Rut Stressful for Bucks
Inside the Outdoors, September 11, 2009

When I happened to pick up the 2009-2010 Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest distributed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, immediately I browsed right through it because I wanted to see if I could learn about a sport about which I knew very little.

I hit upon one set of stories written by PGC Wildlife Biologist Jeannine Tardiff Fleegle which drew my attention immediately.

One of the titles – “Life & Times of a Whitetail” taught me a lot. So, I figured, if I learned a bit of information, maybe you, the reader, would benefit from what was written. Now, I am aware, many hunters get this digest when they purchase their hunting licenses, and have probably read the booklet, but, on the other hand, like many fishermen I know, unfortunately the information will be supplied to them, but sportsmen will not crack the pages, which is too bad. First of the all, the PGC has gone to a lot of trouble to add to this rule book to make it an interesting manual, and second, knowledge can be obtained so easily at one’s finger tips to benefit one’s knowledge.

Onward.

So browsing downward under the title, I saw the subtitle and read, “Where Do Baby Deer Come From.” Now, I could be facetious and state the obvious as if I were teaching a youngster about sex, but I knew there had to be more than that. So I continued on, and am glad I did. It seems fall is the time of the year that both does and bucks, politely put, like to get together.

Continuing, Tardiff Fleegle revealed, “Because gestation in white-tailed deer is about 200 days, conception, must take place in the fall for a late spring birth to occur.” The pattern is all starting to make sense to me. I was formally under the impression that relationships were “anytime affairs,” Not so, now I learn.

I have often heard the term, “rut.” When riding with several drivers, people will point out deer racing across highways or through the fields and I took it for granted this was a term referring to the behavior of deer, and let it go at that. After reading this wonderful description of what occurs, I further learned that “The season of conception is more commonly known as the rut,” she stated.

Now here, at least to me, is where it really got interesting. I ascertained that deer will take months to prepare for the rut. In doing so, it is very stressful for them. First of all, they (purposely) grow antlers “to impress the does and intimidate other suitors.” (I didn’t think they had a choice which leads me to an Off the Wall story upcoming). With the antlers they then communicate to both does and bucks by rubbing the antlers on trees. Also this rubbing invites both opponents to “spar in competition.”

In the Commonwealth, the peak of the sexual cycle for deer is the first two weeks in November. I found this statement definitely noteworthy – “…hundreds of thousands of females are looking for a mate at the same time.” Remember, back in the spring bucks were having a stressful time preparing to attract does by growing antlers. Now, females are on the hunt for the males “at the same time.” Those four words are very important to take under consideration for that means each will be searching out the other. Count on it – a meeting of sorts will take place.

If you are making notations, be aware, the female has only up to 48 hours, because of the gestation period, to find herself a partner. The buck may have grown a superb looking antler, but if it missed out on opportunity, the growth may have been in vain, at least from the deer’s point of view, if there is such a thing. As the PGC biologist put it, “…he can be in only one place at a time.”

Here’s another bit of information I learned. After the rut following “weeks of challenging suitors and chasing does,” advised Tardiff Fleegle, “bucks are exhausted and have lost 25% of their body weight.”

She concluded by telling the readers that deer “discard their racks and replenish their reserves in time to do it all again next year.”

May I add – if they haven’t been harvested. That’s not a statement of negativity whereas I am against hunting. The sport is necessary to thin the herds and prevent damage to property owners. If deer do make it to next spring, and many will, then they can go about their God-given tasks of preparing for the annual activity.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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