January 31, 2017

Stories to Tell - November Rut

By Eric D'Aleo, Naturalist

It’s amazing how much animal activity there is in the woods during the fall. Many hunters are aware of the movement of animals at this time, especially white-tailed deer, as they get ready for winter. The deer are busy feeding on the remaining green foliage in November and acorns to put on as much body fat as possible. It’s exciting to watch the changes that have occurred over the past few months on our trail cameras. Gone are the deer’s red coats of summer covered over by dark brown guard hairs of their winter coat which help them survive the cold weather. Fawns that once had spotted coats have grown and lost all trace of their baby coloration. The most noticeable change in the deer are the male’s antlers which have lost the velvet appearance revealing hard bone underneath to advertise their fitness to does and other males. All in time for the white-tailed deer’s breeding season, also known as the rut.

There was a lot of deer activity on our trail cameras from October through November. Most of it occurred late at night but there were times during the day when deer were active. It seems that several does and their offspring continued to routinely visit different locations on our property like they had during the summer. Yet one location, a crossing of two well-travelled paths, seemed to be visited by them most often. There was also evidence of more males on our property this fall than over the summer. There may have been as many as five bucks moving throughout the property. Some of them were young with small antlers but two were large bucks who spent a lot of time roaming around the woods looking for a doe that was ready to breed. Occasionally there would be a close up view of an antler on our camera, either because a buck was interested in it or was possibly choosing to investigate a young tree or sapling nearby where it could take out aggression by rubbing its antlers on the trees. Take a look the photos below.

Notice the difference in the color of the fur in the summer and the fall.
Fall coloring
Summer coloring

Although the fawn is not the same distance from the camera in each photograph, notice the disappearance of the spots by the fall.

Here are images of two different bucks from the same location.  Can you tell which one is more likely to be the dominant male?

Here are the two bucks again at different locations but exhibiting the same behavior.  They are smelling the ground for evidence of a female that is ready to breed.

This location proved to be a good spot for the does and their offspring to visit throughout the summer and into the fall.

This image was taken in early December.  Now with the breeding season over, the long winter begins.  When more snow accumulates, this area will be abandoned for stands of conifers that provide more protection for the deer from the elements.

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