Overall Activity Status: Pre-rut conditions are in full effect in Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia, and some portions of Louisiana, Florida, and Mississippi. Bucks are moving well and laying down sign. Most hunters in the woods are seeing lots of rubs and scrapes as bucks are itching to breed and fight. Many are still seeing bucks in small "bachelor" groups but they should be breaking up soon and going their own way.
Fighting: Sparring is on the agenda for most bucks as they size each other up and establish dominance. A hunter in Arkansas observed some young bucks sparring in early October and this should continue in the pre-rut phase. Some light rattling may bring in a curious buck, but vigorous prolonged rattling should be saved for a few weeks closer to the rut.
Rub making: Bucks across the South will be making many rubs, particularly in the pre-rut states of Arkansas, South Carolina, and Georgia. A hunter from Boone County, Arkansas was seeing "buck sign everywhere," including scrapes and live bucks in his area. Lots of white oaks, post oaks, and persimmons are providing food for the deer on his property. It shouldn't be difficult to find buck rubs now, you just have to determine the size of the buck making them and the likelihood of his returning.
Scrape making: I scouted an oak hillside this week and found an area loaded with acorns and numerous scrapes. The area was obviously being visited by bucks, and they made several scrapes while feeding there. There should be plenty around, you just have to figure out if one is active or not. Placing a trail camera on it will reveal the size of the bucks and the times it is being visited.
Chasing: A few scattered accounts are coming in of bucks on the trail of does. The main rut is still weeks away in many areas, and these observations are of over-eager bucks wanting some action. Some bucks will follow does and check them out, but they're quickly learning that the does are not ready yet and are fleeing the advances. Still, the whitetail rut in the South can vary widely so there will be a few does in heat at various times.
Daytime Movement: Billy Bouchillon of Covington, Georgia decided to hit the woods after work last week and squeeze in a quick hunt. He decided to hunt over a food plot near his home in hopes of killing a doe. Billy tells the story: "I got settled in about 5:35 and wasn't really expecting to see anything. My son texted me at 6:50 and asked if I had seen anything, and I told him 'no'. As soon as I put my phone up I look and see this deer walking the woods edge headed to the food plot. He was being very cautious, checking the wind, take a few steps, sniffing the ground, checking the wind, and looking around. I was like 'Please Lord, let this happen!' I knew he was going to cross the trail I walked in on, and as cautious as he was, I didn't know how that was going to turn out. I had one pretty good opening about 5 yards before he'd cross my trail, and when he walked into it I drew my bow. He stopped and looked in the opposite direction when he was 23 yards away. My shot was about 2 inches higher than I wanted it to be. I was about 28 feet up so I knew the exit would be good. I watched him run about 60 yards. I never heard a crash but I felt like he wasn't going far. So I texted my son at 6:55 and tell him I just stuck a hoss!"
Billy got help from a tracking dog, but really didn't need it as they found his trophy about 20 yards from where he last saw him. The Newton County buck scored about 135 inches and is Billy's third Pope & Young deer. Though he was not expecting much, he was pleasantly surprised to see a mature buck walking around in the daylight. The buck was very cautious, but was still exposing himself during daylight.
Estrous signs: A few does may come into estrus, but most are due in November, be on the lookout as some does could enter heat anytime.
X-Factor: Rut or not, bucks still have to eat. Hunting around acorns or food plots, such as what Bouchillon did, can get a big buck in front of you.