Oak Duke: 2008 whitetail rut should be end of October

Oak Duke

Serious whitetail deer hunters are always interested in predictions about the upcoming season’s rut, because it is the best time to hunt. And we like to know ahead of time when to set vacation plans, out-of-state hunts and time off to hunt.

The upcoming 2008 archery season is shorter than ever, due to the DEC's new formula for starting some hunting seasons on a Saturday.

The Saturday opener has not achieved its goal. License sales again declined precipitously after the 2007 season, and some even blame the Saturday opener for accelerating the dropoff in deer hunter numbers, the opposite of the intended effect.

Hardly anyone can argue that the newly revised New York state hunting season format has diminished the number of days of bow season, and especially for bow benders this year. All one has to do is use his or her fingers and count.

This year the archery season in the Southern Zone of New York state runs from Oct. 18 to Nov. 14. That's just 28 days. Bowhunters lose five days this year, that's 18 percent of our bow hunting time.

If the archery season had started on Oct. 15, the traditional opener, and the regular season opener had been set to begin Monday, Nov. 16, we could hunt for five more days.

The way I see it is that we who enjoy the archery season are getting 18 percent less for our hard-earned money. Is the state going to reduce the fee we pay for our bow hunting tag by the same amount of value we lost -18 percent? Oh, sure it will, right.

So in this DEC-shortened New York state archery season, bow hunters need to focus even more on the prime time, the rut, to be successful.

At no other time during hunting season do deer evidence more diurnal (daytime) movement as during the rut.

How is the short 2008 bow season going to be different than usual?

Most experienced bow hunters know that the first week of November is usually a great time to be in the woods. And they are right, partly. Any time is a great time to be in the woods bow hunting.

But some are greater than others, and those that are the greatest are usually when we have the best chance to score and it is nice to know when they are in advance.

Modern deer researchers have, in a manner of speaking, recently thrown light on the mysterious breeding time of the whitetail deer by scientifically studying the effect of moonlight and its relationship to the photoperiodic-driven behavior of whitetails.

In a nutshell, moon theory schools of thought as they relate to deer can be encapsulated into two types. They are the scientists, followers of scientific methodology, called "Light Theorists" and the other school: devotees of the gravity principal, "Position Theorists."

The former school validates its position (no pun intended) by citing photoperiodic studies in all "short day breeders" like deer, sheep, etc. Their research shows that the pineal gland, the producer of melatonin (a hormone) is regulated by the amount of light striking it through the animal's eye. And of course, days get shorter in the fall, there is less light, hormone flow is altered, and deer behavior changes.

The other school of thought, "Position guys" have their theory based on the gravitational pull of the moon and its relation to gravity and phase. Popular "Sol-lunar" tables and charts have been used for decades to predict wildlife behavior. But the majority of science has not been able to validate how or what internal mechanism that moon-spawned gravity actually can pull upon to cause verifiable change within the whitetail's body. (The old "Ghost in the Machine" conundrum.)

We know that the Hunter's Moon, the moon following the Harvest Moon (Sept. 15, 2008, defined as the closest Full Moon to the Autumnal Equinox, occurs Oct. 14, 2008.

Modern biochemical research into the metabolic-behavioral world of the whitetail has shown that the Hunter's Moon in October, "tunes" or sets the stage for the timing of the rut. That big, bright orange orb we see sliding up in the east at dusk, as we leave our tree stands, keeps the rest of the night bright for a week with a silvery light.

And that amount of light effects the whitetail hormone production, and "sets" their clock genes, causing the behavior changes we determine to be rutting activity.

And as hunters, we can change our tactics and choice of stands accordingly.

The first week of November is sometimes, that is in some years, the "running time" when bucks are beginning to chase does; the behavioral precursor to the actual rut or breeding time.

And most bow hunters would rather be in the woods during "the running time," as being out there during the actual rut.

Hunters usually find "feast or famine" to be the rule when whitetail bucks are hooked up with does during the rut because all but peripheral bucks, termed "subdominant floaters" are usually gathered into mobile, amorphous breeding groups as the rut peaks.

A spike in rutting activity will occur during the last weekend of October this year, spilling into the final week.

But the intensity will taper off and wane after the first few days of November, precisely when whitetails in New York and Pennsylvania are most often thought to be usually going bonkers.

Deer hunters will again hear the telltale sounds of rutting bucks during Thanksgiving week, as the whitetail rut hits its second and final, though abbreviated peak; late, as was the case during the 2005 season.

Oak Duke is publisher of the Wellsville Daily Reporter. E-mail: