Bestul: Here’s the Rub!

Big woods, big cropfields, and big bucks. These are all hallmarks of the north-central region--the heart of America's Breadbasket. 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

Overall activity: Oct. 8: Archery season is relatively young (we're in our fourth week here in Minnesota) and action has been spotty. I've recorded 6 skunks (not polecats; zero deer) for 8 sits in my journal. Still, there are great bucks being shot in the area. Most of my contacts report the same feast/famine scenario I'm experiencing. You're either into deer in a big way, or you stare at the desert! I attribute some of this to an abundant acorn crop in my area, which means bucks can not only feed covertly, but not have to move much. Still, plenty of good news; the weather has been fantastic, allowing farmers to make huge dents in the corn, soybean harvest. Once the crops are out, deer will have to spend more time in the timber, where hunters have better success.

Rub Making: Simply awesome. I've seen more early-season rubs this fall than ever, and I'm excited. Typically most early-season rubs are made by older deer, regardless of tree size. The abundance of early rubs tells me mature buck numbers are up and rut activity will be stronger.
Scrape Making: Some great field-edge scrapes showing up near hot food sources. And the mock scrapes I've been constructing are not only being hit by bucks, but inspiring them to make their own.

Chasing: Non-existent in my book, but two interesting stories have come my way from area hunters. In each instance, the hunter watched a buck badger does near food sources, and a friend told me he watched a 2-year old 8-point shadowing a doe as she moved toward a hayfield. The buck was grunting consistently, and clearly tending the doe. We're guessing the doe was one of those magic handful that enter estrous a month early.

Daytime Movement: Pretty spotty and often in that last few-minute window of legal shooting light. Again, I blame the acorn crop! Deer are still active and feeding, but unless you're in their wheelhouse, its tough to spot them.

Estrous Signs: On a herd-wide level, not much activity. The odd doe is coming in (see "chasing" ) but we're a long way from the main event.

X-Factor(s): I have no crystal ball, but the early buck-sign indicators are pointing toward a great rut!

The pawed-up ground of a scrape is an obvious vehicle for whitetail communication. But in my experience, the branch that overhangs that scrape must relay some important messages, too. The 10-point buck shown above is standing on his hind legs in order to get a better noseful of that branch. I left the camera on this mock scrape for a week, and got photos of 7 different bucks. Each one seemed focused on the branch, which they smelled, licked, or rubbed against their pre-orbital gland (located near the corner of the eye). What do they learn about each other from those visits? I'd love to know! I do know this...such behavior is an important part of the pre-breeding ritual and getting photos like this certainly gets me excited about the coming rut!