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Will the cold weather lead to an early rut of deer in Mississippi?


“Deer are short-day breeders. They breed when the days get shorter. Within that there is a strong genetic component that determines when the females will breed.’

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Mississippi has experienced a series of cooler than average days with temperatures dropping below freezing and sunrises revealing a fresh and icy landscape.

For fighters, it couldn’t have come at a better time as it coincided with the opening of the deer hunting season and one wonders if the cool temperatures and increased deer activity signal an early rut.

Will the rut be early in Mississippi? The short answer is no and here’s why and when it will take place in your area.

“What they’re talking about is the reality in behavior,” says Steve Demarais, a professor at the Mississippi State University Deer Lab. “Colder weather encourages more activity, but that’s not the grind.”

Demarais explained that the rut is controlled by factors other than cooler weather.

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Deer breeding and photoperiod explained

“The leading factor is season, which is linked to photoperiod,” Demarais said. “The photoperiod is the relative amount of light and darkness.

“Deer breed short days. They breed when the days get shorter. Within that, there is a strong genetic component that determines when the females will breed. The ultimate reason why deer breed when they breed is adaptation to normal seasonal variation.”

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Let’s put that in everyday terms. Bucks like to be eager to breed before they do, but do have a say. The length of days and nights tells us when it is time to breed in their area.

Demarais said it is earlier in northern states than southern states. That’s because of harsh winters that can be an unrelenting mower for deer. Fawns should be born earlier in the year so that by winter they will have grown enough to survive the harsh conditions. Does with genetics that for some reason tells them to breed later, well, those genetics die out because of the fawn’s lower survival rate.

In Mississippi, it’s a different story.

“We don’t have a Grim Reaper down here,” Demarais said. “Winter isn’t a problem when it comes to fawn survival.”

So in Mississippi, photoperiod still determines when oestrus passes, but it varies from area to area as genetics have adjusted.

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When is the rut in my area?

The rut is a magical time for hunters when deer move and bucks are less wary of danger in their search for receptive hinds, but when is it in the area you’re hunting? The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has the answer.

The MDWFP put together one map showing when the mean mean fertilization dates areor peaks of the rut, occur all over the state.

“First of all, it shows when most of the reproduction takes place in the state,” said Russ Walsh, chief of staff for MDWFP Wildlife. “That comes from many, many years of data collection. That data comes from individual properties across the state.”

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Although it is data based, there may be some variation. Demarais pointed out that there may be localized populations that breed earlier or later than others in the vicinity.

In addition, Walsh said changes in hind-to-buck ratios can affect height. If there are a large number of hinds in an area, this can result in higher than normal numbers of hinds not being successfully bred during their first oestrus cycle, which can lead to a second oestrus, or what is commonly referred to as the second oestrus.

In general, however, the map is a reliable tool for hunters.

“If you look at peak breeding data in your area, that’s a pretty good reference,” Walsh said. “For the most part, that map gives you a really good frame of reference for when the peak breeding is happening where you’re hunting.”

Contact Brian Broom at bbroom@gannett.com or 601-961-7225.

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