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.

Dec. 9: Most of the hunters in the West are chewing on their season, either by eating venison or looking into recipes for tag stew. They’re jawboning about what went right or about the big buck that got away.


Most of the deer seem content to have the rut behind them as they settle into wintering areas, although there are still pockets of activity where bucks are dutifully finishing their work. Late-season archers, such as Kelly Zier at left in the photo above, have taken advantage of that to tag the last big bucks of the seasons.

In north Idaho, deer are onto wintering areas. “The does and fawns are grouped back together and bucks are still being seen just kind of wondering around with no real agenda,” said John Mace of Sandpoint.

In Montana, the rut is on its last legs, according to observers in all corners of the state.

Bozeman guide Keith Miller said winter is on and deer are in survival mode.

“We are seeing groups of does and fawns together, and the bucks are already tolerating one another again,” said Ron Nail in Kalispell. However, he and others say it’s not unusual to see a “minor rut” in mid December to take care of any does that were missed during the peak.

In northeast Montana, groups of does, fawns and young bucks are herding up on their winter feeding grounds with the mature bucks not far off but solo, said Scott Sundheim of Sioux Pass Outfitters. “I expect to see a less intense second rut with in the next couple weeks. But the buck-doe ratio in our area is close to even so I doubt there are many does that did not get breed the first go round, so it will be short lived.”

As Western Montana guide Jerry Shively put it, “Here on the Harlow Ranch the bucks have returned to thinking with their stomachs. The younger bucks are back to feeding with the does and fawns. The older bucks have returned to their mostly nocturnal habits.”

In eastern Washington, observers are seeing only sporadic signs of rut activity.

I’ve been watching four bucks of various sizes through the fall and early winter and I thought I had all the hat racks inventoried. But last night, as I was taking my dogs out, I saw three bucks together, including one large buck that had roamed the area undetected by me, my neighbors and our remote cameras.

He’s a beauty — a sight that gives me high hopes for next season.