First Report of Estrous Does

In terms of tracking the whitetail rut, late October might be the most challenging time of the entire season. Just a week prior to Halloween I'm getting reports ranging from bucks chasing does to bachelors still being seen in groups. Hunters are saying either "we're on the verge" or "we're weeks away." In short, we're in a major transition period as deer come out of the October lull and start focusing on the task at hand as dictated by their hormones and Mother Nature's whims.

Among those whims are unstable weather patterns that are starting to manifest themselves on a nearly weekly basis. By mid-week, the Dakotas should be seeing snowfall, as a front pushes precipitation and sub-freezing temperatures ahead of it. Nebraska and Kansas are set to get hit closer to the end of the week, which should make the weekend a great time to be on stand, especially after the warm Indian Summer days the region has been experiencing lately.

The variable nature of late October is exactly what makes it one of the most exciting times in the deer woods with no two days offering the same experience. Bucks that are tolerating each other one afternoon might be full-on fighting the very next morning. It's important to remember we're approximately three weeks out until peak rut here on the Great Plains; an early estrous doe can send bucks into a frenzy, sparking so much activity you'd think it was November 10, not October 24.

I'm guessing that's exactly what Spencer Neuharth experienced last weekend while hunting East River in South Dakota, leading him to exuberantly state "the rut is almost here!"

"My first sit on Saturday morning I saw my first signs of rut," Neuharth said in an e-mail early this week. "At first light, I saw a buck about 120 inches that was escorting a doe around. He was nudging her in different directions as they entered the bedding area and he never let that doe out of his sight."

Unfortunately that hot doe never led the buck close to Spencer's stand, but it was enough to get the young man's heart racing. He also reported seeing a smaller fork-horn in "full-chase mode." The young buck spent much of the morning running a couple does hard across an open hillside.

Contrast that to another East River hunter, John Lubeck, who sat last Saturday and had a much quieter, but no less exciting, hunt. Lubeck's stand was located in a staging area, and he had bucks moving back to a nearby bedding area just after sunrise. (No doubt the morning's foggy conditions helped keep bucks on their feet a bit longer that day.) One presented a shot, but it jumped the string and Lubeck's arrow sailed harmlessly over its back. Still, the buck didn't seem too spooked and just wandered down the shelter belt, looking back every now and then as if asking, according to Lubeck, "what the heck just happened?" Let's hope John gets another crack at him later this season.