Landers: Old Bucks Know Better

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.

Nov. 1: Montana's opening week of the 2010 whitetail season is history, and so are a few big whitetail bucks. Even though the peak of rutting activity is still a few weeks off, "The bucks are just starting to break from their bachelor groups and are showing signs of rut," said Scott Sundheim of Sioux Pass Outfitters based in Fairview, on the Montana-North Dakota border.

"I saw a few scrapes and a lot of fresh rubs last week and some of the younger bucks are pestering the does."

All three of his opening-week clients bagged nice bucks, including John Walker, who traveled to Montana from South Carolina to bust the buck pictured above. His hunt coincided with the brief spell of wintery weather that broke the region's unusually prolonged warm spell in mid-week.

"It should really heat up in another week," Sundheim said, referring to the buck hunting, not the temperatures.

Meanwhile, 500 miles to the west in the northwest corner of Montana, "The bigger bucks are really laying low since the firearms season opened," said Ron Nail of Kalispell. "I am still thinking pre-rut activity should pick up somewhere around Nov. 7 to 9. I am seeing does and fawns calmly wondering around all over the place."

In eastern Washington, wildlife habitat manager Hal Meenach says bachelor groups still tend to be together "but not tolerating each other in close proximity."

Lip curling has been seen in immature bucks, but Meenach reports no scrapes yet, and no new rubs observed.

"One mature buck this week was with does--last year's twins I would guess--following the buck. Certainly not breeding protocol. Perhaps this old buck with experience knows these does will likely cycle before does with fawns."

However, he noted that a few more than normal young bucks have been killed in automobile collisions along the roadways he travels: "Maybe that's a sign they are not tolerated by older bucks and are moving on their own."