Overall Activity Status: Whether it’s attributable to last week’s cold front or just the overall “weird” (for lack of a better term) year we’re having on the Great Plains, rut-related behavior has kicked off in a major way for many hunters in the region. I’m getting reports of fighting, chasing, and broken antlers–all signs typically manifesting themselves later in October.
Fighting: Don’t be afraid to break out the rattle bag. That’s what Trent Santero did in western Nebraska last weekend after seeing several deer out cruising. He rattled in two different young bucks 10 minutes apart, and saw what he classifies as “an absolute hammer” working a scrape the same day. Smith says he’s seeing more bucks with broken antlers where he hunts.
Rubs and Scrapes: Reports of fresh rubs and scrapes are coming in from across the region. Sunday, South Dakota hunter John Lubeck got to his East River stand only to find a buck had beat him to it, making a good-sized rub on a tree right behind it, buoying Lubeck’s optimism for the season. Kurt Grove got out in Keith County, Nebraska, over the weekend and found some fresh sign there. In the south-central part of the state, Justin Smith reports rubs are showing up there and big bucks are out cruising.
Daytime movement: Lubeck saw a few deer moving before he climbed out of the stand to make it home before his wife’s imposed 8 p.m. curfew, but he did report a friend went out Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and had deer under him by 4 o’clock. I think the cold front predicted for later this week along with the waning moon will have deer on their feet well before dark.
Estrous signs: A few scattered reports of smaller bucks chasing does are popping up here and there. No reports of orphaned fawns yet, but if bucks keep harassing the does, we should start seeing lots of young deer wandering the woods by themselves.
X Factor: Just like I experienced in Oklahoma, hunters in the southern half of the Great Plains are seeing deer transition from corn to both acorns and green fields. Cabela’s Marketing Manager Kurt Kaiser was hunting in Kansas last week and he adapted to the food switch to take this rut-swollen Jayhawk buck by catching him milling around in oak grove.
The move to hard mast is not atypical for this time of year, but deer are feeding on newly sprouted winter wheat, sprouted corn, clover and green grass thanks to some localized late rains. So, if your bucks have disappeared, take some advice from Kansas hunter Nathan Oehlert, who found his missing bucks in a nearby pasture: “Trail cameras are great, but in some instances taking the time to scout yourself can make a huge difference.”