Whitetail Hunting photo

Rut Reporter Scott Bestul is a Field & Stream’s Whitetails columnist and writes for the website’s Whitetail365 blog. The Minnesotan has taken 13 Pope & Young-class whitetails and has hunted, guided for, and studied deer in the north-central region all his life. States covered: IA, IL, IN, MI, MN, MO, WI.

I just returned from a three-day bowhunt in northern Wisconsin. My friend Tom and I spent our time on public land, hunting heavily-forested areas. Though the terrain and vegetation is more Canadian than corn country, we take the same basic approach to deer hunting in the northwoods that we do anywhere. Step one is to find the food. Tom and I focused on two main sources; a small but splendid crop of white oak acorns, and the edges of recent clearcuts.

After finding fresh feeding signs, we nailed down stand locations by looking for rubs like the one pictured above. No, it’s not a monster rub on a big tree… but I’d bet it was made by a nice buck.

Yearling bucks (bucks wearing their first set of antlers) just don’t make many rubs in the early season. Mature deer (2-1/2 years and up), on the other hand, start picking on trees as soon as they’re in hard antler, and the majority of their early season rubs are on trees far smaller than those they’ll rub as the rut nears. I compare this progression of smaller-to-larger rubs to an early season athlete getting in shape; he starts with small workouts in the preseason and builds his fitness.

The takeaway? Even if I find a little rub this time of year, I consider it vital information. A good buck is living in the area, and I’ll continue to scout the spot for more information as the fall progresses.

Several states in this region are now in the first week of their archery season, and I’ve received reports of bowhunters tagging very good bucks. I’ll track down some of these stories and try to post pictures as they become available.