The ‘‘rut’’ is here — that time of year that excites Louisiana’s deer population and Louisiana deer hunters, but for completely different reasons.
For the whitetail deer, the ‘‘rut’’ is a time when female deer come into estrus and are receptive to the forward advances of the male deer. In short, it’s the breeding season.
For the hunters, it’s a time to take advantage of this increased activity in fields, forest, swamp and marsh.
‘‘When they’re breeding, a buck is not thinking much about anything else other than breeding,’’ State Deer Study leader Scott Durham said. ‘‘They’re not interested in eating, just breeding and because a certain percentage of does are in estrus in their area, the bucks lose some of their caution.’’
That means even the bucks that ‘‘went nocturnal’’ — traveling and feeding at night — are moving in daylight hours.
For hunters in State Areas 1 and 6, the parishes along the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers — all the parishes in south-central and southeast Louisiana — the rut is now, the weeks around Christmas and the new year.
‘‘We tend to look at the rut as two-week intervals,’’ Durham said.
Durham said there is a ‘‘pre-rut period,’’ when bucks rub the preorbital glands around their eyes on low-hanging branches.
This activity leaves scent.
Under those branches, the bucks scrape out a small area — down to bare earth — then, as Durham said, ‘‘They urinate over their tarsal glands (on their hind legs) to leave even more scent in the area.
‘‘They’re advertising their presence, and this usually happens in the days leading up to the rut,’’ he said.
The most obvious places to find ‘‘rubs’’ and ‘‘scrapes’’ are along ridges, road beds and old logging trail.
Look for low, broken branches — cedar trees are first-rate ‘‘rub’’ spots in upland areas — and 2-3 foot long-and-narrow spots along the ground. The acrid smell of urine is a dead giveaway that you’re near a ‘‘fresh’’ scrape.
‘‘Bucks and does will use scrapes and multiple bucks will use the same scrape. Bucks will visit scrapes to make sure it carries their scent, not the scent of another deer,’’ Durham said.
It’s well documented that the peak of the rut in the Baton Rouge area comes in the last days of the year, so now is the time to find rubs and scrapes and hunt them hard.
Durham said deer do not visit scrapes during the height of the rut.
‘‘Rubs and scrapes are there for the bucks to tell the does that they’re there and waiting for them, and the does are telling the bucks the same thing,’’ Durham said.
During the rut, does are wary. Hunters observing does often see the pensive females looking over their shoulders all the while knowing that they have ‘‘come into season.’’
A buck entering the area comes in with head lowered at or slightly below his shoulders.
During this first breeding period, Durham said a buck will stay with receptive does for as long as three days to make sure the breeding cycle is completed and the doe is in the first days of being pregnant.
The bucks don’t eat and will capture as many does as possible in the short ‘‘estrus’’ cycle.
After the rut, life returns to some semblance of normal for deer for about two weeks.
Then, Durham said, bucks and the remaining unbred does in the area repeat the cycle.
‘‘Areas 1 and 6 are the latest ruts we have in the state,’’ Durham said. ‘‘The peak breeding season comes in late December and early January. Area 6 is later than Area 1 and there are some deer that breed as late as February, even as late as March.’’
Why so late? The popular theory is that Areas 1 and 6 deer adapted to the birth of their fawns after threats from spring floods along the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers. That means August.
‘‘It makes sense that that what they would have done that,’’ Durham said. ‘‘We (state wildlife biologists) are working on a data set of breeding periods by parish.
‘‘We have breeding activity into February in place and we (biologists) don’t necessarily like that, but that’s just the way it is.’’
Durham said fellow biologist Larry Savage has done extensive work studying the differing cycles.
‘‘What he’s found is that deer born too late are tiny and don’t fit into the fawn class for that year,’’ Durham said. ‘‘These late-born deer do not get a good start and are behind the earlier-born deer. Some researchers say these deer catch up to the other deer in their same age group in five years.’’