My aha! moment in magazine writing came years ago while researching a story about relationships for Men’s Health. I was interviewing a psychologist, who noted that I was asking “unusually nuanced” questions for a journalist. “Normally, you guys just want the cookies,” she said. “You know, complex ideas reduced to little tips and factoids.” Feeling pleased with myself, I submitted the story. When my editor called, he said, “This stuff about the subtleties of male-female interaction is all very nice. But we really just want the bullet points—the tips and interesting facts.”
I got the message. Field & Stream is filled with surefire tips and tactics for the rut. Just remember that each should be taken with a wheelbarrow of salt. Except, of course, for mine. What I’m about to share are 100 percent subtlety-free tips and factoids. Each is the product of years of hunting and 45 minutes of deadline pressure. Store this page wherever you keep other vital information, such as the names of your children, the number for Domino’s Pizza delivery, and the address of the nearest neighbor who will still lend you power tools.
A doe’s reproductive cycle is determined by the photoperiod. This has nothing to do with pineal glands, melatonin, or the foot-pounds of torque created by an activated endocrine system. Photo-period refers to that brief time in early fall when female deer feel that they look their best in photographs. Does are extremely self-conscious about their appearance and routinely ask one another, “Do my hams look chunky when I stand?” and “Do I look hotter quartering away or broadside?” The photoperiod, coming after a relaxing summer and just as does get their fall coats, amps up a doe’s confidence. This leads to an interest in mating and triggers the rut.
The second full moon after the autumn equinox is known as the Rutting Moon. While true, this is not especially useful. What few people know is that the government auctioned off moon names years ago, the same way they do radio frequencies. The Corn Refiners Association grabbed the one formerly known as the Harvest Moon. It’s now the “High Fructose Corn Syrup Is Good for You Moon.” PETA grabbed the one formerly known as Bare Spots on the Ground Moon. It’s now the “Lobsters Are Extremely Sensitive and Know When You’re Being Sarcastic Moon.”
Year in and year out, more trophy deer are taken between Nov. 8 and Nov. 12 than during any other five days of the rut. But we could be taking even more. Under the Gregorian calendar now in use, at least three of those five are workdays. So you miss them, burn precious vacation time, or stay up all night yelling at the dog so you sound convincing when you call in with bronchitis. I have long advocated the adoption of the Antlerian calendar, which features a November of 30 consecutive Saturdays. (Write the bozos you sent to Washington asking them to take this up. Use my name.)
Smartphone games are an underappreciated trophy management tool. While antihunters point to the “unfair” technology of trail cams that send real-time photos to your phone, or riflescopes that do your taxes, they overlook the unintended effects of technology. Many hunters play smartphone games during long sits to help relieve the tedium of remaining on stand all day. But these can suck you in so completely that you forget to breathe and lose consciousness. Scientists estimate that the three top-selling iPhone games alone—Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, and Doodle Jump—have extended the life spans of more than 1.6 million deer of 8 points or better.
Can’t wash your camo before your next hunt? Try “bachelor dry cleaning.” Put your duds inside a plastic bag in the freezer. I do it all the time. Boots too. Longer is better, but even overnight makes a big difference. Bacteria are wimps. They can’t take the cold.
Make Bruce Willis your hunting buddy. During early fall and right up to the pre-rut, bucks often remain in bachelor groups as they wait for does to come into heat. Buck decoys are a standard tactic at this time, but there is a better option. Carry a small, battery-powered DVD player, set it up 30 to 50 yards upwind of your stand, and cue classic guy movies—flicks like Die Hard, Terminator, and Rambo. High-testosterone entertainment is not species-specific. Bucks will come. Many will stay. Note: Mute the sound once gun season opens. Movie gunplay spooks them as badly as the real thing.
Nothing shuts down rut activity like human pressure. In woods frequented by hunters, hikers, and birders, daytime deer movement declines by nearly 50 percent. If you have access to private land—and if you do, please contact me immediately—you can limit access. If not, you must adapt, improvise, and overcome. I’ve emptied out whole WMA sections by posting signs that read, “Free Intensive, Individual Men’s Sensitivity Training Today! Hunters Welcome!” (May not be legal in all areas.)