If you’re looking for an actual deer rut map, showing what stage the deer rut season is in across a geographic area, you’ll want to find another webpage. But if you’re actually just curious about the deer rutting season, deer rutting times, or simply want a better sense of what rutting is, you’ve come to the right page. Deer rut season is a fascinating wildlife phenomenon, and one worth knowing something about for safety reasons, as well.
A Bit About the Deer Themselves…
Throughout most of the U.S., the deer you’re most likely to see are white-tailed deer, but throughout most of the arid, open western portion of the country, you’ll most likely see mule deer. Both are adapted to open lands and flourish in early successional habitat and mixed habitat, including agricultural and suburban lands. Deer spend most of their time alternating between eating and resting. They have a ruminating stomach, which enables them to forage in the open and then digest their food while resting in a safer place. Their most active times of day are dusk and dawn, which is known as being “crepuscular.”
During times of high activity, they can move about a half mile over a two-hour period, while they only move about a tenth of a mile in that timeframe when less active. Males range a little farther than do females.
Timing and Stages of Deer Rut Season…
The rut is a period of synchronous mating—basically, a time when nature simultaneously compresses the estrous cycle of females and heightens the interest of males in mating to ensure lots of fawns being born in springtime. For most of the U.S., the deer rut season is in October or November, although it can be as late as January in southern Texas. Initial sparring actually begins in September, when the velvet comes off their antlers. Male hormones are on the rise, causing bachelor groups to become scrappy with one another to the point that these groups disband. A range of aggressive displays lead to actual fighting, and the males establish a hierarchy. The activities of the rut are so absorbing and time-consuming that males barely eat or rest during this time. In fact, if they have not sufficiently fattened up before the rut, they may not survive the winter.
Among the dominance displays during rutting is the thrashing of vegetation with antlers. Large, dominant males rake shrubs and low tree branches, causing younger, smaller males to flee and leaving females in the area for the more dominant males. Males also grind the base of their antlers and forehead on small trees to mark them and paw and scratch the ground with their hooves to make scrapes. During sparring, males loosely engage their antlers and have ritualized non-aggressive mock fights, which consist mostly of rattling, pushing, and twisting their antlers together. During an actual fight, the pushing becomes much more intense. A dominant buck may also grunt, snort, and wheeze as a threat, and the opponent must either retreat or fight.
Once sparring has determined the hierarchy, entitled males begin chasing females and sniffing around for chemical signals of readiness to mate. Males may moan and bellow during this pursuit. The next stage is “tending” or “guarding,” a period when a male stays very close to a female he has determined is in estrus, and he fends off rivals to ensure it is his genes that get passed along. During this phase, males make long, low croaking grunts.
Mating itself is extremely brief, and the male immediately loses interest in that female, as he must search for another female in estrus. A rutting buck will breed with as many receptive females as he can. Each doe is able to conceive for only about a 24-36 hour period during the one-month estrous cycle, so a pursuing male must pay careful attention to scent signals. Females provide all of the care for the fawns when they arrive, as males have gone back to hanging around in bachelor groups.
What Deer Rut Season Means for Drivers…
If you think about the level of single-mindedness it would take for an animal to nearly abandon food and sleep, then it’s easy to realize that deer are not going to be paying careful attention when crossing roads. Their hormones are charged up while pursuing the all-important business of ensuring their species flourishes, so be on the lookout! A deer may come careening across the road suddenly during deer rutting season, and odds are, one or more may follow closely behind. Don’t spend your money on a deer whistle, because they have not been proven to work. Instead, here are some practical safe driving tips for you.
Nine Tips for Safely Navigating Deer Rutting Season
- Drive more slowly, so you can stop if needed.
- Take deer crossing signs seriously and be more watchful in these posted areas.
- Use headlights at dawn, dusk, and through the evening, when deer are most active.
- Use your high beams at night as much as possible, but lower them for oncoming cars.
- Dim your dash lights slightly to make it easier to see your headlights reflecting in the eyes of the animals crossing the road.
- Scan both sides of the road for animals who may be about to enter.
- If you see deer crossing, slow down, flash your headlights and beep your horn so they may be alerted to your oncoming vehicle but DON’T VEER – drive straight and stay in your lane! Swerving might cause you to hit another vehicle or an object like a telephone pole or fence that could cause you greater injury than if you hit the deer.
- If you do have a collision involving a deer, contact police and explain that someone needs to quickly remove the dead or injured deer for the safety of other drivers.