By Mark Kenyon

What’s going to be the best week of whitetail deer hunting in 2017? When will rutting activity peak? When should I plan my 2017 rut vacation?

I know many of you have been asking these questions – I have too. And so for the eighth year in a row, we’re going to try and answer them for you. As we’ve done every year since 2010, today we’re going to be diving into the latest whitetail rut predictions for the 2017 season and breaking down the various beliefs and theories about when the rut occurs and what factors might influence the timing of it. And then finally, I’ll cut through all the BS and give you my 2 cents on what I think about all these theories and how I plan to hunt the 2017 rut.

So with that said, pull up your calendar and get ready to request some time off, because its time to talk about the rut. Sweet November will be here before you know it!

NOTE: If you’re interested in learning more about hunting the rut, be sure to check out our “Rules of the Rut 2.0″ eBooks and Podcasts, featuring top whitetail experts from Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, North American Whitetail, Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine, and more! Click here to learn more.

2017 RUT PREDICTIONS FROM WAYNE LAROCHE & CHARLES ALSHEIMER 

The first set of rut predictions we’ll take a look at are from Wayne Laroche and Charles Alsheimer. Each year Deer & Deer Hunting’s Charles Alsheimer releases a series of rut predictions based on a lunar calendar and that’s where this information comes from.

But first, for those not familiar, lets recap the theory behind these predictions. Alsheimer and wildlife biologist Wayne Laroche have been studying the timing of the rut for nearly 20 years and these predictions are based on their findings. According to Deer & Deer Hunting’s 2017 Whitetail Calendar and Rut Predictions, “The rut predictor is based on a model that links cyclical changes in the Earth’s solar and lunar illumination to the whitetail’s reproductive cycle. Laroche and Alsheimer hypothesize that sunlight and moonlight provide environmental cues that set, trigger and synchronize breeding.” The explanation goes on to describe how Laroche’s use of a computer model allows them to analyze astronomical data, field observations and measurements of lights and in turn predict rutting activity.

 

Based on this research and modeling, Laroche and Alsheimer have theorized that the second full moon after the autumn equinox is believed to trigger the peak in rutting activity, and so Laroche and Alsheimer’s predictions revolve around this “Rutting Moon”.

So what that said – when does the “Rutting Moon” hit this year and what will that mean for rutting activity in 2017?

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This year the “Rutting Moon” is earlier than it was last year, falling on November 4th. That’s compared to a Rutting Moon of November 14th in 2016, October 27th in 2015 and November 6th in 2014.

So, what does this “Rutting Moon” mean for the rut in 2017? Well, according to this theory, this would mean that the majority of rutting behavior would be taking place in early to mid November, and should fall in line with traditional rut activity. Given the similarity to the 2014 moon date, it can be expected that the rut timing in 2017 will be somewhat similar to that of ’14, and that it will be more synchronized and intense than what we saw in 2016.

According to Alsheimer’s Lunar Calendar, major “seeking” behavior should pick up around October 31st and continue through the 3rd, when major “chasing” should begin. This peak in visible rutting activity will continue through the 10th, when the “tending” phase will begin kicking into gear and continue through the 17th.

So what’s all this mean for hunters? If you believe these predictions (and again this is just one theory, not hard fact), it would mean that the typical “prime time” of the first week or two of November should be as good as advertised. According to these predictions, the best rutting activity and hunting should occur sometime between October 31 – November 9, when the most seeking and chasing will be happening, which is in fact the “rutting behavior” that hunters are most interested in seeing.

THE TRADITIONAL VIEW ON THE TIMING OF THE RUT

On the other hand, when it comes to rut timing theories, most other biologists and whitetail experts believe that the timing of the actual rut (peak breeding) is NOT variable nor impacted by lunar factors (excluding some Southern US regions – where rut timing is very scattered). In fact, according to many studies, the actual peak of breeding appears to be consistent year after year.

According to a recent publication from The Quality Deer Management Association, “The bottom line is northern whitetails have a narrow breeding window to optimize doe and fawn health and survival. This is why numerous studies across the northern United States and Canada looking at conception dates show very little year-to-year variation. In fact, these breeding dates are amazingly consistent from year to year – regardless of moon phase, weather patterns, or other variables.” 

Expanding on this point, QDMA Director of Communications Lindsay Thomas Jr explains “The science on this is decisive. A significant number of scientific, peer-reviewed studies have shown the timing of the rut in any particular location is triggered by photoperiod, or day length – not by the moon, or temperature, or anything else…I think hunters often confuse visible rut behaviors, like chasing and grunting, with the peak of breeding. When you document breeding dates in a location, they actually change very little year to year, even though the dates of peak rut behaviors might vary. That’s because weather, moon phase and food sources – things that fluctuate widely year to year – affect deer movement patterns. But even when the weather reduces deer movement, you find that breeding still takes place the same time it normally does. If a doe is coming into estrous, a warm front isn’t going to change that.”

In another article produced by the Quality Deer Management Association, it was explained that, “Scientists have known for decades that the length of daylight each day, which fluctuates throughout the seasons, serves as the trigger for hormone changes in deer that bring on breeding and the rut – though the timing of the trigger varies widely in different regions and deer populations for several other reasons. But stories persist among hunters that the moon plays a role.” 

That said, Rod Cumberland, a deer management biologist for the Canadian province of New Brunswick, conducted a study examining a data set of more than 1,600 does providing fetal data across nine years to determine conception dates. The chart below, produced by the QDMA, shows the results of that analysis, and the fact that peak breeding is very consistent. According to the researchers, “our analysis revealed that the relationship between annual breeding dates and moon phase chronology was highly variable. Therefore, we believe it is not necessary to revise the conventional understanding among deer biologists that breeding dates are primarily influenced by photoperiod (day length) and are relatively consistent among years within a particular population.” 

