns sharing her territory, her buck fawns are driven away to find new territories of their own. Buck fawn dispersal prevents potential genetic integration by related deer, known as inbreeding.

The timing of the rut is always a topic of discussion among hunters and a number of theories attempt to predict when that will be. While tradition holds that most daytime deer movement takes place during the first 10 days of November, research by Deer & Deer Hunting magazine’s field editor Charles Alsheimer and Vermont wildlife biologist Wayne Laroche ties it to phases of the moon. They teamed up 20 years ago to study the timing of the rut based on a lunar calendar.

Their predictions are based on a computer model that links the whitetail’s reproduction cycle to solar and lunar illumination. According to their theory, the second full moon after the autumn equinox is what triggers peak rutting activity and this year that falls on November 4, which is ten days earlier than last year. According to Charlie’s lunar calendar, “seeking behavior” should start around October 31 and continue until November 4 when the “chase phase” will begin. That phase will last until November 10. Peak breeding activity will follow and continue until about November 17, after which things will cool down for a while. Any does that are not bred during the first rut will come into estrus again a month later and a second rut will occur.

More deer are hit between mid-October and mid-December than at any other time of year and it is due entirely to the rut. Bucks chase does and does run from bucks and all normal whitetail caution is thrown to the wind. During most of the year, deer move mostly during the dawn and twilight hours. During the rut it can be at any time of the day or night—so be forewarned.


Story and Photo by John Adamski