Bestul: “Pickup Breeding” Peaks

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.

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I've received several reports of bucks chasing does this week, and the stories are interesting indeed. One of my Minnesota contacts called yesterday morning to discuss his hunt from the previous evening, which started with a small 6-point buck dogging three does past his stand. "I could have sworn it was a bull coming, he was grunting so loud," says avid whitetailer Bob Wick. "That buck chased the does hard through a wide circle that eventually took them out of my sight."

But that wasn't the last of Bob's action. "A few minutes later I heard more deer running toward me," he says. "The same three does came piling by, and this time the buck running them was different, and bigger! It was a nice big 8-point, but one side of his rack was gone, apparently from fighting. I decided to pass the shot, and hope he shows up next fall with both sides."

Bob's hunt brings up an interesting phenomenon; the later in the rut you hunt, the greater the possibility of encountering a buck with busted antlers. This occurs throughout whitetail range, but it's more likely in areas with a strong mature buck component. I've hunted spots in Iowa, Kansas and Illinois where, come late November it's hard to find a buck without broken tines and/or beams. It's a fascinating barometer that tells something about how rigorous the rut can be.

While we're on the topic of fighting bucks and broken racks, my friend Ron Gehrke, an expert bowhunter from Wisconsin, shot just such a deer this month. Ron's buck approached his stand in a thick patch of red cedar trees that screened the buck's antlers much of the time. "All I saw was a slab body and thick bases," he recalls. "When the buck gave me a shot I took it. When I recovered the animal I just had to shake my head at what a fighter he must have been. He had two tines snapped off on his 'good' side, and on the other side, the main beam was broken off about half way. Later, when I skinned him out, I found 39 puncture wounds in his neck. I just had to laugh; if he was going to keep fighting like that, I probably did him a favor by shooting him!"

Obviously, not all late-November bucks sport disfigured antlers. Some deer, I'm convinced, simply don't possess the fighting gene; they have more mellow personalities and stay out of brawls. Other bucks don't have to fight much in order to breed, and there is always a handful of deer who can mix it up with other bucks and emerge unscathed. I don't have any details yet on the tremendous Iowa buck shown above, but it's clear this is one perfect specimen of a typical whitetail!