Bucks across much of the region have been in lock-down mode lately. This has made hunting them difficult, as bucks–and the does they’re tending–simply don’t move much. That has all changed since firearms seasons have opened in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri within the last week. Some truly big buck photos have started showing up in my inbox again; the only difference is the hunters posing behind them are now wearing orange instead of camo.
Every fall I hear a lot of discussion about how the increased pressure of the firearms season affects rutting behavior. My take on this question is short, and slightly evasive: It depends. One of the key qualifiers here is that hunting pressure and its effects on deer behavior can be highly variable. For example, some 700,000 hunters took to the Wisconsin deer woods last weekend.
That’s a pile of people, but if you find yourself in an area largely devoid of orange coats, many deer there won’t feel pressured. Minnesota gun hunters total close to a half-million, but a quick check of public tracts near my home over the last few days has shown only light to moderate effort.
That said, in areas that receive significant hunting pressure, rutting behavior can be affected. Whitetails are going to breed regardless of human activity, but they may change where and when that activity happens. When the rut coincides with firearms hunting and local pressure is significant, the most successful hunters will shift their effort to thick cover areas, or those that are being ignored by others. Setting up in or along these sanctuaries is the best technique right now; travel corridors and terrain funnels leading to dense habitat are other great bets.
The group of western Wisconsin hunters pictured above was successful over the opening weekend largely because they understood how bucks react as they’re pressured from other hunters. Pictured, from left to right, are Tyler Voegli, Travis Bucholz, Logan Marum, and Ron Dickerson, all part of a western Wisconsin deer camp that is consistently successful on mature deer. Make no mistake–the rut continues to progress throughout the region. But savvy hunters are those who understand the habitat shifts whitetails make when pressure is the word of the day.