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: Deer movement is really localized right now, with some hunters reporting seeing lots of deer moving and abundant signs of pre-rut activity, while other hunters are spending long, quiet hours on stand with not much to report. However, a few good bucks have been taken in the past week–a sure sign the pre-rut is kicking off and deer are starting to move around.
Fighting: Some game camera photos from eastern Nebraska were making their rounds this week, showing two good bucks locking antlers. From the looks of it, the deer were just testing the waters, rather than having a full-blown battle. Still, it’s a good indication that bucks are starting to establish dominance. Nebraska hunter Ryan Shutts shot this buck (that’s the same deer in the trail cam photo) after he charged into a field all bowed up and looking to pick a fight with some of the smaller deer in the area.
Rub making: Sometime in the past week, a buck made toothpicks out of the established rub that my stand overlooks. Unfortunately I wasn’t there to see it happen, but you can bet I’ll be sitting that stand in the next week to see if he returns to inspect his work. Hunters from the Dakotas down through Kansas also report fresh rubs showing up.
Scrape making:** Same goes for the scrapes, which are starting to become active. Mock scrapes are seeing overnight visits from marauding bucks, and at least one trophy was killed in the past week by a hunter whose stand sat near an established scrape.
Chasing:** After a few initial reports of early estrous does, things have quieted down since early October. Not much to report here.
Daytime movement: More and more bucks are up on their feet during daylight hours. This is attributable to a number of factors, from the new moon to agricultural activity pushing deer out of established territories. It also seems bucks are starting to cruise.
Estrous signs: Quiet so far, with a number does still having fawns on them, or running with spikes and forked-horn bucks.
X Factor: A cold front and winter storm passed through the region mid-week, which should give the rut the kickstart it needs. However, the accompanying rain and snow could put the brakes on the corn harvest, which has already been a bit slow in the western half of the region due to high moisture levels. A local farmer reported kicking several good bucks out of a sunflower field he was harvesting, but the deer promptly headed for a nearby standing corn field, where they’ll most likely hide out until either the corn is cut or they go into rut.