The question of a second whitetail rut

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

This week in a waiting room I saw a magazine article which brought to question a second rut. My first thought was, what a foolish question. And how perfectly matched to the minds of deer hunters, such fools we be.

The simple answer is, each year whitetails rut once.

After applying deer hunter lingo to this question the answer becomes, each year whitetails rut once.

Yep, that is the simple, straightforward answer. And it is the truth. Problems arise, though, when hunters accept interpretations of the rut by people who do not understand it. The factor that complicates the thought process of a second rut it that the rut has a peak, then another peak a month later, approximately.

There is not a second whitetail rut, there is a second whitetail rut peak.

Let’s start at the beginning. It is late winter and most bucks have not had antlers for about three months. Occasionally, though, bucks hold their antlers longer.

Spring breaks bringing longer days. Soon the beginnings of new antlers will appear on the heads of bucks. Antlers will continue growing until August, during which time they are the fastest growing bones in the animal world. Before shedding the velvet, which is a soft tissue covering the growing antlers, antlers appear huge because the velvet makes them larger.

In September bucks begin shedding the velvet. This happens when the antlers have hardened. This is the beginning of the rut. Bucks are capable of breeding when the antlers are hard.

But bucks probably will not actually do any breeding in Pennsylvania until about the third week of October. During this in between time, bucks prepare themselves for the rigors of the rut by exercising. There are no gyms for bucks, so they get their exercise by fighting with brush and trees, and by sparring with other bucks. Buck rubs are signs most hunters see. Sparring bucks are seen much less often.

As seldom as sparring bucks are observed, seeing a real, out and out fight is much more rare. This is a brutal sight, one which clearly demonstrates why whitetail bucks kill more people than are killed by bears. Commonly bucks carry cuts, bruises, gouges, missing eyes and other wounds due to serious fighting.

Many years of running numerous trail cameras has shown me that the start of breeding is fuzzy. Buck activity picks up about the third week of October. The first does to be bred happen about this same time. It starts very slowly, though. Intensity will slowly increase. Then for a day, maybe two days, a large portion of the does are impregnated.

When you see bucks chasing a doe, probably that does is not quite in estrous. Once a doe is in estrous it does not move far, maybe 100 yards during the entire process. If possible she will breed with several buck.

More than one buck may impregnate a doe. Twins from a doe commonly were fathered by two different bucks. Genetics in deer can get very complicated.

Breeding declines quickly after the rut peak. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, November 14 is the average date for the rut peak. But not all does have been bred. Some of the young of the year does will be heavy enough to come into estrous by December. Now in Pennsylvania, a secondary rut peak will take place at this time, approximately a month after the first rut peak.

Bucks are worn down considerably by the second rut peak. But the urge to breed is strong.

This year deer season will end probably before a second rut peak. But as at any other time during the rut, not all does come into estrous at the same time. Peaks are just the brief times when the majority of breeding happens.

If you tag a deer while hunting on, or near, the KQDC, please stop at the deer check station this Saturday, December 2. You will be entered into a drawing for a great prize, and you will be helping the KQDC build data.

Hunt safely, and good luck.

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