Whitetail Hunting photo

Overall activity status: Daytime deer movement has definitely picked up through much of the Great Plains, but most reports suggest the big bucks still are clinging to the margins of daylight and leaving the mid-day rambling to smaller bucks and does—but a few big deer are falling to hunters who stick it out to the last minutes of shooting light.

Fighting: Rattling is showing good results, says Derrick Law of Smoky Valley Shooting Sports in Lindsborg, Kansas. “We’re getting a lot of guys in the shop who say they’re having quite a bit of luck rattling and decoying, though it’s not always the bigger deer that respond.” An exception is the Kansas bruiser above, which Sean James rattled in and shot on November 2. Clete Frazell, also in Kansas, saw two Pope & Young-class bucks tangle 30 yards from his stand Wednesday evening, right before dark. “One of them chased a doe off and then got in another fight 100 yards away,” Frazell says.

Rub making: Rubs are everywhere, but the most telling will be those that popped up recently, as bucks vent some energy while waiting around for does to come in estrus.

Scrape making: Law is still seeing bucks visiting scrape lines on his trail cameras, though most of the action is happening at night. Ditto for Spencer Neuharth in South Dakota. Field & Stream contributing editor and Nebraska resident David Draper reports that a buddy made a mock scrape near Draper’s stand last Friday, and by Monday morning there was a fresh scrape two feet away. Obviously, bucks are still laying down sign and it pays to know which scrapes and rubs are the freshest.

Chasing: It’s happening, says Law, but mostly the young bucks are doing the chasing and the does aren’t receptive. “My impression is the bucks are mainly sticking to core areas as they check does,” Law says, “and not yet running widely.”

Daytime movement: Bucks are cruising and checking does, though the majority of reports suggest that it’s still smaller bucks taking the initiative during midday hours at this point. Frazell reports seeing little daytime movement on his most recent hunt, but he’s hearing reports from others that daytime movement has been good. Deer movement has been slower in the Nebraska panhandle, says Draper, with few big bucks showing up on trail cams but scattered reports of bucks sighted solo at mid-day.
Another classic sign of deer movement that Draper monitors is road kill. “Odd as it may be,” he says, “I gauge the rut by how much road kill there is on I-80.” A hunting partner driving from Sidney to Lexington earlier this week saw only three road-kill deer, Draper says. “That’s pretty low for this time of year in my experience. I expect the full moon this week and the peaking rut to raise that number considerably.”

Estrous signs: Does are starting to kick off their fawns, according to reports from Nebraska and South Dakota. That’s a common sign that does are nearing estrus. According to research by biologist Grant Woods, does often make straight-line forays out of their home territory when ready to breed, to remove fawns from danger posed by aggressive bucks. I got one secondhand report in Kansas of a hunter getting a trail camera photo of a doe being bred, but it’s pretty clear the majority of does aren’t yet in estrus.

X factor: Gotta be the weather. In spots where warm temperatures are still hanging on, afternoon movement has been particularly slow. A polar vortex is forecast for early next week, sending temperatures plummeting in the northern Great Plains by Monday and the southern Great Plains by Tuesday.