Overall Activity: Buck sign is increasing in a big way across much of the region, but reports of actual deer sightings are still hit and miss. Many hunters are reporting lots of nighttime trail-cam pics, which jibes with the mixed-bag field notes I'm receiving; one Minnesota hunter reported seeing five bucks in one evening, including two mature animals, while just across the river in fabled Buffalo County, Wisconsin, contacts report only so-so action.
Fighting: I haven't received any recent reports of fighting. But I had a great encounter with a 3-1/2-year old 9-point this week that came to a light rattling sequence, with some grunting to coax him to within 15 yards. Social dynamics are always being worked out among bucks, but with the rut at our doorstep, that type of activity will intensify in the days ahead.
Rub Making: Really picking up. During this week's scouting I found a signpost rub that had been hit even harder than normal. I hung a trail camera there and got photos of two different bucks the very first night; the better of the two bucks is pictured above, and the signpost rub is that severely-leaning sapling in front of this 10-point. I left the camera up and am anxious to see the other bucks that visit this spot.
Scrape Making: Across the region I'm getting reports of a tremendous uptick in scrape making. My scouting/stand-hanging trip to northern Missouri over the weekend revealed many fresh scrapes, and near my home in Minnesota, I'm simply astounded at the number of scrapes I've found lately.
Chasing: Very little hardcore chasing to report, but it's definitely starting. My neighbor and bowhunting partner Alan was sitting with his son Wyatt last weekend and watched a pair of bucks chase 10 does that had been feeding in a picked corn field. Content that none of the does were ready, the bucks came back to the field and began feeding themselves.
Daytime Movement: Again, hit and miss. Encouraged by the abundant buck sign, many of my contacts are hitting it hard—only to find that bucks aren't as excited as their sign seems to indicate, at least when it comes to daylight movement. I expect this to change dramatically in the next few days.
Estrous Signs: Two of my trail cameras have revealed does working scrapes abnormally hard. Does frequently visit scrapes, but the two captured by my trail cams were really spending time, working licking branches and smelling the scrape itself. I may be totally off base (I have an English, not a biology, degree), but I interpret this as a sign of breeding readiness. If not, the does are at least highly curious about which deer have visited the scrape.
X Factor: Patience and stand placement. Bucks will soon go ballistic, but killing one will come down to setting up in the right spots and putting in the time. With all this great sign popping up, it's temping to set up right over, but remember; it's more important that you set up where can kill the buck, which means you need the wind, cover, and maybe a pinch point. Then remember that even when bucks are moving well, close-range encounters don't come often. I love setting up in terrain funnels that may not have the hottest sign, but where I have almost every advantage. Then I'll get comfortable, settle in for a potentially long wait, and let the bucks do the walking to reach me.