Rockton, Ill. — How many Michigan deer hunters plan their hunts by studying moon phases or following rut predictions is the great unknown.
But those who take stock in the annual predictions by national writer Charlie Alsheimer likely are planning their vacations for the first two weeks of November.
Hunters tend to be split on the forecasts made by Alsheimer and wildlife biologist Wayne Laroche each year, but the duo has managed to stack up some impressive results.
They’ve been studying the timing of the rut for nearly 20 years – and last year accurately predicted a “slow rut” season.
This year’s rut prediction provides mostly good news. According to Alsheimer, major “seeking” behavior should pick up around Oct. 30 and continue until around Nov. 6, when major “chasing” should begin. This rutting frenzy will continue until around Nov. 14 when the “tending” phase should be beginning, and the “lockdown” period will follow shortly thereafter.
Thus, early November 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.
Michigan’s archery season opened Oct. 1 and will be in full swing by that time. The state’s firearms deer season is Nov. 15-30.
This year, the “rutting moon” is much earlier than last year, when the event did not take place until Nov. 17. This late moon, according to Alsheimer, resulted in a “trickle rut” with most rutting activity happening later than usual. This trickle rut usually ends up resulting in spotty rut activity, and below-average hunting success.
The basis of the rut prediction is this: Lunar, or moon phases, play a primary role in triggering the rut, along with the intensity of the rut, which affects the severity in the changes of whitetail behavior during the annual breeding cycle.
Alsheimer illustrates this concept: “A northern doe’s estrogen level peaks about Nov. 1, as does a buck’s testosterone level and sperm count. With both sexes poised to breed, it stands to reason that a mechanism must be in place if the doe is to enter estrus and be bred during the darker phases of the moon.”
As the 2014 seeking phase begins two or three days prior to Nov. 6, Alsheimer said we can expect to witness more buck sightings as “bucks have reached maximum testosterone levels and will be covering an exceptional amount of ground as they seek out the first of the estrous does.”
He also warns that this time of year is when the highest percentage of deer versus vehicle accidents occurs.
“Hard chasing is possible at this time, but most of it will be by yearling bucks,” Alsheimer said.
Around Nov. 9, Alsheimer said, the chasing phase of the rut will be quite obvious, and by Nov. 11, the chasing should transform the deer woods from quiet and tranquil to the insatiable insanity that hunters dream about 11 months out of the year. Alsheimer also points out that this will prove especially true if your property has a desirable adult doe-to-buck ratio, with mature bucks being a part of the mix.
“When competition is intense, rutting behavior is far more frenetic,” he said.
Alsheimer stated that while some breeding will occur around the full moon, it will not be highly noticeable until mid-November.
“By Nov. 15 to 20, breeding will be at full throttle, and buck sightings will be hard to come by,” he said. “As a result, this phase of the rut is often referred to as the lockdown.”
Alsheimer admitted that not every hunter has the ability to be in a treestand all day, every day through the entire month of November, so he shares this recommendation.
“If I only had a week of vacation to use for hunting, I would take off the week of Nov. 8-15 and hunt hard,” he said. “If everything goes as predicted, this week will include a lot of chasing activity, with some breeding activity starting up. It promises to be a great time to catch a buck up on his feet and moving during the day.”
Of course, not everyone buys into Alsheimer’s and LaRoche’s observations, research, and documentation. Some believe the rut comes and goes like clockwork at the same time each season. Still, others think reality is somewhere in between.