Many western whitetail hunters only take to the field during the season, sometimes just on weekends, sometimes just on opening day. Even for those of us who make it our business to observe of whitetail behavior, it’s tough to be as in-touch with current deer patterns as are two of the biggest western whitetail outfitters.
Both Montana Whitetails’ Keith Miller and Wyoming’s Wind River Whitetails’ Mike Rinehart are able to monitor large deer herds daily, while also receiving first-hand reports from their hunters and staff. Their reports this fall have often foreshadowed what hunters on the ground have seen.
According to both Rinehart and Miller, the rut has started, but somebody forgot to tell the does.
“We finally got a weather-maker last weekend, moving temps below zero for a couple of days,” says Rinehart. “We had about 4 inches of snow, and things have really gotten exciting. The bucks 'go button' is on, and they are ready. Unfortunately, the does are absolutely not interested. The bucks are hammering their scrapes and rushing does, but as of this morning, we are seeing no true rut activity from both sides. We are starting to see new bucks show up that we have not seen on trail cameras this fall, which means all bucks are starting to cruise and are looking for receptive does. I believe if the current cool weather stays, we will be in full rut in the next 7 to 10 days.”
Rinehart’s wife, Teresa, shot this mid-150s whitetail above on Wednesday. Fortunately, the Rineharts and their clients are seeing lots of deer movement and shooting some nice bucks, including rovers they’ve never seen before, like the one pictured below, taken by Salt Lake City’s Bill Aldous.
“The first morning I hunted with Bill, we had a really nice wide tall heavy-horned whitetail appear in front of us,” says Rinehart. “To my amazement, Bill elected not to shoot. As it turned out, he was judging whitetails based on mule deer. Over the next 4 days, Bill continued to pass up a lot of really nice bucks.”
Rinehart notes that some of those bucks were hot on the trail of does that wanted nothing to do with them.
“Yesterday morning, Bill and I left an hour before daylight and settled in to a blind I have on the very edge of some bedding grounds. We had his buck come through about 7:45 that morning, and he was a wide, tall, heavy-horned 145 class-buck. Since he was down to one more day of hunting, Bill decided to harvest this deer. The buck gave him a broadside at 109 yards, and Bill made a terrific heart shot.
When we walked up to the buck, Bill started acting like a 14-year-old kid with his first buck. He got really excited and could not stop slapping me on the back. As you can see from his picture, it was really cold, with snow on the ground and the sun just coming up.”
To the north, near Livingston, Montana, Keith Miller offers similar observations, telling me he and his clients are seeing and shooting lots of nice bucks but that does do not appear to be in estrus. He expects that to change soon.
A friend turned into his driveway in a housing development in South Spokane, Washington, this weekend and had to wait for a big five-point whitetail to get out of the way. When five-point whitetail bucks are showing up in driveways in Spokane, the full-blown rut must be fairly close at hand. Reports of conspicuously visible bucks and lots of scrapes are common across the West, and one thread runs through all of those reports: No one is seeing any estrous does, just randy bucks.