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National Whitetail Rut Status Update: Deer Patterns Changing, You Should Change With Them

Two things jumped out at me as I scanned this week’s rut reports. First, I was reminded of how quickly things change in the whitetail woods and, consequently, how the most successful hunters are usually the most fluid; able to adapt to the ever-changing habits of whitetails. And second, it struck me that great whitetail hunters so often are masters of processing; they’re able to look at the big picture of deer herd dynamics, then exploit specific signs and observations that help them arrange a close hunting encounter.

For an example of the latter, this week’s file from Northeast rut reporter Mike Bleech noted that areas of the Adirondacks have a significant acorn crop. Acorns are an obvious food source throughout the fall, but Bleech points out that a bumper crop in an area will shift rutting activity—still weeks away—to areas where oaks are abundant. Information like this can help a thorough scouter nail down great rutting areas far in advance, or at least know the best places to scout in preparation for the rut.

Western rut reporter Jeff Holmes provides further proof that a big-picture mentality can provide huge dividends. His report of a dry fall in parts of the region is coupled with keen observations from one of his outfitter sources. The takeaway? Dry weather has impacted habitat and food sources, which forces deer to move toward creek bottoms and the few area where water is present. Hunters who need to speed up (and simplify) the scouting process can now focus on wetlands and riparian areas as the fall progresses. While water is always important to deer, in extremely dry years it can be the X-factor that a hunt hinges on.

When it comes to observation, we can always count on Mid-South rut reporter Will Brantley. Will is an expert at taking his personal field experience and translating it into valuable information for hunters in his region. Brantley’s encounter with two nice bucks in a stand of white oaks (which almost resulted in a shot), is supported by input from guide Harry Pozniak, who observes a drastic and sudden shift in preferred whitetail foods now; many early-season attractions (mineral licks, soybeans fields, even food plots) are being abandoned as whitetails seek out discrete food sources like acorns and persimmons. To further stress the importance of reading and interpreting sign, Pozniak notes that sometimes the trees with the least amount of visible fruit are the ones whitetails are hitting the hardest! This matches my experience as well; when I scout an oak stand, for example, I’m not looking for acorns as much as I am deer sign. Tracks, rubs and other fresh spoor near specific trees will tell me which spots the deer like best.

To round out the week’s news, reporters Brandon Ray and Dave Draper present a good news/bad news scene of how environmental impacts have affected their respective regions. In the Great Plains, Draper updates us on EHD, which has been significant enough to prompt South Dakota officials to drop deer quotas and refund license money. It’s been a brutal year for EHD outbreaks, but whitetail herds typically rebound from such disaster fairly quickly. Ray’s report from Texas illustrates that deer are recovering from last summer’s catastrophic drought; the rebound in vegetation has allowed does to throw healthy fawns, animals that now—thanks to well-timed rains this spring—have adequate cover to thrive and escape predators. The tenacity and adaptability of whitetails never cease to amaze me!

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