There’s a lot of bravado going on with our wildlife this time of year, at least with the antlered variety. Welcome to rutting season, the time of year when deer, especially males, are exhibiting mating behaviors.
Rut starts with male deer having fully grown their annual set of antlers and bulking up in both strength and attitude. At its peak during the months of November and December, males compete for the honored position of being the strongest and most choice buck in the area. This role comes with a great prize - #1 mating rights to most of the does (female deers) in an area. This is a title worth working toward for bucks.
Plenty of evidence of this event can be witnessed by us. Even casual nature watchers will find trees that bucks have rubbed, and places on the ground where they have scrapped and left behind a mixture of urine and glandular secretions that indicate their readiness to mate. If you spot a buck this time of year, there’s no missing his impressive rack of antlers and a strong muscular physique to go alone with it. And, since bucks are more interested in rutting than in avoiding traffic, many of us may unwillingly encounter them on roadways.
This is not meant to be an in-depth review of deer mating behavior. Rather, I wanted to share with you a personal story.
Several years ago, as a young naturalist with Cleveland Metroparks, I had planned an off-trail hike during November to explore the forest. There were about 12 interested and interesting adults along with me on this journey though South Chagrin Reservation. We had observed many trees with damage from buck rubs and were talking about the rutting season. It was just at this time when we came upon a beautiful buck scrape on the forest floor. All the signs were there: a tree with a broken branch hanging down (the buck had probably rubbed his temporal gland on the branch and left both a visual and a scent mark), the leaves and soil were scraped away from the ground just under the hanging twig, the soil was moist from urine and the secretions from a gland found on the buck’s leg (I like to call it pee-mail, as it’s leaves a message for other deer who happen by to check the scrape). Being the enthusiastic participant in nature that I am, I knelt down to get a close sniff of the moist soil. Here’s what happened:
#1- No need to get that close to smell it. Surprise! The scent was pungent and strong.
#2- The offensive smell got on the knees of my pants and on the ends of my sleeves as I got down close.
#3- None of the people on the hike with me that day felt like they wanted to hike close to me from that point forward. Not only did I carry the pungent smell with me but we realized that bucks can be rather aggressive toward each other this time of year. (I doubt a buck would challenge me due to my smell, but the imagination is a strong storyteller.)
Also, that was one of two hikes I was leading that day and I had no change of clothes.
I tried to wash it out, with no luck. I tried calling some peers and asking for advice. My questions were met with friendly laughter and I’m pretty sure they put me on speaker-phone as they urged me to clarify my situation, “You did what? You smell like what?”
One person on the hike that day felt that the situation was comical enough that he wrote a poem to commemorate the occasion.
Naturalist Job has Carly In a Rut By Lee Corbet
I hear Carly has a new beau,
His name... just Buck's all we know.
On his scrape she did kneel,
and soaked up his "zeal".
Now he thinks that she is his doe!
I wouldn’t trade zany moments like this for anything. To look at a situation you’re in today or one that happened years ago and laugh brings a warmth and wisdom to your heart. Still, when hiking during fall, if I come across a piece of ground scraped by a buck, if I don’t quickly remember this story, someone is sure to remind me.
If you go walking in the woods this season, avoid learning your own lesson and give the scrape a sniff from a safe distance.
Happy Rut, Everyone!
(Photos by Tim Krynak)