Overall Activity: Whitetails are now in winter mode across much of the region; bucks and does are hitting high-quality feed ahead of the long cold season. Frigid weather and snow have kept overall activity fairly high.
Fighting: No fights to report. In fact, several hunters I’ve talked to have seen bucks traveling together in small bachelor groups. Young bucks are still keeping a safe distance from mature animals as they feed, though. The pecking order is never totally forgotten.
Rub Making: My neighbor and avid bowhunter Dave Olson reported several fresh rubs on a recent scouting mission. All the rubs were made within the last week and occurred in a staging area off a farm field.
Scrape Making: None to report.
Chasing: In one of the more interesting (and odd) reports of the season, Alan Mote (another neighbor) called me the other day during a late-season muzzleloader hunt to say he was watching a yearling doe feeding in corn stubble not far from his stand. Three bucks showed up at a distance, spotted the doe, and fled. “So, is that’s the opposite of chasing?” he asked. I couldn’t think of a thing to say. Still, the timing should be right for isolated second-rut activity, including chasing (see “Estrous Signs” below).
Daytime Movement: Generally good. As noted, cold weather and snow have prodded whitetails to feed more, but there has still been the odd day or location when or where all the conditions for prime feeding seemed to be in place, but the deer just didn’t move. I checked a pair of trail cameras this week that had been on a secluded food plot for 10 days. I didn’t have a single daylight photo in that entire period, though deer were hitting the plots regularly.
Estrous Signs:** None to report. Normally this week I’d expect to see some chasing and find the occasional scrape. Perhaps that will kick in within the next week or two, as we are roughly 28 days past the peak of the primary rut.
X-Factor:** The deer’s mobility and your scouting. While northern reaches of the North Central region have seen significant snow (which limits where and how far deer travel), the majority of area hunters have seen minimal snowfall. So while deer are feeding well, they are still free to explore widely spread out food sources. Hunters who want to stay on deer must do the same. You need to cast a wide net and put in the extra scouting necessary to keep tabs on where deer are eating right now. That’s the approach outfitter Ted Marum (tri-stateoutfitting.com) has been taking with his clients during the Iowa shotgun season. Marum’s hunters were 100% successful during the Hawkeye State’s first gun hunt, shooting mature bucks like the one pictured above. “You need to keep close tabs on your best food sources to figure out exactly where deer are feeding from day to day,” he says. “It takes a little extra work, but it can really pay off.”