Overall activity status: Action is still decent across much of the Great Plains, with hunters reporting an uptick in movement of mature bucks roaming to find the last late-cycling does as the rut winds down. In other areas, most activity is focused on late-evening visits to corn and winter wheat as bucks and does start to recover from the stress of the rut.
Fighting: No eyewitness reports of bucks fighting this week, but numerous sightings of racks with broken tines are testament to just how serious the battles for breeding rights have been so far this season.
Rub making: I’m not seeing many new rubs where I hunt in Kansas, but bucks may well be returning to old rub lines as they advertise their presence to late-cycling does.
Scrape making: For the first time since they started appearing in October, scrapes in my hunting areas are leaf covered and apparently dormant. John Wenzel at Mid-America Hunting Association notes that one in five scrapes may show fresh hoof marks, but more importantly most licking branches are broken off by now, greatly reducing chances that multiple bucks will be visiting the scrapes.
Chasing: Chases may be few and far between since hot does are less common now than during the peak rut period, but any chase is bound to draw a crowd as more and more unoccupied bucks vie for fewer and fewer hot does.
Daytime movement: Bucks are cruising in search of the few young does that have not yet been bred. Clete Frazell reported decent action at week’s end in southeast Kansas, where he had a nice 10-pointer bedded with a hot doe just 10 yards from his stand Friday and saw three other bucks cruising by during the morning hours. “It appears we are in the cruising tail end of the rut phase here in southeast Kansas,” Frazell says, “with a few young does left to be bred.” Wenzel notes that the transition from breeding to survival mode has already begun in some areas. “Hunters who think they need to be in a tree stand looking for bucks chasing does are going to be less satisfied than those who focus on food sources and shelter,” Wenzel says. Derrick Law of Smoky Valley Shooting Sports in Lindsborg, Kansas echoes that notion. “Hunters are reporting that they are starting to get trail cam pictures of bucks coming into feeders again,” Law says, “after they had stopped showing up during the rut.”
Estrous signs: Estrous does are becoming harder to find, but many yearling does are now or are about to be receptive.
X Factor: Firearms seasons have opened (or will soon) throughout most of the Great Plains, ratcheting up the pressure on bucks that are already stressed from the rut. That can be good or bad depending on whether or not the land you hunt is open to firearms hunters. One exception is Kansas, where the gun season is still a few days away, making this late-rut surge of cruising activity a good last-chance opportunity for bowhunters to tag a mature buck.