What starts the rut?
I have read it all from the moon phases to the temperature, the day length, just happens, and a smart elic one where a guy said its when the doe come in heat, Thats correct so what makes them come into heat? How long does the rut usually last? Obviously this will be diffferent from every area. I live and hunt in south western ohio.
Do you read D&DH magazine? Charlie Alsheimer has about 15 years of well-documented evidence that the second full moon after the fall equinox is what triggers the rut. (Or more accurately, it's what triggers estrus in the does and sends the bucks into a rutting frenzy.)
The word "equinox" is a science-geek word derived from the Latin aequus
(equal) and nox
(night). It's simply the date on which the darkness and daylight are approximately equal, which varies a little but always occurs on September 22 or 23. Right now, we're experiencing the first full moon after the fall eqinox. As the days get shorter the doe's pineal gland (which responds to light) gets accustomed to less and less light. Then, when the next full moon arrives, she gets a shot of light and her glandular system goes into overdrive. She begins estrus a few days later -- and bingo, all the bucks want to marry her. (Keep in mind that each doe is an individual whose response will be a little faster or a little slower.) If she doesn't get bred, she'll go into estrus again after the next full moon.
The experienced bucks know what's coming, so they'll be seeking and chasing prior to that full moon (also called the "hunting moon" or "rutting moon"). Seeking and chasing are the earlier phases of the rut. But when the does start emitting those sex pheromones that tell the bucks what's about to happen, the bucks will go crazy.
D&DH magazine sells a calendar with all the phases of the rut charted out. Alsheimer writes an article in D&DH every year, and it's in the September 2009 issue on page 20. Although there are factors (weather, temperature, human pressure, poor sex ratios) that can suppress the rut, Charlie says the "sweet spot" for the rut this year begins about 3 days after the rutting moon and lasts for about 10 days.
This theory is not Alsheimer's alone. He has been working with a Vermont biologist named Wayne LaRoche. The theory is based on observational behavior, and has thousands of data points from all across the continent. And, even Charlie says it's not universal, but it applies mainly north of the 38th parallel (which is near the southern border of Virginia.) The reason it's dependent on latitude is because in the north, the timing for fawn drop is critical to survival. South of that latitude, the rut is much more spread out.
Not everyone agrees with this theory, and it's hard to keep everything straight because we're so accustomed to thinking about deer activity (mostly feeding patterns) based on moon phases. Alsheimer's work is not about activity patterns in general, but about breeding behavior in particular in the north. It's an interesting theory, one that thousands of hunters plan their hunts around, and no one I know of has offered a better explanation for the timing of the rut. I hope I've explained it as well as can be done in this brief space.