While several other rut reporters are noting that the rut is over or winding down in their regions, bucks in northeastern Washington and northern Idaho are continuing to rut into December.
Word from archers hunting northeastern Washington is that bucks are still rutting hard in Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties, home to the state’s highest concentration of whitetails. Across the border in northern Idaho, the same scenario holds true. Next week, I’ll focus a detailed report on the two states, with intel from late archers on buck movement, including reports from hunter Troy Pottenger targeting 170-class bucks in both states.
Meanwhile, rutting activity in far western Montana appears to be hotter than most of the rest of the state, where rut activity is still occurring but sliding down from its peak. Just before Thanksgiving, Nuridia Nulliner of Missoula took this dandy whitetail on a backcountry hunt. Here’s how she tells it:
“Last week, my father and I went deer hunting, hiking six miles in, only seeing does. My dad decided to start walking back to the truck and as we were walking back on a ridge line, he saw two does walking on the opposite ridge. As he looked at the does, I noticed something moving up the ridge toward the does. It was a nice-sized buck for a first deer, and we decided it was fit for me to shoot.
“Between the buck and us was a creek lined with trees. For some reason he stopped chasing the does and came down the ridge toward the creek, running at us. The buck ran into the trees, and we just waited for it to poke through. I spotted it with my binoculars about 200 yards away and quickly got my gun up, but the buck had disappeared. My dad and I eventually went to the creek and found the deer had been scraping bushes. I thought I would never see him again.
“Two days later, we decided to go to the same spot where we saw him, but hiked in a different way. I thought at least I could see a buck on the way in. About mile in, after spooking a doe, we decided to rest a little. It was a warm sunny day and I was taking the lead because my dad says I have the good luck. I got up from our rest and was about to start walking when I heard some rattling. I thought it was another person rattling, and then it stopped. My dad suddenly said, “There’s a buck!”
“I didn’t see it at first and then there he was, walking towards us. We were halfway up a steep hill and he was coming at us from another small hill on the other side of a draw about 300 yards away. I ripped off my backpack, and my dad put it on top of his on the ground. I got down and got my gun ready to shoot. The buck came to the bottom of the steep hill we were on, and there was a big rock in the way so I couldn’t see him. The buck could have gone left or right of the rock, but I was set up for the left. My dad stood up a little and saw the buck would go left;, he told me to get ready. I was so excited, but I was trying my best to be steady. The buck was only 100 yards away. I saw him through my scope and I didn’t really realize how big he was, all I knew was his antlers were wide enough.
“My dad made a bleat noise, but the buck wouldn’t stop. He was definitely on a mission to find does. My dad made the sound louder, and the buck stopped. I shot and I missed! I couldn’t believe it. The buck only ran back 30 yards, and stopped again. I would not miss this shot. I fired again and hit him. As he ran, my dad lost sight, but I didn’t. The buck ran about 40 yards where I watched him fall. As he did I said, ‘It fell down. He’s down, he’s down!’
“My dad and I looked at each other for a couple seconds, wide-eyed. I jumped into his arms and hugged him as hard as I could. We were laughing, and it was the happiest moment of my life. We walked to the buck, and my dad reached it first.
“’Nuridia, holy cow! Holy cow! It’s huge!’
“I ran to the deer, and I could not believe how big it was. The antlers were so thick, and I was in amazement. It was the first time I had shot at a big-game animal, and I could not believe I had shot my first deer especially since it was a 150 class buck!
“Our motto is ‘big animals through hard work. ’” Nuridia added. “On average we hike 14 miles a day.”
Fourteen miles of spot-and-stalk hunting for whitetails might sounds crazy to hunters around much of the country used to focusing on smaller tracts of ground, but, out West, bucks grow big and the landscapes are even bigger.
Dale Denney of Bearpaw Outfitters, www.bearpawoutfitters.com based out of Colville, Washington, leases a large, super-productive ranch in central Montana that’s home to great whitetail numbers and some mule deer. He offers an interesting observation about depleting fat reserves on rutting bucks:
“We were hunting the Montana ranch up to Nov 9th, and every buck had ½- to ¾-inch fat on their entire backs and up to an inch on their rumps. Then we went home and hunted in Washington for 10 days. When we went back to Montana, the last 4 bucks were all killed between the 22nd and 24th, and there was almost no fat left on them. They had run themselves out of fat in 2 weeks!”
Denney and his successful clients witnessed a spectacular display of rutting on Thanksgiving, watching this big bruiser mount a doe twice from 500 yards, only to have him move toward them while moving into position to get a shot at a nice mule deer. When Denney saw the size of this buck, he promptly yanked out the shooting sticks and put his client, Pam Douvia of Kettle Falls, Washington, below, on the whitetail. Amazingly, Denney and clients saw nearly 30 4-point-or-larger bucks on Thanksgiving, which he says is the most impressive display of rutting he’s ever seen and the obvious peak of the rut on that Central Montana ranch.
“The does were in estrus,” Denney said, “and we watched bucks running on doe trails like hound dogs on a coon track.”