Rut Reporter Scott Bestul is a Field & Stream’s Whitetails columnist and writes for the website’s Whitetail365 blog. The Minnesotan has taken 13 Pope & Young-class whitetails and has hunted, guided for, and studied deer in the north-central region all his life. States covered: IA, IL, IN, MI, MN, MO, WI.
Oct. 20—Overall Activity Status: On a region-wide basis, buck movement seems spotty. The weather has cooled somewhat, but we are in a sustained period of moderate-to-lovely fall weather. No fronts of any significance, temps mild and barometer steady. The stagnant weather systems seem to have whitetails in a ho-hum mood.
Fighting: Many hunters I talk to have seen or heard bucks sparring, and today a Wisconsin hunter reported listening to a fight that went on for several minutes. Bachelor groups have been breaking up for the last several weeks, and bucks are wandering into strange territories and sorting out dominance with the bucks they encounter.
Rub Making: I’ve seen more and better rubbing activity this fall than any in recent memory. The bucks are laying down sign and flexing their muscle. I’ve obtained permission to hunt a new property this fall and am trying to learn it in a hurry. Every time I make a brief visit, I’m seeing rubs that weren’t there before.
Scrapes: Like rubs, this spoor is picking up in a big way. More important, scrapes are being made in the woods and other areas of security cover. Some of these will be maintained by bucks and turn into important communication signposts. Look for scraping to pick up in intensity over the next week to 10 days.
Chasing: Sporadic and isolated are the operative words here. Many reports of bucks nosing around or pestering does, but serious chasing seems fairly rare. Bucks are into each other now; laying down sign and posturing for the competition. This is an important ritual that will save them from serious brawling when the first does come into estrous.
Daytime movement: This is the killer right now. Abundant food sources and the flat-line weather systems don’t provide bucks with any real sense of urgency. I’m getting, and receiving, many night-time trail cam pictures. One good storm system or major cold front and this could change overnight.
Estrous signs: Near-zero at this point. The occasional doe is coming into heat right now, and when she does she’ll create a stir. But for the most part, does are laying into groceries and going about their business…And still tolerating their fawns. Look for this to change in a big way when the bucks start “feeling it” in the days ahead.
X Factor: Most hunters I talk to feel like they’re sitting on a ticking bomb: Buck sign is abundant, but sightings of the big boys are hard to come by. It’s easy to feel frustrated right now, but this is the time to keep scouting and staying on top of where deer are feeding and laying down sign. Another huge factor that’s occurring this minute is the fall harvest. With the bluebird weather, farmers are combining corn at a record pace. This eliminates a lot of potential cover and forces deer into the timber. When things pop, its going to get very good in a real hurry.