For many people, hunting season in Maine is deer season. You can tell it’s deer season because both hunters and nonhunters tend to wear hunter orange when out and about this time of year.

In hunting circles, one of the most rhetorical questions, posed again and again, is “got your deer yet?” This is generally asked by those who have gotten their deer already, and is not so tactfully directed at those who have not gotten their deer yet.

As I write, I am squarely in the camp of not yet. Opening day found me out hunting a bit, but also found me playing chauffeur, coach and spectator at several events. When I look at statistics from past seasons, I see I missed a golden opportunity.

far the most successful day for deer hunters is opening day for Maine residents, and that is reflected in the harvest numbers over the past two years.

In 2009,10 percent of the firearms season total came on the first day. In 2008, the numbers were even more impressive, with 13 percent of the deer kill occurring on the first day. Think about it. On one day out of 25 in the firearms season, hunters get more than 10 to 13 percent of the entire season’s kill.

When I see that number, I get a little nervous that the odds are not in my favor the rest of the season. However, later this month, the odds fall back in the hunters’ favor as adult bucks follow does in heat, or estrus.

Male deer can become downright distracted, or some may say rather focused, when breeding season, commonly known as the rut, comes around the third week in November.

“An adult buck participating in breeding activity has its guard down, giving the advantage to the hunter,” says Lee Kantar, Maine’s head deer biologist. “During those moments the buck is a little unwary, it is more susceptible.”

According to research conducted by Kantar’s predecessor, Gerry Lavigne, the peak of the rut in Maine occurs Nov. 17 through Nov. 23. How were these dates determined?

In the 1980s, Lavigne did research on road-killed does and the size of their unborn fawns. measuring the fawns, biologists counted back to determine when breeding occurred. Using the knowledge that a doe’s gestation period is about 200 days, and during the breeding season, a doe will stay in heat for about 24 to 36 hours, they were able to get a pretty accurate idea.

Amazingly, 97 percent of the does examined were pregnant, typically with twins.

The research showed Maine’s adult does generally breed in that seven-day period in November. Younger or yearling does breed a week later, and fawns born earlier in the year breed in December. The small percentage of does that weren’t successful will go into estrus again three to four weeks later.

Many hunters wonder if it is solely the calendar that dictates the rut, or if other factors, such as the cycle of the moon, can impact the timing the rut.

According to Kantar, “New Brunswick does this type of fetal research each year, and they have done comparisons with the moon phase. Once in a while it does occur, but that is not the driving force.”

So for those who still haven’t “got their deer,” there are tactics to increase your chances of success during the rut.

“Scouting is a huge percentage a hunter’s success,” Kantar said. Finding where the deer are and being able to understand the signs in that area can help you be successful, he said.

Still, even if your timing is right and you are in good deer habitat during the breeding season, other factors can come into play. “There are weather conditions like winds, rain and warmer temperatures that on a fine scale can alter behavior during the rut,” said Kantar.

Still, once the rut occurs, the numbers swing back into the hunter’s favor. The deer harvest data for the past four years show there are more adult bucks taken in that breeding period than any other week of the firearm season for deer.

So if you haven’t gotten your deer yet, make sure you take time to be in the woods between Nov. 17 and 23.

Mark Latti is a former public information officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and a Registered Maine Guide. He can be reached at:

[email protected]