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.
I just returned from a Kansas bowhunt where my timing couldn’t have been worse; though big bucks were abundant in my hunting area (the sign was incredible and sightings/reports from locals called this “the best year ever”), my buddy Dave and I saw few mature animals.
Reading the situation was as simple as it was disappointing; the majority of the biggest bucks in the area were tending does and moving little, while smaller bucks were moving widely and hoping to blunder into some love.
Don’t get me wrong. The hunt was really fun and we saw plenty of action. But had we been there five days earlier or five days later, we’d have likely seen some of the monsters that had strewn rubs and scrapes like confetti before our arrival. Hunting this lockdown period requires patience, luck and time, and if we’d have been able to stay just a few more days I’m confident that one or both of us would have found a big, willing buck. We ate our tags, but had plenty of fun!
Similar news is drifting to me from across the region. Hunters in western Wisconsin report that big bucks are tending does in thick cover and smaller bucks are tiring out from a seeking phase that started in earnest in late October. Contacts in western Illinois report many mature bucks tending does–and not moving around much–in earnest, and Iowa and Missouri hunters seem to echo those lack-of-action stories.
These situations don’t last forever, though. Mature bucks will lose their does and be back on their seeking missions within a few days, and as more and more does are bred, these big bucks become the only deer with the stamina to continue the latter stages of the rut. That’s good news for hunters with the patience and endurance to keep going.
The second X-factor is the advent of firearms seasons across the area; Michigan opened their gun hunt earlier this week, and Illinois opened their first shotgun season. Wisconsin opens this weekend, and Minnesota’s gun hunt has been ongoing since the 5th of November. Hunting pressure can obviously force deer to move regardless of the rut activity, and I expect reports–and hopefully photos–of some great bucks tagged in the days to come.
Ethan Greden, from southeastern Minnesota, was hunting with his dad Ross when he took this fine buck during Minnesota’s shotgun season. Ethan has taken several does, but this was his first buck. Quite a deer!