Once a lease, ranch or area of high deer traffic on public land is located, hunters want to know one more major piece of information.
When is the rut?
In a state as large is Texas, the question has just as much to do with “where” as “when”.
The fact is there are many mysteries and misconceptions involving the rut, particularly in regards to when it happens in various ecological regions of the state.
I always refer to a study entitled, The Rut in Whitetail Deer put out by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. It sheds some light on timing and issues involving the mysterious phenomenon known as the rut.
According to the study, a doe may be attractive to bucks for about five days, but may be willing to breed for a period of only 24 hours. If the doe is not bred during her first cycle, she will generally come into heat again about 28 days later.
“In areas where there are few bucks, a doe may not encounter a buck when she is first receptive and may not be bred until one of her later cycles. A hunter, landowner or biologist who sees the late breeding activity may be convinced that there was a late rut.
On the other hand, those who see does attended by bucks in the early part of the season believe there was an early rut. This helps explain the wide variety of opinions on the timing of the rut during a particular year.”
TPWD also reported that “Hunter chronology” has a lot to do with the perceived timing of the rut.
“Traditionally, hunters are more likely to be afield during cool weather. They will usually be out in force with the onset of the first weekend norther during the deer season. When there are many observers spending time in the field it is more likely that breeding activity will be noticed.”
“Bucks, like hunters, have a tendency to move around during cool weather. Bucks with hardened antlers are ready to breed and are looking for a willing doe. More movement means more opportunity to encounter a receptive doe.
This increased movement helps give rise to the idea that cold weather causes the rut. However, this theory is disproved by whitetailed deer breeding in tropical climates.”
The following are rut dates as detailed in TPWD’s study.
“Most breeding activity happened from October 21 to January 5. Peak breeding dates were November 22 in the northern portion and November 12 in the southern part of the Pineywoods.”
“The conception dates for does in this region ranged from September 30 to January 16 during the study period. Two study areas were used. The peak breeding dates for the central and southern portions were almost identical. The peak dates were November 10 and 11, respectively.”
Representing the north-central part of the state, conception dates in the Cross Timbers and Prairies were as early as October 13 and extended to December 17. In the northern portion of the region, the average breeding date was November 15. The average breeding date in the southern part was November 17.”
“Most does were bred from October 8 to December 30 in the three years studied. Study areas showed a peak date of December 3 in the north and November 20 in the south. The Rolling Plains had the highest incidence of pregnancy, with 97 percent. Biologists found an average of 1.7 fawns for each doe examined.”
“Conception dates for this region ranged from as early as October 9 to a late date of January 30. The Edwards Plateau, Texas’s highest deer production region was divided into three areas for the study. The eastern part had a peak breeding date of November 7. Peak breeding for the central portion was November 24, and the western area had a peak date of December 5.”
“The earliest whitetail breeding in the state occurred in this ecological region. Breeding occurred in the period August 24 to November 25. There were two study areas: the northern study area had a peak date of September 30, and the southern area was a month later with an October 31 peak breeding date.”
“South Texas had the latest rut in the state. Breeding dates ranged from November 9 to February 1 during the three years. In the eastern part of the area the peak breeding date was December 16, while in the west it was December 24.”
“Conception dates in the Trans-Pecos ranged from as early as November 4 to as late as January 4 during the three-year study. The peak date of the breeding season was December 8.”
It is interesting that there are so many varying peaks in rut dates in Texas. We are as big as several states, but I have seen areas along the coast where bucks are rutting in early September and just 50 miles up the road there is little or no breeding action until the middle of October.
The rut is an important period to hunt areas where you tend to see many does because the bucks will be after them. The bucks themselves usually turn their attention away from feeders during this period, although they may still show up to find a doe in estrus.
The fact is very few areas of the state are completely out of rut by the time this issue of TF&G arrives. Opportunities are regal out there. In places like South Texas, the peak hunting is yet to come.
The rut is a complex issue, and we are thankful our state biologists have done a great job identifying the key breeding periods throughout the state.
—story by Chester Moore