Friday, November 13, 2015

The Hunt for Rutting Mule Deer

I spent the last couple days on the Dearborn. It's amazing, the places you'll find right outside your back door if you just get out there and explore. I've driven by this place a hundred times along the highway but never took that left turn to check it out. (Pictures never do justice.)

Here's a view looking back down the valley after hiking up it a mile or so and then getting on top of the ridge to do some glassing. There are most definitely deer out there but I haven't seen the one yet. There are a lot of places for them to hide and monitor all the does and little bucks running around. You know there are eyes watching and waiting for the time to be right to show themselves.  
I've said I'm not a trophy hunter and generally I'm not but with the opportunity I have this year to shoot a big mule deer, I'm going to hold out for something special. I've shot many good size whitetails, a good antelope and a big elk but never a mule deer for the wall. It doesn't have to be a record; just something representative of these impressive animals and although I spotted over seventy-five mule deer in the last couple days, the big boys are still hold up somewhere high and I still haven't taken a shot.
I've been writing this blog now for about eight years and it gives me the opportunity to look back at years in the past to see things that might be different. The last couple years, I've taken buddies up on the ranch for management hunts. Every time, without fail, I've seen a monster buck that I would be more than happy with but this year, nothing. Every group of does has a buck with them but they are two and three year-olds that need the chance to grow up. I've heard the rut is on but I'm just not buying it so I looked back to the last couple years and noticed one really important thing; I'm about a week early.
So much goes into trying to predict the rut and when it's going to happen because that's when the big deer come out to play. I've been to deer hunting seminars and I've heard theories about what triggers the rut that range from moon phases to weather to the amount of light that penetrates a deer's eye but the reality is, the timing of the rut is pretty damn consistent regardless of these factors because it's all predicated on does coming into estrus and although they don't all do it at the exact same time, there is a gestation period all deer have that is consistent and if they breed at a certain time in the fall, they will drop their fawns at a certain time in the spring. Mother Nature likes to take care of her own so does won't go into heat at a time too early where fawns are more likely to drop during really cold weather.
Overall climate has a factor so from region to region, the rut does vary. However, in the Rockies you know most deer species will be giving birth sometime around the first or second week in June. There are exceptions but most of the fawns and calves will be born at that time. An elk's gestation period is around 240 to 250 days so cows will go into heat in early October. A deer's gestation period is about 203 days, which puts the rut for the Rockies at mid to late November. Whitetails seem to go into rut a little sooner than mule deer, which might have to do with the elevation they live allowing for the whitetails to drop fawns a little sooner in general.
A particular species' habits or tendencies also come into play. Elk are heard animals and spend about a month getting their cows together so the "rut"starts much earlier than when they actually bread. Whitetails are less about grouping does together and more about staking their territory. They will spend a few weeks making scraps and rubbing trees before the does go into heat. Mule deer do group up similar to elk but they won't cover as much ground so while the little bucks are doing the dirty work, the big boys can sit back and relax until the time is right.
The bottom line here, and the proof that is in the pudding, is that the little bucks are still hanging with the does, thinking one might go into heat and he might get lucky and he might. But the big bucks are still hanging back and watching and being patient; waiting for the majority of the does to be receptive. They don't want to waste all their energy on a couple random does and they still don't want to be seen. Once the does start going into heat however, watch out little bucks because the big boys will come out of hiding and they won't want you around and we won't be a debating weather or not the bucks are in rut because it will be obvious.  
As for me, I'm going to be patient and spend my time with the house being productive. I still have some trim to do and it's about time I clean out the shop.
Keep 'em where they live...


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