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Shoot the Moon
Shoot the Moon
by Jeff Murray

Here's how to hunt the lunar phases to bag your best buck ever during this year's rut.

Some whitetail authorities believe that the “rutting moon” is the second full moon after the autumn equinox. Others say it’s the new moon that falls closest to the second full moon after the autumn equinox. Both of these camps say the moon actually triggers the peak of the rut in Central and Northern states. Others believe that deer in those states will breed sometime between November 7 and November 20 regardless of when the full moon occurs. On the following pages, you’ll find out how Jeff Murray, author of numerous books and guides on how the moon affects whitetails, thinks this year’s rut will unfold. And because opinions vary, you’ll also find advice from Mark Drury, cofounder of M.A.D. Calls, and Michael Hanback, Outdoor Life’s whitetail specialist, on how to hunt this year’s rut according to the moon.

The 2002 Rut

It’s no secret that the whitetail rut is the best time of year to hunt bucks. Too bad most hunters head for the same woods with the same tactics on the same dates. That’s one rut to avoid, because the rut changes from fall to fall. Intense research spanning a decade has convinced me that the rut, like the weather, is actually quite predictable. But unlike with the weather, it’s possible to make rut plans years in advance. Here’s the latest on how I think the moon will affect this hunting season.

The Formula

Most wildlife biologists agree that photoperiodism (the diminishing ratio of daylight to dark) is the primary factor in triggering the rut. The shorter days induce hormone-level changes in both bucks and does. Because daylight hours diminish more rapidly in northern latitudes, rutting activity is generally more concentrated in the northern part of the whitetail’s range. For example, from October 24 to 30, Houston loses about 9 minutes of daylight, while Minneapolis loses 17 minutes.

But photoperiodism is only part of the rut story. Moonlight intensity—specifically a bright full moon waning to a dark new moon—affects the timing of the rut. When daylight and moonlight reach a certain level, the doe prepares to enter estrus. As one researcher put it, “The sun cocks the rut’s trigger, the moon pulls it.”

My rut formula for North American whitetails is simply this: The first new moon following the second full moon after the autumn equinox generally overlaps the whitetail’s peak breeding phase. The new moon is the key: It tells you when breeding is likely to peak. Once you have this date, you can accurately predict when each stage of the rut will occur. The wild card here is the weather; unseasonably warm conditions may slow down the rut.

October 22–November 2*

The pre-rut stage starts with the alluring odors of the first few estrus does. Bucks quickly take notice, and their daytime movement intensifies. This is a good time to grunt a buck to bow or gun and is especially rewarding for hunters who plan ahead. For example, you might hang a tree stand where bucks rubbed trees in years past instead of waiting for the rubs to appear. Trails leading to and from doe bedding areas, where bucks like to monitor the progress of potentially receptive does, can also be hot.

Peak Breeding
November 3–November 6*

Peak breeding represents the valley on the rut chart. Since the majority of does are in heat, bucks aren’t chasing much—they don’t have to because in most places the does substantially outnumber the bucks (anywhere from 3 to 1 to 10 to 1 or more). When bucks and does are paired up during the peak of the rut, avoid high-traffic areas such as travel corridors connecting bedding and feeding areas. Bucks avoid competition from rivals by slipping into offbeat habitat such as drainage ditches, brush patches, strip cover and swamp islands. Think like a buck with a hot date, and don’t get discouraged if you see few deer.

November 7–13*

The post-rut stage can be the most explosive but is the least understood. Because it follows the uneventful peak-breeding stage, many hunters are fooled into thinking the rut is over.

Instead, it’s about to kick into high gear. Mature bucks have had their way for a week or more, but now they’ve run out of receptive does. So they go looking—trolling—at a frantic pace, often outside their core areas. Aggressive rattling is ideal for trollers, so bang those antlers together like a pair of bucks squaring off. Cool, calm mornings are usually best, but don’t rule out midday or afternoons.

Second Estrus
November 30–December 10*

The second-estrus stage offers hunters a second chance. According to some studies, about 25 percent of adult does fail to conceive during the primary rut; as a result, they go back into heat 25 to 28 days later. Because this is also when many of this year’s fawns will be entering their first estrus cycle, you can expect the rut to heat back up. Both grunting and rattling may produce during this time, but the best strategy is to scout nutritional food sources that attract does and bucks. Most early ruts are short and intense, meaning hunters who schedule accordingly should see plenty of action, and those who rely on “tradition” could miss out.

*All dates are relevant for the 39 states that typically have a November rut.

Article supplied by Field and Stream magazine.

Tactics Change With the Moon
Michael Hanback

“This season, from November 6 to 20, in Central, Northern and Western states, bucks will have a ball chasing down and breeding does. During the dark nights around the November 4 new moon, mature bucks should move hard and fast at dawn and dusk each day. Set up in funnels between doe bedding and feeding areas. “When the moon waxes full on November 20, hang tight in a stand downwind of a thicket or a doe trail covered with scrapes and rubs. Keep rattling and grunting every hour or so on stand and you may get a crack at a bruiser buck looking for does between 9 and 11 a.m.”

Always Hunt a Rising Moon
Mark Drury

“In my view, the moon phase only slightly affects the rut’s timing. But it does highlight different parts of the rut. This could be a tough rut unless we get lots of cold weather, because this year, with the full moon coming on November 20, bucks won’t be moving during the pre-rut until late in the evening.

“What I’ve found is that deer move early into feeding areas with a rising moon, and we won’t have a rising moon in the late afternoon until around November 10. By that time, bucks will likely be paired up with does in estrus.

“There will, however, be a rising moon in the late afternoon in mid-October. If this moon is paired with cool weather, movement to food sources in the evening should be good. What my philosophy basically comes down to is to hunt feeding areas and travel corridors on a rising moon and bedding areas during a falling moon.”

The Southern Rut
Forget November’s rutting moon if you’ll be hunting in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi or Texas. The real question is: How might the full moon on December 19 impact the Southern deer rut?

Call-maker and veteran hunter Will Primos of Jackson, Miss., says, “Down here