A Hard-Core Buck Fight Means Rut is Approaching

Overall activity status: As a whole, deer movement has been outstanding this past week, thanks to an abundance of food and cool weather early in the week. Afternoon temps climbed into the 70s and 80s by mid-week, which subdued deer movement.

Fighting: One of my Minnesota friends witnessed a knock-down fight between two mature bucks this week. The two bucks met near a food source and immediately started posturing; they laid their ears back and sidestepped toward each other with back hairs erect. When they were within a foot of each other, they crashed antlers and began fighting. The struggle lasted well over a minute. This is the first hard-core fight I have heard of from the region this fall, and I can imagine two scenarios: either these are two bucks that know each other but are still working out dominance, or one of the bucks dispersed into the other's territory and they are meeting each other for the first time. I'd lean toward the first scenario.

Rub making: Though still not frequent and intense, older bucks are rubbing trees, typically near their favorite food source or bedding area.

Scrape making: Like last week, scrape making is localized near food sources. Some veteran hunters are starting up mock scrapes in staging areas near food sources. One hunter reported starting a mock scrape, which bucks soon started hitting. Then, the bucks opened up two different scrapes in the same area!

Chasing: None to report. Bucks are largely uninterested in does right now. They're focused on eating and working out dominance issues with other bucks. This saves a lot of time and energy when it comes to the peak breeding season.

Daytime movement: Good to excellent daytime movement near the best food sources. I've received many reports of mature bucks up on their feet an hour before dusk, especially on cooler days or near secluded food sources.

Estrous signs: none to report.

X-factor: Leaf fall is ahead of schedule this year, thanks to the prolonged drought. As the forest canopy opens up, expect bucks to avoid some stretches of open hardwoods, or to travel through them slightly later. Also, recently fallen maple leaves are often an attractive food source for deer. Though whitetails usually don't make them the main course, the high sugar content in some maple leaves constitutes a snack that can delay a buck on his way to acorns or soft mast.

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.