Rut Reporter David Draper grew up hunting deer and small game throughout this region and presently lives on a family farm in Nebraska. Draper, former communications specialist for Cabela’s and an authority on the Great Plains, subsists on a diet of duck breast and venison. States covered: ND, SD, NE and KS.
Overall Activity Status: The peak of the rut has left many hunters scratching their heads as big bucks have all but disappeared in many areas, either due to the dreaded lockdown, a full moon, unstable weather patterns or a combination of all the above. Several of my contacts reported seeing small and medium bucks still chasing, but the big bruisers have either gone nocturnal or have paired up with a hot doe and aren’t moving much.
Nathan Oehlert checked in from southeast Kansas with a report that buck sightings are down there, most likely due to bucks pairing up with estrous does. “I think a lot of the big ones are probably locked down right now, but here and there we are still seeing some rut action. Seems to be hit or miss.”
Fighting: Other than last week’s reports of some locked-up bucks, fighting seems to have subsided as dominance has been established. However, a well-timed rattling strategy might still lure in curious bucks thinking a nearby doe as gone into estrous, causing bucks to skirmish.
Rub/Scrape making: Most of the field-edge scrapes I’ve seen have been abandoned, but those on established trails deeper in the woods are getting pawed up regularly. I heard of several bucks killed last week over scrapes, so even if a scrape doesn’t look active, you can bet bucks are still cruising by hoping to catch a whiff of a hot doe.
Chasing/Daytime Movement: Reports filtering in support the lockdown theory, as most hunters are seeing smaller to mid-sized deer harassing does or out cruising.
Estrous signs: Jeff Barry tagged this nice Nebraska whitetail during the state’s rifle opener by focusing his attention on lone does:
“Doe movement led us to a pair of decent bucks on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. Sunday afternoon, one of our hunting partners watched a single mature doe walk into a deep thicket and decided to watch that thicket. Finally, with only a few minutes of shooting time left, that doe emerged with a 140-class ten point that he was able to take Yesterday morning, I used the same strategy as I noticed a mature doe walk into a finger of deep cover in the middle of a winter wheat field. I left my box blind and walked to that cover and was able to get this buck out of his bed and take him.”
X Factor: While it seems like whitetail harvest numbers are down throughout the region, the number of hunters tagging trophy mule deer is up, or at least that’s the feeling I get. Admittedly, much of this comes from incidental evidence in the form of Facebook posts, text messages and e-mailed photos, but I got some validation from Nebraska hunter Klint Andreas who e-mailed me Tuesday after dropping his trophy mule deer off at the taxidermist: “I’ve yet to see a picture of a dead whitetail from rifle season,” said Andreas. “I stopped at Foster’s Taxidermy in Ogallala yesterday morning and he didn’t have one whitetail in his shop, but had some good mulies.”
I attribute some of this to the extremely high winds, with gusts up to 70 mph reported, that buffeted the region over the weekend. A whitetail that hunkers down in thick cover during the day won’t get spotted, but a mule deer that lays on the lee-side of a hill is a bit more exposed and susceptible to getting bumped by hunters working through pastures looking for deer. Whatever the reason, it looks to be a good year for mule deer hunters, like Nebraska hunter Tess Rousey who tagged this 4×5 mulie–her first–in north-central Nebraska on Saturday.