Overall activity: Remember about a month ago, when we were seeing a true mixed-bag of deer-on-their-feet reports? Well, we’re right back there. In northern Missouri and southern Iowa, many of the big bucks are locked down with does and not moving well (you can toss in high winds early this week, coupled with gun season opener in MO, to add to the doldrums). Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan hunters are seeing some big ones back on their feet and looking for does. Nathan Wick (pictured above), a 14-year-old hunter from Rushford, Minn., has been putting tons of hours in a treestand this fall, between archery and shotgun seasons. Wick was finally rewarded with this great buck last weekend on the last day of the gun season.
Fighting: I’m hearing fewer reports of fighting, but that doesn’t mean rattling won’t work. Bucks will clash any time there’s a doe on the line. And the kicker: young bucks are already tiring of the chase, so this is the time for focusing on big boys.
Rub making: I spot-checked a popular rubbing area (a small sumac grove near my home) this week, and found a couple of fresh rubs, as well as one poor sumac that had been attacked so many times it finally just tipped over. Signpost rubs will continue to be worked as bucks travel to find their next doe.
Scrape making: Now is the time to focus on any scrape that shows signs of recent activity. Bucks make a bunch of scrapes as they prepare for the rut, but most are abandoned when does start coming into heat. The important scrapes (we used to call them “primary” scrapes, back in the day) are the ones that bucks start hitting again once breeding has started. Indiana outfitter Ben Reynolds pointed this out in my report earlier this week. He monitors trail cams over these scrapes to find bucks using them during daylight hours.
Chasing: Always interesting during this phase of the rut, chases are much more likely to involve one or two bucks chasing a hot doe, rather than the multi-buck parades early in the month. Since more bucks are already tending estrous does, the chances of a “fresh” doe attracting multiple bucks drops. This makes chasing less frenetic and you’re more likely to see a single buck shadowing a doe as she travels. Hint: when you see a lone doe (no fawns in tow), prepare for action; she may be dragging a buck behind her, but he might not be right on her tail.
Daytime movement: Some severe weather (in the form of very high winds and, in the case of Illinois and Indiana, tornadoes) put the clamp on daytime movement early in the week. The weather has moderated, thankfully, but hunters in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan should see a significant snowfall by Friday, which should make deer active (and easier to spot).
Estrous signs:** As mentioned, there are still does coming into heat and being pursued by bucks. Many hunters are noting a slightly-late rut this fall, and as I returned from a bowhunt in Kansas early this week, I noticed several bucks cruising during daylight hours. There are still hot does out there, and mature bucks will maintain the stamina to look for them.
X Factor: There are two major factors to consider. The first: Gun seasons open in Wisconsin, Illinois, and parts of Minnesota, and continue in Indiana, Missouri and Michigan. Firearms hunters should see good rutting action in many of these areas, though pressure can drive breeding activity to heavier cover or sanctuaries of little pressure. The second factor: Forecasted cold and snow could be a huge plus for whitetail hunters in the coming days; those who can stay warm and handle the elements will have a huge advantage.