Bestul: Hunters Reporting Mixed Buck Activity

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.

Archery seasons are now open across the north central region, as Illinois and Iowa hunters enjoyed their opening weekend last Saturday. No doubt some great bucks were tagged in both those states, but it will take a day or two to track down some of the stories. Stay tuned for those tales and photos.

I did chat with one Illinois bowhunter who enjoyed a great opening evening; passing on a near-shooter buck and observing several others. His wife, also a highly successful bowhunter, had a similar experience, spotting several younger bucks and numerous does on her weekend hunt. All these deer were moving from small patches of timber to feed in farm fields and small food plots.

One Minnesota contact noted some rambunctious behavior by a buck he observed Saturday afternoon. The young six-point emerged from the timber, fed for a time on the edge of a soybean field, then headed toward some standing corn. Shortly after, a doe followed his same basic pattern, but when the young buck spotted her he gave chase and interrupted her dinner.

My friend said the chasing seemed more like a game of tag than the pre-rut harassment that will occur in a few weeks, but it was an interesting encounter. One of my contacts in neighboring Wisconsin watched a doe run in a near-panic past his stand, then stop and watch her backtrail. Though the hunter heard a series of loud grunts coming from the thicket behind the doe, he never did spot the buck making them.

My read of these frisky buck behavior reports is that bucks are starting to experience the testosterone dump that will only build in the weeks ahead. They're buzzing some and willing to test the waters with does when they encounter them. It's tempting to dismiss these early rutting signs, but I feel that's a mistake; a buck acting goofy is always a good thing in my book, and every year I've seen a handful of does come into estrus early about this time. When that occurs, count on the biggest buck in your area to be aware of the occasion.

But focusing on quality food sources is always a solid bet now. That's what Minnesotan Matt Bender was doing when he tagged this dandy Gopher State 14-point. Matt has the sheds from this buck from last year, and he had numerous trail camera photos-- many in daylight-- of this mature whitetail this summer. He tagged the buck on a morning hunt as it grabbed a quick bite from a food plot. The 157" brute was traveling with four other bucks that day, and Matt watched two smaller animals sparring as he waited for his trophy to feed into bow range. Congrats to Matt on a fine trophy!