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. 4: Rutting activity of one sort or another has been reported throughout the West where whitetails occur, but unusually warm weather seems to have subdued the action, or at least kept it under the veil of darkness. PATIENCE is the word from the best hunters I’ve contacted. The deer can’t cheat their biological clocks too much, and the calendar doesn’t lie.
My trail-cam photo of the whitetail here hints at what’s going on. Yes, it’s a doe, but she’s just five feet from a fresh scrape I found the previous day. I fixed my camera on it — no food or bait involved — and found a doe responding to it very quickly. There’s love in the air!
Following is a rut update from all the Western whitetail states.
Colorado: Whitetail rutting activity is light, says Mike Bondurant of La Garita Outfitters based in Golden. “Oddly enough, we did notice some pre-rut activity with our muley’s in eastern Colorado– very wierd but true.”
But Bondurant is focusing his whitetail hunts in central Kansas this week, with plans to regroup in Colorado between Nov. 11 and Nov. 15. That’s when he expects to find the best hunting of the season for big whitetail bucks that are on the move and single-minded about chasing does.
Idaho: Deer have been more noctrnal for a couple of weeks, said Calvin Fuller of Sandpoint Outfitters in the Panhandle. “Smaller bucks are still around does and fawns, coming out right at sunset,” he said. However, several of his hunters already have bagged nice whitetail hatracks, including Nichole Rust, pictured above with her first buck.
Montana:** Whitetails appear to be more active in southeastern Montana than they are on the west side.
“Everyone has been noticing smaller bucks really harassing does,” said Keith Miller, speaking of his group of hunters with Montana Whitetails near Bozeman. “I have been seeing some of the bigger bucks getting more aggressive towards the younger bucks. Lots of posturing going on in the alfalfa fields, as there are usually a lot of bucks and does using the same fields. Scrapes are starting to get worked more, and some of the bigger bucks are showing themselves well before dark. Good signs of things too come!”
West of the Continental Divide, however, several hunters report less activity.
Older bucks are making themselves scarce with only a few brief sightings this week, said Jerry Schively of Flat Iron Outfitting. “Does seem to be going through a pre-heat cycle at this time, giving off enough stink to arouse the younger bucks to some extent. Some cooler weather would certainly increase the activity.”
Fights** are occurring, as Schively confirmed Wednesday. “I found several places all torn up where some very serious disagreements between bucks were, if not settled, at least thoroughly thought over.”
Rubs** are most likely getting the most use right now that they will see this season, he said: “I watched three different bucks visit one rub Tuesday evening and all three of them worked it a bit before moving on.”
Several large scrapes have shown up in the past week where Schively was scouting. “Tracks are showing that several different deer have visited each of them, mostly at night.”
Younger bucks are trying to chase some of the does, he said, and they’re getting kicked and pawed at for their efforts.
Daytime movement** involves mostly does and fawns out during the late morning and early evenings. “Our warm weather has even the younger bucks keeping to the cooler shaded areas right now.”
X Factor: “The grass is still growing here, very unusual for this time of year, and the deer are taking advantage of it,” Schively said. “I would expect to start seeing a bit of breeding activity by the end of next week, as there are always a few does that cycle early.”
Oregon: Columbian whitetails near Roseburg — formerly an endangered species that’s recovered enough for limited hunting in recent years — are still a week or two from showing much rutting behavior, said DeWaine Jackson, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife deer researcher.
Jackson was hunting black-tailed deer recently said there was a buck with every group of blacktails he saw, but no bucks were with the whitetail does and fawns he spotted. “That’s exactly what I’d expect, not only from my hunting experience, but it’s substantiated by our deer studies,” he said. He referring to data tables showing that the peak of whitetail conceptions is a week or two later than for blacktails.
“The whitetails should be most active in one or two weeks.”
Washington: “Many does sleeping in the sun this morning; no attending bucks in sight,” said Hal Meenach, a landowner and wildlife habitat consultant in Spokane County. He said he spotted one bachelor group of four or five bucks still clinging together in a regular location.
Wyoming:** Normal buck rutting activity seems a bit subdued, possibly because of the unusually warm weather that’s persisiting in the region, said Tim Thomas, Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist in Sheridan. Weather forecasts call for daytime temps in the 70s in the next few days.
“Expect to see the most activity in the morning, since overnight temperaturs are down in the 30s,” he said.
Meenach says the bucks will be in full rutting form in the second week of November, regardless of the weather. “Weather and pressure can affect their behavior, but it doesn’t change the actual timing of the rut more than a few days from year to year,” he said.