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Hunting the Rut in West Virginia


If bow hunters were given only a single week to pursue white tail deer in West Virginia, chances are the bulk of them would choose the first or second week of November.     We are currently into or are at least approaching the peak time of the rut in West Virginia.

The rut is understood by hunters to be a time when bucks, in particular large bucks, become less leery.   Guided by their instinct to breed, the deer seem to take chances they otherwise would avoid.

Jim Crum is the deer biologist for the West Virginia DNR.  During a recent appearance on West Virginia Outdoors, he talked about the rut.

"Rut starts with day length triggering hormone levels and hardening off of the antlers," explained Crum. "It increases to the crescendo of the annual renewal of the deer herd."

Date from the West Virginia DNR pinpoints the peak of actual conception in whitetails occurs from November 14 to 17.     However, the drive to get started comes a few weeks earlier.   

"Most hunters like that increased activity of the bucks as the rut increases.  There are all kinds of behavioral changes," Crum explained. "One of the big things from a hunter’s standpoint is the buck’s home range increases." 

Crum suggests the bucks travelling tendencies, taking him out of what would normally be considered a "safe zone" make him more prone to being spotted by hunters.    Generally, an older, wary buck will know the best way to avoid danger in familiar territory.   The odds change drastically when he’s lured into an area where he’s less familiar.

Former WVU Wildlife Professor Dr. Dave Samuel reports similar activity in his book "Whitetail Advantage."  Samuel writes that many hunters will scout and have trophy bucks patterned for weeks right up until November and the buck will disappear entirely.     Samuel’s research indicates those bucks will travel anywhere from 500 yards to five-miles outside their home range during rutting activity.   He adds however, the upside to that scenario is that other trophy bucks will migrate into the area you may have scouted and show up without warning.

"He’s preoccupied," laughed Crum who tends to downplay human tendencies in animals. "I think most of it is he’s moving more so the probability of catching him off-guard is greater."

Conversely, the rutting season for does creates a drastically different behavior.  Crum says rut period for does is far shorter.  Generally, when the time is right, the doe will shrink her home range.

"Research indicates part of their (females) breeding strategy is to decrease their movements just prior to the peak of conception," said Crum. 

Crum says the females tend to stay put and put off signs making it easier to be located by a buck.  

It’s also a period in which dominance and sub ordinance take shape in the whitetail world.   Hunters will commonly notice more than one buck in an area that is "hot" for does.    Typically younger bucks will spar over breeding opportunities only to be eliminated by an older, more mature, and dominant buck.  Occasionally when the dominant buck reaches an extended age, his authority for breeding is challenged by the younger males in an area.    The entire cycle is less common in West Virginia than other areas where the buck-doe ratio is more in-line. 


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