It’s kind of obligatory to comment on how quickly the season has passed whenever you do a summary, but what else can I say? Another whitetail rut is now in the rearview mirror for most of us, and while conditions were far from ideal, the North-Central region still produced plenty of great bucks, as usual.
October was warm and dry across much of the region, and while these were good conditions for farmers they didn’t bode well for hunters. The balmy temps combined with a bumper acorn crop in some areas made the early- to mid-October period live up to its infamous “lull” status for many. Under those conditions, it’s easy to get caught off guard by the first cruising activity of mature bucks, which occurred the last week of the month. Hunters who jumped on this action had some great success, including my friend Tom VanDoorn, who killed the giant northwoods bruiser shown above that week.
When we flipped the calendar to November, rutting activity naturally ramped up. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate this year’s rut about a seven. I received some good reports from around the region, and as always, some fantastic bucks made mistakes, like the Iowa giant above, taken at Thunder Ridge Outfitters. It was one of those classic rut scenarios, in which a totally unknown monster buck suddenly appeared and presented an opportunity for a lucky hunter. Meanwhile, the guy who might have been hunting that same deer elsewhere is left wondering “where the heck is that dude?”
Even as the rut wore down, some great Midwest bucks went down, including the pair killed by Colton and Hunt Reynolds, sons of BBT Outfitters owner Ben Reynolds. The Reynolds boys have been taught to still-hunt by their dad, and they used that tactic to kill the Indiana bruisers shown above and below. I’ve long preached that the pickup breeding phase of the rut is a great time to tag a great buck, especially if you’re willing to get aggressive. Hunt and Colton were my poster kids for that philosophy this year.
Although the rut is over in the North-Central region, there’s still some late-season hunting left to be done in some states—too much to draw any hard and fast conclusions about the 2015-16 season yet. Still, there are signs that the upper Midwest is slowly recovering from the major declines in recent years. Despite all the unseasonably warm weather, the early returns in Minnesota and Wisconsin point to an increase in overall harvest. I think trophy numbers will continue to be down a little, but the top end was pretty darn good. Generally, we seem to be moving in the right direction, and if next fall brings colder weather, I believe we will see a bigger rebound.