Overall activity status: We’re at the stage of the rut where talking about deer movement on a broad basis is getting tougher. I just returned from a northern Wisconsin bowhunt, where whitetails are at, or approaching, peak breeding. Overall deer activity was very slow, as bucks had does pinned in secluded cover. However, contacts in south Missouri and northern Iowa are reporting strong bursts of buck activity that indicated breeding hadn’t begun yet.
Fighting: I expect fighting to become more common in the days and weeks ahead, especially in areas with good populations of mature bucks. These deer will start moving big to find estrous does and run into other mature bucks enroute; this situation can lead to some intense fights.
Rub making: Here again, the intensity/frequency of rub making will depend on how close to peak breeding we are. In spots where the first doe has “popped,” expect rub (and scrape) making to ebb. In areas where breeding is still a few days away, bucks will rub and scrape with increased intensity.
Scrape making: I saw a true mixed bag on my Wisconsin hunt; some scrapes were still being hit, but many had dried up. As always, scouting for the hottest sign and setting up on it immediately is the best bet. If you find a hot scrape, don’t wait to hunt over it!
Chasing: As I hunted northern Wisconsin, my host watched a monster 10-point chase a doe through a brushy creek bottom for over two hours one afternoon. In neighboring Minnesota, my brother-in-law shot this wide, heavy 8-point at 10:00 in the morning. Craig had watched and heard the buck chasing a doe for over an hour before he finally had the buck within 50 yards and standing still long enough for a good shot.
Daytime movement: The odds of a buck moving during daylight hours are higher now than at any point in this season. With the first does coming into heat (or soon to be there), bucks will be on their feet at all hours. If you can stay in the woods for the entire day, now is the time to do that.
Estrous signs: See notes above. The rut is building in intensity as the first mature does enter estrous and bucks pursue them.
X-Factor: Again, things are progressing quickly and hunting strategy has to be fluid. If the does in your area are not ready to breed, setting up near the freshest buck sign (usually found near prime food sources for does) is an excellent idea. That’s what Wisconsin bowhunter Scott Smolen did to harvest the great buck pictured above. If, however, breeding activity has begun, set up in or near terrain funnels; bucks will either chase does through these spots or use them to cover ground as efficiently as possible while looking for does.