Bestul: Hard Antler in the Cracks

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.

The photo above features a buck my hunting buddy and I have been watching (well, our cameras have, anyway) all summer. We originally nicknamed him "The 64 Buck" because our early photos of him showed his mismatched rack had six tines on the left side and only four on the right. As the summer progressed we felt like there might be more going on with that right side, and this photo shows we were correct. It appears this buck tried to throw two main beams, which explains why his antlers are so mismatched. Of course we are not going hold any imbalance against this great mature deer, and he is on the season's "hit list." Now we just need to see him!

Another interesting feature of this photo: The velvet on The 64 Buck's rack appears to be cracking, and when this happens, it won't be long until this buck--and others in the area--will be in hard antler. This is a fascinating and exciting time of the fall; since a buck can breed a doe as soon as he loses velvet, the onset of the hard antler stage is the defacto start of the rut. Ok, I know: buck behavior now resembles buck behavior in November like a paper airplane mimics the space shuttle… But a start (however small) is still a start.

The thing to remember is, across the region, bucks are soon to undergo major change. Testosterone levels are rising. Rubs and scrapes will be made by older bucks that know why they've been placed on earth. Bachelor groups will start breaking up. And we'll be in the woods, watching these earliest glimmers of breeding behavior slowly swell into the main event. I can't wait, and the bow opener in two states here (Minnesota and Wisconsin) is only 9 days away.