Bestul: First Faint Stirrings

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.

With bow seasons in several Great Lakes states only two weeks away, the region's whitetail addicts are gearing up and getting ready. And if the calendar flip isn't proof enough that fall is here, the deer themselves will provide the clues in the days ahead; I've already seen my first trail camera pick of a hard-horn buck, and some of the bachelor groups that were loyal buddies all summer will begin breaking up shortly.

I feel the rut will be a fascinating to watch this fall. It was a killer winter across much of the region, with Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota experiencing deep snows (and subzero temps) that came in early December and lasted well into April. There was surely some winterkill in the northern counties of these three states. Still, hunters have reported decent to good fawn crops, and abundant summer rains in the northern "big woods" region has forage in great shape. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin have come off their best season in years for producing B&C trophies, and hopes are high those numbers will continue.

Further to the south in farm country, summer rainfall has been unpredictable and spotty and there areas reporting brutal drought. Areas of Illinois have not had significant rain in two months, which has obviously had a huge negative effect on farm crops and food plots. Worse yet, at least one source I've talked to is concerned about a possible EHD outbreak in the weeks ahead; the arid conditions there mimic of those of the last major EHD episode in 2007. EHD can completely change the complexion of the rut, as mature bucks are particularly vulnerable; some properties can lose 50% of their buck herd (or more) in extreme cases.

I'll report more extensively on these matters in this space weekly. For now, the season is full of promise and the outlook is largely positive here. And while the peak of the rut is fully two months away, rut behavior is already happening…as witnessed in this photo from a Minnesota friend. The beauty above is one of five bucks making regular visits to a mock scrape. These animals are still in velvet, but already they're scent-checking to keep track of who's in the neighborhood!