The 2010 rut
As all deer hunters know, the best chances for success happen when the deer are active, and during the rut, or breeding period, the activity level of the deer increases. In Louisiana, unlike in northern and midwestern states, the breeding season occurs over a couple of months; in these other regions of the country, the rut is more distinct, primarily occurring in November and prior to the heavy winter season. The winters in the Bayou State are normally mild, and this is one reason for an extended rut. Knowing when the rut will occur is some useful information for the deer hunter who has limited hunting days.
In Louisiana, the genetic makeup of our herds is such that we have been blessed with three distinct breeding periods. Deer in the southwest and around Avery Island have the earliest breeding season, which can begin in late August and extend through December. This is the breeding range.
In the northwest and central portions of the state, those areas described as Area 2, the breeding range is mid October through December, with November being the primary month for breeding activity. This is similar to the deer herds in the midwestern and northern states.
That portion of the state in Areas 1, 4 and 6 have a breeding range from mid November through January, and in the real late portions of these areas can extend into February. Detailed information regarding breeding dates is available from LDWF.
The more breeding data available for an area, the more exact the breeding range and the more distinct the primary breeding period becomes. It is important to know that breeding does not occur at the same time year after year; if it did, we could all go out at a specific time and experience success. The peak activity can shift up and down within the breeding range and during the peak month. Last year the breeding came toward the end of the peak activity month, but this year breeding should occur during the middle days of the peak month.
How do we know the rut came later in the month during the peak month? Examinations of reproductive tracts collected during the hunting season and during special collections once the season was over provide the information.
Ken Mason hunts on a 10,000-acre club in Bossier Parish that has a good deer population, and from past collections, these are typical Area 2 deer that breed primarily in November, usually around mid-November. Last year he shot two does, one in late December and one in mid January, and collected the reproductive tracts. Normally we will find a nice fetus that can generally be measured and establish a precise breeding date; however, the embryos in both tracts were less than 8mm in length (shrimp-like in appearance). I estimated that one doe was bred in late November or early December and the other to have bred in mid-December, much later than normal.
Collections from the region north of Clinton in East Feliciana Parish indicated more late December breeding rather than the usual early to mid-December activity, and in upper Area 6 in Pointe Coupee Parish, the collections indicated more late January breeding than the usual late-December and early January activity.
Trail cameras set-up on scrapes on Sugarland Hunting Club in Pointe Coupee Parish provided interesting information regarding rut activity (see Chart A).
As is evident, the heaviest scrape activity came during early to mid-January and then dropped off the last two weeks of January, which generally means bucks are chasing does and breeding is taking place. Note the low activity in December; hunters need to be aware that in the upper portions of Area 6 and in the parishes of Area 1 that border the Mississippi River the rut is late and hunting in November and early December is not too productive. Save your days for the late season when the activity level is higher. Late December, January and February are the breeding-range months for these deer.
Scrape cameras north of Clinton in East Feliciana Parish told a different story. The breeding range in this area is late November to mid February. Scrape cameras there also documented some interesting activity (see Chart B).
There were a total of 332 deer visits with 180 of them being bucks (54 percent). Both in East Feliciana and in Pointe Coupee, the scrape visits by does and nubby bucks increased during the second round of activity. The nubby bucks, male fawns, are probably becoming sexually mature and have the urge to visit scrapes. The increase in doe visits may represent does that have not bred and are leaving their calling cards in the scrape.
I always see more buck activity, especially the bigger adults, during January; I believe this is because the competition to breed the does that did not breed in December is very high and the bucks are moving much more to find these does.
Last year we predicted that the peak scraping in the early breeding parishes of Area 1 would be Dec. 5-20. Sixty percent of the visits in December occurred during that time period, and this time period accounted for 39 percent of the total buck visits, so we were pretty accurate with the rut prediction.
The rut prediction for Louisiana during the 2011 deer season is based upon the scrape-initiation period. The rut prediction that is produced in Deer and Deer Hunting by Charles Alsheimer and Wayne LaRoche is based on the timing of the harvest moon and the hunters moon. The influence of the moon on breeding activity is a debate among deer biologists. This is discussed in the book Whitetail Advantage, written by David Samuel and Bob Zaiglin. If you do not have this book in your library, it would be a good one to have and read.
