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.
It’s about the food, yet still about the does, too.
On a recent hunt, a friend watched a nice 2-1/2 year old buck chase a doe in tight, frantic loops, grunting as he ran. Meanwhile, the next morning, I rattled in two bucks that came to the horns like it was the first week of November, not two weeks before Christmas. The common denominator in each situation? Both hunts occurred near a pair of picked cornfields, separated by excellent transition cover and a few prime bedding lairs.
Many people dismiss the secondary rut as a non-event. I’m not one of them. Then again, I don’t expect rutting activity in December to resemble what occurs during the main event. I scout very hard for prime food sources, because I know that both bucks and does will congregate there. And while bucks are just as serious about eating as does now, they’re always willing to expend some extra energy on breeding. The action is rarely dramatic, but I’ve witnessed it every year since I’ve hunted deer in December–which, now than I think of it–is a heckuva lot of years.
One perfect case in point happened to a Minnesotan buddy this week, who missed a shot at a fine buck with a muzzleloader. The buck showed up at a late season food source, but before the buck entered to feed, he spent a bunch of time under a walnut tree with low-hanging branches. After the shot my friend searched for a non-existent blood trail, and then realized why the buck was hanging near the walnut; a table-sized scrape that he actually smelled before he saw. If that’s not secondary rut behavior, I don’t know what is!
Elsewhere, firearms and muzzleloader seasons are winding down in the region. Wisconsin smoke-polers are largely done, and Gopher state blackpowder hunters have a few days left. In neighboring Iowa, the second shotgun season opens this weekend, and I expect more giant buck photos in my inbox soon. The photo above features a gorgeous 12-point buck tagged by a hunter who was a client at Tri-State Outfitting; the buck had a 23″ inside spread and excellent mass. Congrats to the hunter!