Bestul: Poised on the Brink

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.

Nov. 1--Overall activity status: For much of the region, rutting activity is poised on the brink of the chase phase. Buck activity is very high right now, with young and middle-aged animals highly active, and older bucks just starting to get serious about moving. I am getting reports of a few does being tended by bucks, a sure sign they're about to enter estrus. Fighting: Fellow Field & Stream editor/blogger Dave Hurteau is hunting with me this week, and he heard a minor-level skirmish break out while on stand behind my home. Another neighbor rattled in (but couldn't shoot) a giant whitetail this evening. Reports from a friend in Iowa indicate that bucks are coming very well to the antlers, which indicates that cruising bucks are bumping into each other and willing to go a round or two!
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Rub Making:** Some big rubs will be made over the next few days, many of which I call "frustration" rubs, for two reasons. First, bucks full of testosterone and ready to breed will vent their energy by tearing into saplings and working off steam. And second, some of these same rubs will frustrate hunters in the days ahead; as breeding peaks, sitting on buck sign will not be as important as finding does! That said, fresh rubs are a definite indicator of buck travel routes, and remain a critical piece of sign. When bucks lose a doe, they travel through the landscape on routes where they're comfortable…and those routes are usually marked with rubs!

Scrape Making: This is the time of fall when you can separate scrapes into important sign and also-rans. If a scrape you're been watching has "gone cold" (not been freshened) it's just not in a favored area for deer. But the scrapes that keep getting worked now are worth all your attention. **

Chasing:** Again, an activity that's right on the brink. Wisconsin reports have some bucks badgering does, but all-out harassment is spotty. One Badger State hunter told me he watched a doe dive into thick cover to avoid a buck's attention on a morning sit. That very afternoon he watched several does feeding normally and unconcerned with attracting attention, as well as a prime-age (3-1/2 year old) buck cruising all by himself shortly after. Daytime Movement: This is picking up in a big way. Lots of sightings and reports of young bucks moving at all hours of the day. And, on a recent morning when I couldn't hunt, I was walking my retriever and we were nearly run over by a great 10-point out on the prowl (note to self: carry bow instead of dog leash). Region-wide, very few hunters are complaining about lack of buck sightings…A huge improvement from only a week ago.

Estrous Signs: My first report of a mature buck with a just-on-the-brink doe came from Illinois this weekend. My contact there watched a huge 6-1/2 year old monster (a buck he knew well from sheds and sightings) that jealously guarded a doe while three younger bucks lingered nearby.

X Factor: Cool, high-pressure weather continues its hold over much of the region. If this stays in place for the week, expect top-drawer hunting. With night-time temps in the 20's and bucks on the prowl, the next 7-10 days could produce simply awesome whitetail hunting!