Bleech: Decreasing Sunlight Means More Antler

Northeast Rut Reporter Mike Bleech has been hunting whitetails in his native Pennsylvania and throughout the Northeast for more than four decades. A Vietnam veteran and full-time freelance outdoor writer, Bleech has had more than 5000 of his articles published. States covered: ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA OH, MD, DE.

Bucks are now beginning to lose the velvet from their antlers. When complete, the next phase of the rut will get underway, a struggle for dominance.

Antler growth starts in May. It is triggered by photoperiod, the length of sunlight in a day. Of course heavily overcast conditions appear to alter the phototrophic period. Frequently, especially during fall, we have those days when it is so heavily overcast, often accompanied by a steady drizzle, that it gets dark a couple hours before it should. Often the same thing happens in the morning and daytime starts later than it should. But deer seem to know the difference.

Mike Stimmell caught these two bucks on his trail camera at a food plot behind his home on the Allegheny Plateau. They are buddies now, for a while at least. Soon enough, once their antlers harden, one or the other will establish dominance.

Will the buck with the larger rack be the dominant buck?

Maybe so...but maybe not. Several years ago, while bowhunting in West Virginia, my partner and I decided to set up camp wherever we saw the next buck. Minutes later a very large buck, by Mountain State public land standards, appeared in the back of an overgrown apple orchard. Before we could get binoculars on it, two more bucks appeared, a 4-point and a 5-point. Obviously from their postures they were squaring off for a fight. What a fight it was--the most violent deer fight I have ever seen close-up. It all took place within 15 yards, on a steep, old woods road. The 6-point had the advantage of holding the high ground. The next thing I knew, the 6-point was on the ground and the 4-point was pushing its antlers into the other buck's ribs as hard as it could. The poor 6-point had a look of terror in its eyes.

Then it was over. The defeated 6-point staggered up the old road. The 4-point proudly walked into the dense brush of the overgrown apple orchard.

Later, after setting up our tent camp about 40 yards down the road, we donned our hunting gear and walked to the orchard. As soon as we got there we were startled by that same 4-point, which was in the process of breeding a doe.