Rut Reporter Rich Landers, a native Montanan and life-long hunter, is the outdoors editor for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane. He has written several books about the western outdoors and has hunted whitetails all his life. States covered: WA, OR, ID, MT, WY, CO
Oct. 20–Overall Activity Status: Signs of change are showing up in Western whitetail behavior, even though the weather in many areas has been reluctant to give up on summer. Some details:
Wyoming: In northeastern Wyoming near Newcastle, bucks still are in bachelor herds and does are feeding in their own areas, said John Geiman of G-Man Outdoor Adventures.
Washington: The state’s northeast corner has had some cool nights and deer are active even at midday where they’re not disturbed by the hunting season that opened Saturday, said Jim Ebel of Colville. “I saw one 2 1/2-year-old buck with a group of does, but I wouldn’t say he was chasing,” he said.
John Hansen noticed a similar scenario between Spokane and Chewelah on Saturday, except he was hunting. The young buck (above, with son-in-law Ray Caron on left) he found with a doe is now filling his freezer.
Idaho: Before the Oct. 10 hunting season opener in Idaho’s Unit 6, Joe Cabral of Russell Pond & B Bar C Outfitters in St. Maries reported lots of whitetail feeding activity and bucks active in the late afternoon. But the barrage of hunters has dramatically reduced daytime activity, he said.
In Idaho’s Unit 1, “deer are starting to separate into smaller group,” said John Mace. Bucks are showing initial signs of rutting behavior with loner bucks running around along with scrapes and rubs showing up closer together, he said. “The buck are also beginning to be more nocturnal.”
Don Blaese, has had similar observations in Unit 1: “I have a couple of good food plots near our house and the only thing using them during daylight hours are does and fawns,” he said. “Even the small bucks have disappeared.”
Montana:** In Northwestern Montana, cooler weather and a string of frosty mornings have made whitetails more active a week before the deer season opens, said Ron Nail in Kalispell. “I observed a bachelor group of six bucks — four of them nice 4-by-4s — at 4 p.m., all sparing and pushing each other around.”
Jerry C. Shively of Western Montana’s Flat Iron Outfitting said, “Whitetails are starting to come out to feed about 3:30 in the afternoon now, and they fields are about full of deer by dark. Both bucks and does are feeding at the same time, but not a lot of intermingling between them, yet.”
In southeastern Montana, cooler weather has promoted more midday buck sightings, said Keith Miller of Montana Whitetails in the Bozeman region.
Fighting:** Little reported, but there are exceptions:
Wyoming bucks have been starting to spar to gain dominance, said John Geiman of G-Man Outdoor Adventures.
In the Idaho Panhandle, “Small bucks have a little interest in light rattling, said John Mace.
Young-buck sparring also has been reported in Washington and Western Montana. ” A few mature bucks posturing at the younger bucks if they get too close, said Keith Miller near Bozeman.
But Jerry Shively of Western Montana’s Flat Iron Outfitting, said sparring activity is picking up “and I have seen a couple of seriousfights and signs of a couple more.”
Rub Making: Idaho Unit 1 hunters are reporting a few rubs. “I assume these are primarily young bucks testing out their new head gear,” said Don Blaese. “I’m seeing rubs more frequently and closer together,” said John Mace.
In Idaho Unit 6, “New rub lines are popping up on larger trees,” said Joe Cabral.
Ditto for eastern Washington: “I saw a 3 1/2 year-old buck shot in the Harrington area on Saturday that had definitely been rubbing,” said Jim Ebel.
In Western Montana, Ron Nail said, “Nothing serious, yet,” while Shively said, “More rubs are showing up every day, and some of the bigger ‘fence post’ rubs are being hit quite hard now.”
Keith Miller has noticed more rubs at the field edges.
In Wyoming, Geiman has observed very few rubs.
Scrape Making:** Half-hearted attempts by smaller bucks observed by Joe Cabral near St. Maries, Idaho, while John Mace just saw his first small scrape this weekend farther north in Unit 1.
Western Montana hunters haven’t reported many, “but a few scrapes have been opened on field edges by younger bucks,” said Miller of Montana Whitetails. “Mainly scrapes that are opened early year after year where trails lead into the feeding fields.”
Chasing: “A few curious youngsters being a nuisance, but not any real chasing,” said Cabral in St. Maries, Idaho, summing up most observations in other states.
Daytime Movement: Activity has been curtailed by hunters in the field in states where the season has opened, including Wyoming, Idaho and Washington. “Does are moving throughout the day but bucks are staying hidden until first and last light in the Idaho Panhandle,” said John Mace.
In Western Montana, where deer season is still a few days off, deer are quite visible. “A few of the older bucks are feeding around noon for an hour or so,” said Shively. “Does and fawns are out at all hours with the major activity being the last few hours in the day.”
Estrous Signs:** Few if any.
X Factor: “The usual run-and-hide reaction to elk hunters is in full swing,” said Cabral in Idaho Unit 6, but he’s seen some good-size early racks owing in part to low winter kill from the recent easy winter. So he knows they’re out there.
“I was somewhat surprised to see the serious fighting this early (in Western Montana), said Shively. “I expect it’s a sign that there has been a loss of one or more of the older bucks for one reason or another. The firearm season opens here Saturday and we have been getting the ground blinds ready. The late summer rains have really greened things up here in western Montana for the first time in several years. This should be a very good season.”