Overall Activity Status: Deer activity is slight in most of our Northeast Region, though it may be picking up.
Fighting: Surprisingly, bucks had been seen fighting right into late November, but no fights have been reported since.
Rub & Scrape Making: There has been an increase in the number of fresh rubs and scrapes seen. In some areas, this is more activity of this kind that at any other time this year.
Chasing: Some bucks have been observed chasing does across the southern to central portion of our region.
Daytime Movement: In general, daytime movement is about nil.
Estrous Signs: Does are coming into heat. Very likely, these are fawns born last spring. These does can breed once they reach a certain weight.
X Factor: The latter weeks of deer hunting season are a special time for a couple of usual reasons, and for one unusual one. Few deer hunters are in the woods, so if you like solitude this is the time to find it. It is unlikely that other hunters will interfere with your hunting. Snow, which has been lacking across much of our region this fall, and still is, should appear in time for hunters to use for tracking purposes. The unusual reason for good late-season hunting this year is that the secondary rut peak may be unusually strong.
Just as we often don’t have average weather, we often do not see an average rut. The 2012 rut was so far removed from average that it could even be considered odd. Take a look at what happened this year:
- In my first post of the year, I wrote about a very active scrape I had started watching in late August. A lot of bucks in the Northeast Region are still in the velvet at that time. None that I caught on trail camera at that scrape were in velvet, though. Elsewhere, some were.
- Buck rubs started showing up during the first week of September in my area. By the last week of September, bucks were seen sparring. Rubs were showing up around most of the region. Scrapes were becoming more common. Some bucks in Maine still had not shed velvet.
- By the first week of October it was becoming apparent that the rut was not progressing at the same time even within the same general areas. In general, fewer rubs and scrapes had been seen than usual. The scrape I had been watching since late August went cold. For more than a week it was not visited.
- By the second week of October some deer had been seen fighting (as reported in a comment from themadflyfisher). But in most areas, bucks were still traveling in the company of other bucks. That scrape I had been watching started to be hit again on October 7, but it would be visited irregularly for a while. Comments about an unusual rut were coming in. More hunters were reporting that they had been seeing fewer rubs and scrapes than usual.
- By the third week of October, deer activity was increasing. Rubs and scrapes were reported throughout the region, with the exception of Maine. Frank’s Gun and Tackle Shop in Gloversville, New York, reported that rubs and scrapes seemed unusually early in the Adirondacks. Some bucks had been seen chasing does.
- Bucks were still fighting during the first week of November. Bucks were chasing does, too, and many readers commented about unusual rut activity. On November 3, whitetailfreak3 killed a nice buck that came directly in to his estrous scent. Hunters are having success with bucks reacting to grunt calls. Zach Lyons, a 12 year-old bowhunter in northwest Pennsylvania, got a very good buck that came in while his grandfather, Tom Young, rattled and he grunted. Lyons grunted to stop the buck and placed his arrow well.
- By mid-November it was apparent that the peak of the rut was not happening as intensely as it should have been for the time of year in much of the Northeast Region. Some hunters say it just got started, then it was over. Others reported that timing is unusual. Rubs and scrapes were still less common than normal. Most hunters were disappointed by the amount of daytime deer activity, though some were seeing bucks chasing does. On November 11, I found a new scrape in the Big Woods that appeared to have been made a couple nights before. A few good bucks visited it. Some readers, like chazspot in Maryland, reported a day of “intense” buck chasing doe activity. From northwest Ohio, Handy3572 commented that bucks were chasing does, but not in the numbers usually seen at this time of the year.
- Hunters were wondering how much Hurricane Sandy might have altered this rut, but it was off well before the storm, though.
- On Thanksgiving Day the rut was peaking in Maine, according to Mainehunter93. That was the most encouraging comment or report this fall from that state.
- Joe Christianson, owner of Matagamon Wilderness Camps in northern Maine, said that bucks had been scraping for a couple weeks, which was a much later start than in most of the region.
- Some serious buck fighting was still happening in late November, at least in northwest Pennsylvania. That was a surprise to me. Many fresh scrapes and rubs had been reported. From northern Vermont, Northeastsportsman commented that “the rut is definitely drawn out” in his area. Is this a late rut peak, or is it a secondary peak?
- “I have never seen it like this before,” reported Ray Weasner, owner of Weasner Archery Pro Shop in Bloomville, Ohio. Though he gets out just about every day, he has seen very few scrapes. Several does are still traveling in the company of their fawns from last year, a sign they have not bred this fall. Other hunters in his area were also saying that this was an unusual rut.
- The secondary peak notion got a lot of support in early December. On December 8, I found three fresh scrapes in northcentral Pennsylvania. More evidence of a secondary rut peak starting came from western New York, Delaware and central Ohio. So get out there and enjoy it.
This was a very good year for me in terms of what I learned. One lesson came from the trail cameras by scrapes. One was located in checkerboard habitat, the other in the big woods. Virtually all photos of bucks showed them visiting the scrapes at night. It seemed that 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. were the magic hours.
Another thing I learned, and was pleasantly surprised by, was the number of bucks in relatively small areas. At my checkerboard habitat area, at least 18 different bucks were photographed on trail cams. In the big woods, about 12 to 15 different bucks showed up on trail cam photos. The latter is an area where the local hunters are convinced there are virtually no deer. (The 6-point in the trail cam photo above is from the big woods, and is one of three specific bucks I hunted this fall. It would have found a place on my wall just because I like it. I sure hope to see it again next fall.)
We received comments from hunters in states that border our region. Those were very welcome, and add considerably to our perspective on the rut.
I hope this has been a good learning experience for all of us. Thanks to everyone who sent comments. They contributed a wealth of information—in addition to making this seem like a talk around the potbelly stove at hunting camp among good friends.