By Mark Kenyon
It’s time to start thinking about the whitetail rut. And let’s be honest, it’s not like you haven’t been dreaming of it already, right? I know I sure have.
That said, today for the seventh year in a row, we’re going to be diving into the latest whitetail rut predictions for this upcoming 2016 season and breaking down all the various beliefs and theories about when the rut occurs and what factors might influence the timing of it.
So pull up your calendar, get ready to block off some vacation dates, and get pumped. Because its time to talk about the rut!
NOTE: If you’re interested in learning more about actually hunting during 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.
The first set of rut predictions we’re going to share are those coming from Wayne Laroche and Charles Alsheimer. As many of you know, 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 – lets recap the basis for 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 2016 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 2016?
This year the “Rutting Moon” is much later than it was last year and most years in general, falling on November 14th. That’s compared to a Rutting Moon of October 27th in 2015 and November 6th in 2014. The last time we had a late Rutting Moon like this was in 2013, when it fell on November 17th, and according to Laroche/Alsheimer, that late moon resulted in a “trickle rut” with most rutting activity happening later than usual (third or fourth weeks in November), with other peaks and valleys occurring sporadically over late October and mid November.
So, what does this late “Rutting Moon” mean for the rut in 2016? Well, according to this theory, this would mean that the majority of rutting behavior would be later than we’ve seen the past couple years, and would look relatively similar to what was experienced in 2013.
According to Alsheimer’s Lunar Calendar, major “seeking” behavior should pick up around November 7th and continue until around the 14th, when major “chasing” should begin. This peak in visible rutting activity will continue until around November 21st when the “tending” phase should be kicking into gear and continue through the 28th.
So what does 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 could be a little hit and miss, as that first week is not predicted to be too rutty. But, the other hand you might be seeing even more action than usual during the last two weeks of the month. According to this prediction, somewhere between November 10th – November 23rd should be some of the best hunting of the entire season, when the most seeking and chasing will be happening, which is in fact the “rutting behavior” that hunters are most interested in seeing.
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
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
So, as you can see there are a number of different conflicting views on the rut and when it might happen each year. And with that being the case, I might as well throw in my 2 cents as well.
First, regarding Laroche’s/Alsheiemer’s predictions, over the past seven years I can say that my own personal observations have loosely matched up – to some degree – with these predictions. 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.
That said, in almost all those years, I still did see 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 more 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. This would mean that, typically, most seeking and chasing 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 – especially during the day. 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, and I’m happiest when they seem to line up for a good rut, I’ll still be focusing my heaviest hunting efforts on the first two weeks of November, no matter what the lunar theory predictions indicate.
What Are Your Thoughts?
So now I want to know what you think! We’ve been sharing an annual rut prediction article now for seven years and I’m guessing many of you have been following along. If so, how have 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 six years…
If you’re interested in learning more about Laroche and Alsheimer’s Lunar Rut Theory – pick up a copy of Deer & Deer Hunting’s 2016 Whitetail Calendar.
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.