Every year a trickle of bucks are taken at the tail-end of the deer season, “The Late Season.”
Undoubtedly, many of them wear tags because a lucky hunter happened to walk through the right clump of goldenrod in the middle of a field and pushed them out of this unlikely bedding area.
Or another big racker strolled into range because a landowner decided to cut out a few Christmas trees behind the old barn.
Or someone else decided to pull out a seasoned top to restock the woodpile ... and so on.
But most of these late season bucks have "gone nocturnal" and are caught away from their beds and sanctuaries being struck with their third bout of procreation fever.
And it happens every year, but not exactly at the same time on our calendars.
But it's about the same time on their internal time clocks.
Deer researchers attribute late season diurnal (daytime) buck movement to a phenomenon called the "Post Rut." This year, we know it as a third wave of breeding, following the first rut that occurred around Halloween, and a second wave, just before Thanksgiving.
Not only do unbred does cycle again (each month) along with about 30 percent of the doe fawns, but also bucks "cycle" in a way too.
Bucks' testosterone/pheromone production goes in waves and troughs throughout the months.
According to science, studying shifts in deer behavior, the white-tailed deer, along with other related animals, are chained to a phenomenon termed photoperiodism.
Photoperiodism is a big word that conveys a simple concept. Light effects hormone flow and behavior - especially breeding and especially in certain species of animals termed short-day breeders.
How's that happen?
Well, whitetails have a pineal gland in their brain, as do many critters, which processes light. It's a biochemical timer. The shortening days of fall set the timer for not only does to cycle, but also bucks' pheromone levels to increase too as bucks and does exchange pheromones at scrapes.
Melatonin production is a key ingredient to this rut equation. As the Full Moon waxes (getting brighter and reflecting more sunlight) there is also a proportionate increase of melatonin, dripped out of the pineal gland (which, according to researchers, waters down testosterone and other sex hormones) in the whitetail.
Then as the Full Moon wanes towards the dark of the moon or New Moon, testosterone- powered behavior (i.e. rutting) comes to the fore as melatonin production decreases.
And there's a lag time of a few days to almost a week. Seems it takes a while for the hormones or lack thereof to alter behavior.
In a similar way sheep farmers insert melatonin sponges into ewes to time their cycles.
Scientists have artificially skewed the breeding cycles of both bucks and does with injections of melatonin, taking these cues from classic agronomy practices, such as those used in goat and sheep husbandry.
We all know that the "running time" of the whitetail occurs each year sometime in November in the Southern Tier of New York state and northern tier counties of Pa. Sometimes a spike in activity occurs at the start of the month and sometimes almost at the end.
One could say that the moon, with its cycles, fine-tunes the rut.
Nature doesn't put all its eggs in one basket.
A number of does cycle in late October. And some bucks are ready then too, even though it has been termed the Pre-Rut.
Then, usually after a quiet spell, we see scrapes and rubs appearing almost overnight and we term this period as the Rut. And in that window is that ethereal moment we deem, "The Peak of the Rut," though it differs from one hollow to another, and from one year to another.
A month later, the cycle repeats one more time with unbred doe - and that's this Post Rut at the end of the season.
Next year, during the beginning of archery season we will undoubtedly see a couple spotted fawns.
Typically by then, just about all fawns born in the spring have already lost their spots and taken on their grey-brown winter-proof coats.
These little spotted guys were born around four weeks later or more than the majority of their age class, conceived in the prior two breeding windows.
These tiny fawns are the products of the December Post Rut breeding phase.
Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.
This article originally appeared on The Evening Tribune: On the tail end of the whitetail season