Overall activity status: With the rut in full swing across the upper Midwest, hunters are reporting a mixed bag of activity. I hunted Wisconsin last Wednesday and saw three bucks; all were chasing or scent-trailing does. I saw four other does, which were all feeding. In other reports, some hunters were frustrated by the lack of movement, which they attribute to peak-breeding lockdown.
Fighting: I’ve received no reports of observed fighting, but a contact in southern Michigan emailed to say he’d seen two different bucks with broken tines. Whether these bucks broke their antlers by aggressively rubbing trees or by fighting can’t be determined, but I’m betting on the latter.
Rub making: I’ve done some speed scouting of my hunting areas in the last few days, and while I noted lots of rubs, few appeared to be super-fresh. Given the chasing activity I witnessed on my Wisconsin hunt, I’m fairly certain that bucks are too busy searching for estrous does to waste time thrashing trees. I expect to see fresh rubs in the next 7 to 10 days, when the main breeding push ebbs.
Scrape making: Really a mixed bag on this behavior. I’ve walked past an easy dozen scrapes in the last several days; some had been worked aggressively, while others were completely dead. Like rub-making, this has to do with most bucks chasing does right now. Reworked scrapes are the sign of a buck that’s in between his ladies and working off steam.
Daytime movement: Overall deer movement depends on how close whitetails are to peak breeding in an area. If does have been running hard recently, expect them to be hesitant to move well during daylight hours. That said, midday buck movement can be very good even during lockdown, as mature bucks will move as soon as their latest doe signals she’s done with love. This is simply a time when you must be in the timber for as many hours as your schedule and endurance allows.
Estrous signs: My neighbor Alan Mote just returned from a bowhunt in northern Missouri. On the last day of his hunt Alan watched a giant (B&C class) buck push a doe into a secluded thicket. Over the next 45 minutes, Alan saw nine different bucks approach the thicket, obviously sucked in by the scent of the estrous doe. The giant buck discouraged all intruders by simply standing up and taking a few bold steps toward them. An incredible show!
X-Factor: Firearms season is a week old in Minnesota, and hunters in highly pressured areas have to figure in the human factor when choosing the best stand sites. Dense cover and areas with difficult access insure the best opportunity to capitalize on rut action. Missouri rifle season opens Saturday, and the Michigan firearms opener hits next week. Between rut activity and human pressure, hunters in each state should see good action. The 160-class buck pictured above was shot by Brandon Stum while hunting with Briggs Outdoors during the early Minnesota shotgun season.