While the exact influence of the moon is still up for debate and the issue probably never resolved (this is a difficult research project), there is some connection with the moon and breeding activity. The harvest moon in 2011 occurs on Sept. 12, the Autumnal Equinox on Sept. 23 and the hunters moon on Oct. 12.
The prediction in Deer and Deer Hunting magazine is based on the hunters moon initiating the chasing and then shortly followed by breeding. It is interesting that the prediction that I develop always has peak breeding of our Area 2 deer occurring at the same time as the prediction developed by Alsheimer and LaRoche for the northern deer, with November being the peak month of activity. If you follow the Farmer's Almanac, the best hunting days in 2011 will be Sept. 12-13, Oct. 18, Nov. 14-15 and Dec. 11-12.
If you're one of those guys who says, "I don't believe in all this and am going to hunt whenever I can," my only other suggestion is to look over the big-buck harvest dates for the deer killed in the state over the past few years. This data has always shown that the really big bucks are killed when the breeding activity is good.
Also, keep in mind that the real trophy-class bucks represent only a small fraction of the buck population, 5 percent or less, and connecting with one of them is a difficult task. But if you do have a lot of time on your hands, hunting whenever you can is not a bad plan, but be sure to carry a good book to read when the temperature soars above 70!
The 2011 Rut
The 2011 rut will be somewhat like the rut in 2006-07, so if you keep notes on your hunting trips, you may want to review them. The prediction for the rut this year is for peak breeding to occur in the mid-portion of the peak activity month.
I looked back at my notes, but 2006 was a difficult year due to a serious accident in our family and my hunting schedule was much disrupted. I did bag an adult buck on Jan. 6 during the second scraping period, and is one reason I always hunt the second month of activity, sometimes more days than the first month of activity.
If you think about it, during the first month of breeding, a high percentage of the does are having their estrus cycle and bucks do not have to move much to find a hot doe. With only 20 percent or less of the does in the population not being bred, the competition for them is high. Bucks are still sparring, working scrapes and have increased their home range in an effort to find one.
The breeding prediction for the Area 2 rut based upon that of Deer and Deer Hunting magazine is Nov. 11-24 and for the early breeding parishes of Areas 1 and 6 is Dec. 10-23. As mentioned earlier, we pretty much have the same predictions even though we obtained them by a different method.
Hunting the 2011 rut
Deer season dates established by LDWF provide excellent opportunities for deer hunters during the rut, even though many of the hunters in the late-breeding areas of Areas 1 and 6 will not get to hunt during the second breeding period. However, new regulations established by LDWF can give gun hunters two weeks in February if the land is enrolled in the new DMAP program developed by our state deer biologist, Scott Durham. There was a lot of work put into the development of this new program, and it will be interesting to see if it produces results. You may recall I wrote a year or so ago that a new state-record typical buck will be killed whenever gun hunters can hunt the second period of breeding activity in Areas 1 and 6.
Gun hunters in all of the state deer areas will be able to hunt during the month of the first breeding period. Primitive hunters will be hunting during the first peak of scraping activity.
Public-land hunters need to take the hunting regulation brochure and compare the season dates for the desired area with the rut-prediction dates. Generally, most wildlife management areas provide hunting during the rut as does the season on the Kisatchie National Forest, which falls within the Area 2 activity times. Since buck hunting is not part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hunting program, hunters who desire to hunt the rut on Tensas or the other refuges located in the late-breeding area will be restricted to bowhunting.
Hunters should also be aware that the season in the Atchafalaya Basin and on Sherburne WMA has been modified due to the flooding, and hunters need to check the new dates.
I would suggest that on the private lands, hunters and managers need to take a close look at the browsing and perhaps put out trail cameras to see if indeed the population has been reduced on the landscape. LDWF gave a high-end mortality estimate, and this may not necessarily be the case on your land. The best growth and development is achieved on habitat where the herd is at or below carrying capacity, and if a herd was overpopulated, a reduction of the herd from flooding may not be a bad thing.
If you have not been keeping records, and have no idea of what is going on with the growth trends of your herd, now would be the time to start and see if the physical condition of your deer are below average, average or above average. If your data was showing that the condition of your deer was below average, losing a few deer from the flood (even though this is not a desirable harvest method), may help your management program in the long term.