Bestul: Big Bucks Falling

Rut Reporter Scott Bestul is a Field & Stream’s Whitetails columnist and writes for the website’s Whitetail365 blog. The Minnesotan … Continued

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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The rut can be chaotic and unpredictable, but this much is certain: it’s the one time of year when a big, old buck can make a huge mistake. That was certainly true this week, when a 5-1/2 year old whitetail–a buck well known but rarely seen by hunting partners Micah Hanson and Jeffrey O’Donnell–walked by O’Donnell’s stand Wednesday morning. “We had this buck on trail camera last year, when he grew a weird unicorn point off the base of one main beam,” O’Donnell says. “This year he dropped the goofy point for some reason. But we always knew it was him on this year’s pics because he’d lost his left eye a couple years ago in a fight.”

The one-eyed bruiser came in shortly after first light as O’Donnell was hunting Hanson’s farm. The buck was all alone, either looking for his first estrous doe or just finished with one and looking for the next. “I tried to stop him with a grunt, and then a louder one, and then an even louder one,” Jeffrey says. “Finally I just had to draw and shoot him. Thank goodness for that bad eye, or I think he’d have busted me!” The mammoth buck sported a 22-1/2″ inside spread and nine points. When I showed up to congratulate O’Donnell, I noticed two things immediately; it had the thickest neck of any buck I’d seen in years, and I could smell the buck before I saw it in the truck bed. Jeffrey offered the deer’s tarsal glands to use as a lure, but I politely declined. Congrats to Jeffrey!

Some great deer are being shot across the region. John Redmond, owner of Fair Chase Outfitters in Minnesota, reports four hunters tagging out on great bucks during a recent five-day hunt. “Two of those bucks were shot from the same stand on consecutive days,” Redmond notes. “We’re definitely in the peak of the chase phase here right now.”

With bucks actively seeking does, scrape activity has tailed off; only the biggest, most important scrapes are being kept open now. Rubbing has ebbed somewhat, though I did watch a beautiful two-year old 8-point revisit a rub he’d started earlier this fall and work it over for a full five minutes, using every facet of his rack to peel bark, then repeatedly lick the popple tree. Later that same morning I watched a full-bore chase as a young buck badgered a small doe in an open field–at 11:30 in the morning.

A hefty weather system swept through the region yesterday, bringing cold temps, wind and either rain or snow to much of the area. Hunters in central and northern Wisconsin report that 6-8″ of wet, heavy snow fell there. Expect stellar deer activity once this front blows through and temps plummet. Iowa hunters were getting rained on, as the system pushed through, but can expect great hunting as high pressure and cooler temps follow. The Missouri firearms opener is this Saturday, and Show-Me state hunters should experience excellent action, thanks to the good weather and peaking rut activity.