Bestul: Hunting the Transition

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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We’ve reached an interesting phase of the season here in the north-central region; in most states, the general firearms season (rifle or shotgun) have recently closed. I always find this a fascinating, but often challenging, time to hunt. In areas where deer have experienced heavy hunting pressure, it usually takes a few days for whitetails to resume normal feeding and breeding behavior. When this is the case, I typically forego serious hunting and scout or observe feeding areas and let whitetails emerge from shell-shock mode.

The behavior of hunters has changed across much of the region. The big gang-drives that were once commonplace in the Midwest are not as popular and in some places have disappeared altogether. This has made the gun season less of an event in the lives of whitetails and made hunting them in the aftermath less of a challenge. But make no mistake; the deer we seek in the weeks ahead will simply be sharper and more alert to danger than they were a month ago, regardless of the level of pressure they experience.

I talked to a friend in Michigan the other day who reminded me of this when he said “after we get done gun hunting, I simply put more time and thought into my late-season setups than ever before. The deer just don’t tolerate any sloppiness on my part. If I can’t find a great spot with good cover and a perfect wind, I don’t bother to hunt it.” Words to live by for late-season hunters!

Speaking of late season, the first winter storm system is supposed to bring significant snow to parts of Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin this weekend. If that indeed occurs, look for post-rut whitetails to get very serious about finding a concentrated food source to camp out on. There’s something about the first major accumulation of snow of the year that focuses deer on the business of eating, and wise hunters will spend their scouting hours looking for feeding sign in the fresh snow. Deer tracks in the white stuff can really simplify your scouting efforts!

Iowa shotgun hunters enjoyed their first crack at the action over the weekend, and I expect to see photos of giant Hawkeye bucks in the days ahead. Illinois’ second firearms season also opened and Prairie State hunters will certainly knock down more of the whopper bucks that have made that state famous. The buck pictured above was shot by Illinois bowhunter Brian Steele somewhere in Macon County last month. No other details than that at this point. This is one beautiful, giant whitetail!