Rut Reporter Scott Bestul is a Field & Stream’s Whitetails columnist and writes for the website’s Whitetail365 blog. The Minnesotan has taken 13 Pope & Young-class whitetails and has hunted, guided for, and studied deer in the north-central region all his life. States covered: IA, IL, IN, MI, MN, MO, WI.
Overall activity Status Nov. 15: The seeking and chase phases are largely over in the northern states I cover. Does are coming into heat in a big way, and there is significant breeding going on. The first significant snowstorm of the season hit this weekend, dumping close to a foot of snow in central and northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. Hunters hoping to capitalize on rutting activity are going to need more patience and warmer clothing!
Fighting: Mature bucks are getting into some serious brawls now. One of my friends sat in a ground blind the other evening and listened to two bucks cracking antlers, the fight lasted well over five minutes, according to his watch. He was ready to call or rattle as soon as they broke things up, but as so often happens, it sounded like the winner chased the loser for awhile, carrying him out of earshot.
Rub Making: I watched a Wisconsin buck thrashing a sapling on an evening hunt the other day. I was surprised to see him lay into the little tree so vigorously, until I realized he was showing off for another small buck nearby. Most large bucks will exhibit similar behavior, unless there’s a doe to check out, then it’s all about the ladies.
Scrape Making: Secondary scrapes continue to die on the vine. Bucks are covering ground looking for does, and many once-hot scrapes are leaf-covered, and econdary scrapes continue to die on the vine. Bucks are covering ground looking for does, and many once-hot scrapes are leaf-covered and unused. On the flip side, finding a fresh scrape now can mean some excellent hunting.
Chasing: One of the hallmarks of lockdown is a wane in chasing. Does are sick of being dogged by every buck that sees them, and the often reduce movement or stick to thick-cover areas if they’re not in heat. That said, a doe soon to enter estrous may actually start roaming, hoping to find a mature buck. On my evening hunt recently, the does I watched were moving cautiously and when they spotted the same young bucks I saw, they stayed back in heavy honeysuckle and tried to avoid contact.
Daytime Movement: This is an excellent time to stick in a stand as long as possible; there’s no telling when a big deer will get on his feet and start trolling for does. My father pulled an all-day sit in Minnesota this week. After seeing a young doe two hours after daylight, action died. But at noon (just as he thought about going to the truck for a sandwich) a monster 10-point we’ve been after showed up. Though the buck came to within 15 yards, he spotted dad in the stand and blew out of there. A heartbreaker indeed, but more proof that midday movement is a hallmark of older deer.
Estrous Signs: Though many bucks are locked down in the northern part of the region, a friend in Iowa reports that things are just heating up in the south. He reported many cruising bucks, and many successful call-ups using a grunt tube and rattling antlers. When bucks respond to calling like this, its certain peak breeding is close. Wisconsin hunter Jeff Blakeman shot the 11-point buck pictured above, using calling to coax the trophy into bow range after he’d listened to the buck chasing several does. Though the buck field dressed 200 pounds, Jeff noted the buck sported little body fat, meaning he’d been an active breeder.
X Factor: Weather will be a huge factor in hunter success in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan this week. The severity of snow, sleet and rain may keep some hunters out of the timber, or at least not going at it so hard. In Minnesota, the gun season has been on for one week, and deer in heavily pressured areas will focus their movement on dense cover. Missouri and Michigan will also start firearms hunting, and if rutting activity is high in those areas, some truly big bucks will be tagged in the next few days.