This is Part 8 of the Ground to Gun series with Craig and Neil Dougherty, as they provide excerpts and insights from their newest book “Whitetails: From Ground To Gun – A Guide To Hunting and Growing Mature Whitetails”
By Craig & Neil Dougherty
The “Peak” of Confusion
One of the most misused terms in the lexicon of deer speak is the so-called “peak” of the rut. What can possibly be so confusing about the peak of the rut? You hear about it all the time on TV, read about it in magazines, and discuss it over beers. It’s omnipresent, and that’s the problem; the “peak” often means different things to different people. Years of rut reports and thousands of conversations support this contention.
The “Hunter’s Rut”
Ask most hunters to define the “peak” of the rut and they will say something about when “does are being bred.” Drill down a little deeper and you’ll hear about bucks marching by treestands every hour on the hour, a dozen buck sightings in a single day, increases in mature buck sightings, and posses of bucks chasing frantic does. To most hunters, the “peak” of the rut means action and lots of it. Trail camera pictures double or triple from earlier weeks; mature bucks suddenly start appearing during daylight hours and in numbers not seen all season. This is how hunters operationally define the “peak of the rut.” Seldom do they mention anything about seeing a buck actually breeding or even being close to breeding a doe. Their working definition of the “peak of the rut” is all about deer activity and seeing bucks. This is when hunters want to be in the woods, when the bucks are most active and highly visible. This is what hunters mean when they say “peak of the rut” We refer to this as the “Hunters Rut,” the time period (usually a few days) before most of the actual breeding begins in earnest.
The “Biological Rut”
Ask your state deer biologist when the rut peaks and chances are he will start off with a 3-week range of time in mid-November (at least in the North). Get him in a headlock and threaten to take his computer away, and he might just point to a 3-5 day period when “most of the does are bred.” He will probably mention something about fetus studies and gestation periods of 200 days and fawn drop dates; but, for sure, he will be talking about a specific time period when most of the does are being physically bred. When you talk “peak of rut” to a biologist or anyone else who keeps track of actual breeding dates, the “peak” generally means breeding and conception. We refer to this as the “biological rut” and it generally continues for a couple of weeks before tapering off. The “biological rut” occurs immediately after the “hunter’s rut” as more and more does come into estrus and will willingly be bred.
This “biological peak” is not necessarily a period of high activity in the woods and is definitely not the “peak” hunters describe when they talk “peak of the rut.” Buck activity (especially mature buck movement) typically peaks a few days prior to the beginning of serious breeding. Once the breeding is in full swing, mature buck activity drops significantly. Many refer to this period of relative quiet as “lockdown” while embracing the notion that bucks and does are “locked downed” together and moving very little.
We can’t even begin to count how many times we have heard hunters confuse the “biological rut” with the “hunter’s rut.” Anyone asking rut hunting advice from a deer “expert” would do well to ask for a definition of terms when the “peak” of the rut is being discussed. The trick is to get your terms straight from the beginning of the conversation. Starting the conversation with, “Now what do you mean when you state ‘peak’ of the rut, here’s what I mean,” would go a long way toward improving communication. Labels can be problematic when there is little agreement on working definitions. Understanding the difference between the “biological peak” and the “hunter’s peak” goes a long way towards helping us all to understand this amazing time in the life of a deer and those of us who live to hunt them.
Are we splitting linguistic hairs over the rut? Does it really matter? Are we making something of nothing? Well, as far as we’re concerned, getting the rut right is the single most important thing a whitetail hunter can do to improve his chances of success on a mature buck. The main event (“hunter’s rut”) only plays out for a few days each year. Misread the rut by a couple of days and the greatest thrill in the woods is over for another year.
If you’re interested in learning more on the rut from Neil & Craig, pick up a copy of the Dougherty’s new book “Whitetails: From Ground To Gun“
Quality Deer Management Association CEO Brian Murphy describes this book by saying it “provides detailed insight into what makes a great hunting property and how to consistently harvest mature bucks. It is a clear roadmap to QDM success.”
Pick up a copy today (click here to buy “Whitetails: From Ground to Gun”)