On the Cusp of the Late Rut

Overall activity status: Slow, slow, slow is the word across the Great Plains, but many hunters hope the current lack of deer movement is the calm that precedes one last storm of rut action.

Daytime movement: As Ben Doty of Cedar Breaks Ranch mentioned in the last rut report, deer have been laying low in central South Dakota after a frenzy of chasing and breeding. But Doty is looking for action to pick up next week, and Martin Kelsay of Hunters Headquarters is expecting much the same in eastern Nebraska. Kelsay believes this year's primary rut was shorter and more intense than usual, because there are fewer does around after last year's EHD epidemic. "The rut hit hard and was over quick," Kelsay says. "Because there aren't many mature does, it didn't take them long to get bred." He missed a 9-pointer on Thanksgiving evening, but hasn't seen much movement since: Even the trail cameras have gone cold. In northcentral Kansas, David Schotte at Blue River Whitetails has a full slate of hunters booked for the gun season that runs December 3 to 14, and he's seeing a bit more midday movement that he attributes to the current bright moon. He notes that the secondary rut, while never as strong as the primary rut, usually coincides with the second week of the Kansas gun season.

Fighting: Bucks are laying low and conserving energy or else are preoccupied with feeding to recover from the rut and a run of cold weather. Fighting isn't a big priority now, except when it is: Schotte says one of his hunters heard a pair of bucks sparring Wednesday.

Scrape making: Scrapes seem to be dormant now, but Schotte makes a good point. "If you spot a big scrape, four or five feet across and dug down like it's been hit by several bucks, remember that for next year," he says. "Those big scrapes tend to be in the same spot year to year, and come late October you'll want to be hunting them." Intel is always valuable in deer hunting, even if not always immediately.

Rub making: I'm never quite sure what to make of rubs this time of year. If you can find evidence that a huge rub is fresh (bark shavings on top of new snow or fallen leaves, for example) it's a nice reassurance that a big buck is still in the area. Another key is finding a string of 8 or 10 that suggests you're in a buck's core area. In that case, hanging a stand on a nearby funnel (rather than right on top of the rub line itself) is a good play.

Chasing: Kelsey notes that chasing was down in Nebraska this year, because of the lower doe population. Schotte is seeing some bucks harassing does, but no outright chasing currently.

Estrous signs: Does are being spotted with yearlings and in family groups, which suggests that breeding is over for the mature does. Kelsay noted the buck he missed on Thanksgiving walked right by a group of does without so much as a second look. But he has high hopes for the late round of breeding. "Everything I read says about 80 percent of yearling doe fawns will come into estrus in December, and we have a really good crop of fawns this year," Kelsay says. "So I'm hoping that things pick up in the second rut."

X-Factor: Food is key. Bucks always feed up after the rut, and cold temperatures across the region have all deer hitting the fields to keep the furnace stoked. With a second surge in breeding on the horizon, focusing on feeding areas that draw lots of does is a good strategy for catching up with the bucks that will be looking for both.