Bestul: The Road Kill Factor

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.

Hunters tend to make a classic mistake this time of year: we gauge the stage or intensity of the rut by what we observe from our deer stands. While this is certainly one (and an often legitimate) indicator, it doesn't always tell the whole story. The world might seem like the Great Whitetail Desert in the 500 yards I can see, while just over the hill things are on fire.

I just talked to a Minnesota hunter who has his own rutting barometer. He takes the pulse of the rut by counting road kills on his morning drive to work. "When I see the number of dead deer increasing, mainly in prime crossings, I know it's time to spend some time in a tree stand," he says. "This method has been remarkably consistent for me over the last several years. I've learned that dead deer don't lie."

I find this fascinating; one of those logical observations that might be fairly easy to track down, given a few phone calls to the highway department in a given area. Something to keep on the agenda for next fall, perhaps? At any rate, I found the timing of this conversation particularly ironic, as I've been getting bombarded with photos of giant, road-killed bucks, including the extremely wide buck in this photo. Like so many internet images (and the stories that accompany them), I have no way of knowing (yet) whether this monster was indeed struck by a car. But I do think my friend's point is valid; when mature bucks are biting the dust under tires and in front of bumpers, rutting activity is usually the culprit.