Draper: Wild Story of an Early Rutting Buck

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.

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Last week I mentioned a hunter who had witnessed some deer behavior you'd expect to see in late October, not in mid-September. Well, I tracked the guy down and he passed along his story, complete with a missed opportunity at the hard-horned version of the buck in this photo. Our hunter, whose stand is along the North Platte River in western Nebraska, wishes to remain anonymous, mostly to keep his two brothers-in-law from shooting this deer out from underneath him.

Here's the tale of the early rutting buck:

"Opening weekend was pretty wild. Sunday night was when all the fun started. Deer moved early again, but they were much more active than the night before. The two bigger deer that I had seen there other nights came out farther apart and kept a good distance from each other. After about 15 minutes, they all popped their heads up and looked back into the heavy cover. In my experience (especially this time of year when you're leveraging their patterns) that usually means that a bigger deer is coming out. I was surprised when a doe jumped the fence and worked her way through the bucks.

"The medium-sized buck shot up right behind her with his nose out. He stayed on her tail at a slow walk and pushed her right into the trees. The other three bucks followed, leaving me wondering what had just happened, especially given that was only mid-September.

"As the deer worked their way down that trail they couldn't have gotten 50 yards into the trees when I heard them start banging horns. It started small enough, but within minutes it sounded like a full blown fight to the death going on in there. It went on for 20 or 30 minutes. About the time I was wishing I had brought my rattling horns, thinking maybe I could bring one of those big boys back out, I noticed this other deer come screaming out of the brush 150 yards from my stand. I was lined up between him and the fight and he literally ran in, nose down and the hair on his back was up. He stopped 25 yards from my stand facing straight towards me.

"I don't think he winded me, but there was something he didn't like about the situation. He stood staring straight at me for five minutes and then walked towards me - eventually stopping at the base of my ladder stand. At 25 yards, all I could see was tall horns but he wasn't past his ears. At that point I really never even thought about shooting him, but when he got to the base of my stand I could then see that he was heavier than I thought (at least a 4 ½ year old deer) and his G4s were 6-8 inches on the side I could see. I quickly went from sight-seeing to "get it done" mode, but there was a huge branch blocking my shot. He worked his way away from the stand at the only angle he could have possibly left without giving me a shot. Didn't sleep much that night!"