For more on this fascinating study, click the image below for a full size view and more details –> No Link Between Moon Phase and Rut Peak

moon_phase_diagram_574_810_s
 

Bill Winke of MidwestWhitetail.com seems to concur with all of this, as he is quoted saying” “I have not seen a rut predictor that was actually more accurate than the calendar.  The rut is triggered by photoperiod – the amount of sunlight (number of hours) in each day.  As the season progresses, that triggers the rut at pretty much the same time every year.  You may see more behavior on certain days than others related to weather or hunting pressure, but the actual conception dates of the does are pretty consistent from year to year.  Missouri recently did a study back-dating fetuses from late season harvested does and they proved that over a three year period the peak breeding date (the date when the most does were in estrous) was November 15 plus or minus one day.  I always like to hunt during the week that starts ten days before the peak.  In this case November 5 – 12.  It is tough to beat that time frame. ”

And here’s one more take on the rut timing that combines parts of the above theories along with moon factors as well, and it comes from Mark Drury. He explained, on the Wired To Hunt Podcast, that he believes that “the rut happens at the exact same time each and every fall.” But, he went on to say, “what part of it is exposed is based on when the full moon hits within that month, based on daylight activity … The moon, in my opinion, exposes the daylight portion (of the rut) different each year depending on how the full moon falls. That’s why you see the variance in ruts that are intense versus not. If it exposes during the seeking phase, you’ll go oh man, this was an awesome rut. However if the moon exposes the lockdown, you’ll think it’s a terrible rut.” That said, according to Drury, if you want to predict the best daylight movement during the rut, look for those dates during the traditional pre-rut or rut (late October into the first two weeks of November) that coincide with the days surrounding the full moon.

Rut Timing In The South

Timing the rut south of the Mason-Dixon line seems to be a whole other can of worms and much more variable. According to Alsheimer, “Southern whitetails don’t face the harsh winters and brutal conditions that dictate when Northern whitetail fawns must be born to ensure they are large enough to survive severe winters. Harsh cold and deep snows aren’t part of the Southern equation, so weather isn’t a factor for fawn births. Therefore, the South’s rut appears to be driven by less obvious factors, such as climate, genetics, nutrition, day length, moon phases and doe-to-buck ratios…It’s crucial to check with a local biologist to find out what month the rut typically occurs at a specific location.

My Own Opinion On The Rut Prediction Theories

As you can see there are a lot of different views on the rut and when it might happen each year. But after tracking these rut predictions and comparing them to my own observations and those of others, and studying the science and research related to rut timing, I’ve come to a few conclusions.

First, regarding Laroche’s/Alsheiemer’s predictions, over the past eight years I can say that my own personal observations have only on occasion matched with these predictions. For example, in 2010 and 2013, when a “trickle rut” was predicted, I did see noticeably less daylight rutting activity (seeking/chasing) and the activity I did see seemed to be much more sporadic and spread out. In 2011, 2012 and 2014, when a more typical rut was predicted, I saw a more concentrated and intense amount of rutting activity during the first few weeks of November. On the other hand, last year’s rutting activity was predicted to be later than usual, but I actually saw more activity in late October and early November. This, of course, is only anecdotal. But still interesting.

That said, in almost all those years, I still saw the majority of rutting activity happening in late October and the first two weeks of November. Given these observations and the fact that I believe in the science produced by the many biologists studying this, I generally fall into the camp that stands with the scientific studies indicating a consistent timing of the breeding cycle – regardless of moon.

As the studies have repeatedly shown, fetus tests indicate that the majority of breeding (in the North) almost always occurs around mid-November, regardless of moon or other factors. It’s a bell curve though, so some breeding does occur earlier, and some does occur later. But in general, the largest percentage of deer are getting bred somewhere around mid November, meaning most seeking and chasing – and the best hunting – will be occurring during the week or two preceding that date.

My current hypothesis is that this November 15th peak breeding date generally holds true, and that the two preceding weeks will almost always be the “peak” of rutting behavior (seeking/chasing). But, I do believe that other factors such as the moon cycle or weather may impact the visible intensity of that activity. I look at these other factors as intensifiers or dampeners of daylight activity, but not major factors in the actual timing of breeding.

That said, while I’m always curious to see what the lunar predictions are, I’ll still be focusing my heaviest hunting efforts on the first two weeks of November, no matter what the lunar theory predictions indicate. Barring a disaster, I’ll be hunting every day of those first two weeks in November, and when a cold front is moving through, I’ll have the most confidence. More than anything else, I think cold fronts influence deer activity, even during the rut. So here’s to hoping for cold days in early November and big bucks on the ground!

What Are Your Thoughts?

So what do you think? We’ve been sharing an annual rut prediction article for eight years and I’m guessing many of you have been following along. If so, please let us know how your in-field observations matched up with these different rut predictions. Which do you think is most accurate? Are you a lunar theory or photo-period theory believer?

If want to look back on the predictions from past years, check out the links below to the rut prediction articles from the past seven years…

2016 Rut Predictions

2015 Rut Predictions

2014 Rut Predictions

2013 Rut Predictions

2012 Rut Predictions

2011 Rut Predictions

 2010 Rut Predictions

If you’re interested in learning more about Laroche and Alsheimer’s Lunar Rut Theory – pick up a copy of Deer & Deer Hunting’s 2017 Whitetail Calendar.

Also, follow along with weekly rut activity reports this year by listening to our Rut Radio Podcasts.

Finally, if you’d like more rut hunting advice and strategies, download our “Rules of the Rut 2.0″ eBook and Podcast package, which includes two 100% rut focused eBooks and three downloadable podcasts featuring contributors from Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, North American Whitetail, Deer & Deer Hunting and more! Click here to learn more.