Overall Activity Status: Movement across the Plains states has diminished over the course of the last week or so as deer have gone to ground, caused by the dual effects of peak estrus and increased hunter activity. A week of warm weather hasn’t helped the hunter’s cause much, but an expected cold front should get deer on their feet and feeding as they recover from the rigors of the rut. Rifle seasons have ended or are winding down this week in the Dakotas and Nebraska, but Kansas gun hunters get another crack starting Wednesday, November 28 through December 9.
Fighting: Not surprisingly, I haven’t heard any reports of bucks sparring for about two weeks. What energy bucks haven’t depleted in the pre- and peak-rut stages will be reserved for a secondary rut in the coming weeks. Expect to see bucks hanging out together in fields as the need for feed outweighs the need to breed, but any late-estrous doe could send bucks into brief battles again.
Scrape Making: As dominant bucks come out of lockdown, they’re hitting scrapes in search of does that may have gone unbred during the peak rut. I saw ample evidence of this in South Dakota last week, when I ran across several ultra-fresh scrape lines. I also bumped a buck that went unseen, but from the rutty smell permeating the woods, I assume he was in there freshening scrapes.
Daytime Movement: Nebraskan Dale Douglas, who hunted both his home state and in Colorado, agrees with Field & Stream Whitetail columnist Scott Bestul’s assessment that this is one of the best ruts in years, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for hunters as big bucks are tied up with hot does more than usual. “It seemed like the lockdown period was a little more pronounced this year,” said Douglas, “with more nocturnal movement than in some years.”
Despite what by most accounts was a serious lockdown phase, I expect daytime sightings to increase this week as deer spend the mornings and afternoons feeding post-rut.
Estrous signs: Still lots of reports of lone fawns in the woods, and I’ve seen more very young deer this year than ever. Hunters that have seen bucks this past week said each one was pushing a doe.
X Factor: The best way to kill a buck in the period immediately after peak rut is to intercept them on established trails, which is what Bob Lubeck, above, did when he shot this heavy-horned Nebraska buck in the state’s rifle season. Two factors will have post-peak bucks out cruising this week–deer coming out of lockdown will go on the search for any late-estrous does, and, after laying up with a hot doe, they’ll be hungry. Set up shop between high-protein food sources and established bedding areas, or along an established scrape line and you’ll have a good chance of tagging that trophy that has so far eluded you.