Overall activity status: The crop harvest is largely finished, the cold front is here, and bucks are moving throughout the Great Plains region. Marc Casavan, of Mark’s Old School Barbershop in Spearfish, South Dakota, just completed a four-day bowhunt in his region of the state and reports that “bucks are on their feet all day right now, with their mouths open running crazy.” Casavan figures that if the lockdown represents the rut at 100 percent, what he’s seeing in his area now is about 70 percent.
Martin Kelsay of Hunter’s Headquarters in Auburn, Nebraska, says with the corn out, temperatures down, and the rut peak nearing, he’s seeing lots of new bucks on his trail cams, all in areas where previously only does were detected.
Both Casavan and Kelsay came to the same conclusion: The rut is about as active as it gets right now.
Fighting: No reports of sparring or any success with grunting and rattling this week, but with all the bucks running around in search of does, there’s bound to be a few mix-ups happening.
Rub making: New rubs are still popping up here and there; a foray into one Kansas farm I hadn’t visited in a week showed several that weren’t there last time I visited.
Scrape making: Bucks are definitely still visiting scrapes. Hunting a couple of mornings ago I watched a buck walking a rub line stop to freshen a scrape, barely breaking stride to do so. At least one other buck stopped to leave his scent on a tree above another scrape just a few yards away.
Chasing: Reports are varied. Mike Bosma in South Dakota has seen mostly does on his trips afield, but no bucks in hot pursuit. Nebraska’s Kelsay likewise has seen no chasing in recent days, but several hunters who stopped by his shop this week have. Kelsey notes that of all the buck photos he’s gotten from trail cams in doe areas, not one has shown a buck with a doe. Clete Frazell in Kansas reported after finishing his 11th consecutive day of hunting that he has seen chasing, fighting, and scraping almost daily during that stretch.
Daytime movement: Whatever you want to attribute it to—the cold weather, the removal of thousands of acres of crop cover, or just the natural progression of the rut—daytime movement is way up, with bucks as likely to be on their feet at noon as at first light and last. That makes for both opportunity and challenge, as I found out earlier this week when I was busted by a big buck while climbing into a stand at 2 p.m. Frazell notes heavy winds in Kansas (which has had 30 mph gusts) has slowed the daytime movement somewhat, but he’s had numerous encounters with bucks, all but one of them 3 ½ years old or younger. The one mature buck, Frazell says, “nearly finished my season, but he decided to go in a different direction after getting into bow range with no clear shots.” Adds Frazell, “I believe most of the big boys are locked down with does. It only takes one to be doeless, though, to make dreams come true.”
Estrous signs: Still no evidence of does working scrapes, and no confirmed breeding yet, though Jerick Henley of Chain Ranch Outfitters in Kansas and Oklahoma reported earlier this week that he was starting to see bucks pushing does into plum thickets, a sure sign that estrus is near.
X Factor: The Polar Vortex was definitely not oversold. Kelsay was in his deer stand Monday evening when it rolled into eastern Nebraska, dropping temperatures 30 degrees in 30 minutes. Low temperatures in the single digits across the northern Great Plains and in the teens farther south adds another incentive for deer to be on their feet more of the day. It might even lighten hunting pressure a bit, points out Casavan. “A lot of people, when it gets that cold, won’t be out of the truck much, which is good for those of us who like to hunt.” Firearms seasons open on Saturday in South Dakota (West River) and Nebraska (statewide), so the pressure release could be brief.