This rut report comes to you from the Inland Northwest, high in Washington's portion of the Blue Mountains on a midday break from my elk hunt. Pygmy owls and pileated woodpeckers are calling in the partially burned Douglas fir and ponderosa pine forests flanking this ridge, and a bedding bull has been bugling below me as I settle down to shift gears with my phone and email inbox stuffed full of 2012 buck pictures. That’s more than I can say for the three unused game bags in my pack.
Whitetails are all around me--not on this ridge, but in the creek and river bottoms of the Blue Mountains, Palouse, and Idaho's Clearwater River country. Most hunters and guides in the area have been telling me they won’t hunt whitetails until later in the year, but stories and pictures of big bucks being taken around the Inland Northwest have been coming in at a solid pace over the last week, including these two beautiful bucks taken by young women on benches above the Clearwater River canyon.
Tina Lind of Lewiston, Idaho, is a student at Lewis and Clark State College. She provides this excellent write up of her early September harvest of the velveted “hummus buck” shown below, taken near the garbanzo bean fields above Peck, Idaho:
“With it being early September and the elk hunting being slow, my boyfriend Ryan and I decided we would go sit in our tree stands. We had the stands set up on the edge of a garbanzo bean field that we noticed deer were frequenting at night. On the morning of September 3, we got set up in the stands well before dark. After sitting for an hour and hearing deer walk on the other side of the brush as well as seeing them off well out of shooting range, I was starting to get discouraged. We decided we would sit another 30 minutes, and if we didn’t see anything then, we would head home. Not 5 minutes went past, when a doe popped up on the skyline, walking our way. I picked up my bow, hoping she would present an opportunity for a shot. As I was watching the doe come walking our way, I saw that a small 3x3 buck was following her on the same trail. Following behind him was this 4x5. I watched the doe, followed by the 3x3, not expecting to get a shot at a trophy buck.
They came straight across the field, down the edge, and started walking towards their bedding area. The bigger buck followed on the same trail. When he got close, I grunted at him, and he stopped, presenting a clear 24-yard shot. I anchored, put my pin behind his shoulder, and squeezed the trigger. As I watched my arrow pass through his lungs, I was quivering with excitement. He ran 70 yards before piling up in the bean field. I could not have been happier. After spending the last 3 years hunting whitetail bucks with my bow, I was tickled pink to finally connect on a trophy buck.”
Across the Clearwater, on its north shore near Dworshak Reservoir, Orofino, Idaho’s Rachell Larsen scored a few weeks later (September 21st) on the other deer shown at the top of the page, a massive 4X4 she and family had been patterning and trying to kill for a while.
“We’ve been watching this buck during summers the last three years, but he has just disappeared during season,” says Larsen. “Last year he was 7x7,” she told me with perhaps a tinge of disappointment in her voice.
“Oh well!” I told her, marveling at not only the size of this deer’s four-point rack and giant body, but also at her dedication. Both she and Lind are having their trophies mounted at locally famous Clark’s Taxidermy in Lewiston, and Larsen is opting for a full-body mount, a fitting end to a three-year quest.
Whitetails in southeast Washington are on a major population upswing after EHD thinned the herds north of Walla Walla near Waitsburg and Dayton in 2008. Kyle Andersen of Kyle’s Custom Toys and Towing works out of Dayton provides the only tow service in the western half of Southeast Washington’s Blue Mountains. A hardcore hunter whose seasons often get cut into by unlucky hunters who need rescuing, Andersen is on the road in whitetail habitat every day, and he says there’s no doubt that: 1) the deer are coming back strong after a couple of dismal years and 2) whitetail activity has increased dramatically in the last two weeks.
Last weekend, my elk hunting partner nearly smacked a mature five-point with his truck on the road north of Dayton, and I’m waiting on a picture of a 150-class whitetail from just down the road along the Touchet River near Prescott that I’ll feature in my next report. The story behind that deer is exceptional.
Up until October 10, only archers like Lind and Larsen and a handful of muzzleloaders have been able to hunt Inland Northwest whitetails, but Idaho's general season opens on the 12th, and Washington's hugely popular modern firearm buck opener follows on the 13th. Not a lot of big whitetails will be harvested in early general seasons, mostly young animals and mule deer, but that will change as we move into November. For now, bucks are becoming intolerant of each other and scarce as we move into the second phase of the pre-rut here in the Inland Northwest.
Temperatures in the region are still hitting the 70s everyday, and the rut is still quite a ways away, but finally, mercifully, the weather is forecasted to change after this weekend, including the first measurable precipitation in the region since June, but that rain isn’t set to hit the Inland Northwest until Monday. Hunters on the deer opener will be facing the same conditions I am here on my elk hunt: a bone-dry, loud landscape. Sneaking up on anything is nearly impossible in such conditions. I suspect throwing handfuls of corn flakes and Fritos on the ground in front of me might not appreciably increase the noise I’m making as I fruitlessly try to sneak on elk. Most deer hunters who harvest whitetails this dry early season will likely be stationary in ground blinds and tree stands.