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Breaking Down the 2013 Rut

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What was good, and what was bad about the 2013 rut?

As deer hunting seasons all over the country wrap up, hunters are left reflecting on the status of the year. What made this a good season? What made it a bad one? Or was it simply mediocre, somewhere in between those two extremes? What roles did unusual weather patterns play in harvest numbers throughout North America? Did any major trends emerge this year that could change hunting season times or quotas in the future?

Quite simply, there is a lot of information that needs to be unpacked at the end of any given hunting season.

This year, many hunters seem to be commenting on this year’s rut (or in some cases, lack thereof). Hunters have come to expect certain things from the rut, most of them relating to daylight deer movement and visibility. This year however, bucks in many areas weren’t behaving the same way they have in past years. Bucks didn’t seem to be chasing does with their usual vigor, and hunters weren’t greeted with the same levels of activity they have been in the past.

Where one day could be fruitful – with half a dozen deer sightings, scrape or rub findings, or buck versus buck confrontations – the next day could easily pass a hunter by with no deer to be found. This year’s rut was quite simply inconsistent, not characterized by the explosion of activity that rut hunters normally see, but marked by bizarre “on again, off again” behaviors that represented a major challenge for hunters trying to plan their hunts.

It wasn’t as if the rut wasn’t happening – that would suggest a major biological problem and would undoubtedly have landed thousands of headlines by now. However, it was as if the rut was simply taking a different form than usual.

So why was 2013 rut activity different than usual? Supposedly, it’s because 2013 actually saw a rut that is scientifically different than it has been in other years. This year’s hunting season was marked by what is called a “trickle rut,” which happens when a season has two breeding moons – the first in October and the second in November – rather than just one. Because of this fundamental difference in lunar patterning, bucks started initiating breeding the mid-October.

Since hunting season in many areas – or at least gun season – doesn’t even start until November, it’s understandable how some hunters may have felt a bit shortchanged by this year’s rut.

That’s not to say that November hunters didn’t see any rut activity. If the trickle rut concept is to be believed, then breeding patterns should have continued to the end of October and through the month of November. However, since this year’s rut was more of a marathon than a sprint, deer activity certainly never escalated in to the all-out, free-for-all explosion that hunters normally mark as the best time of the year to land a big buck. With a longer rut, bucks had more time to rest and weren’t out in the open with the same consistency as normal.

And while that may be just fine for deer reproduction, it’s certainly not exactly what the average hunter was hoping to see this past fall.

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Breaking Down the 2013 Rut