Overall Activity Status: Deer certainly have gotten more active, as much because of the cooler air as anything else.
Fighting: Actually observing bucks in an all-out fight is rare. Last week on the Allegheny National Forest we watched a nice 8-point buck and a 5-point buck sparring very mildly. They faced one another and rattled their antlers together hard enough that we could hear them from a distance of about 60 yards. But that lasted just a few seconds, then they continued browsing. Similar activity has been reported from Vermont and Ohio.
Rub & Scrape Making: Now that most bucks in the Northeast Region have shed their velvet, they are starting to rub trees. This started at least two weeks ago, but it really has not gotten to the point where rubs can be seen in many places and in lines.
Some hunters have commented that they are seeing scrapes earlier than usual. As mentioned previously, I have been watching a large scrape since late August. I will check that trail cam again, time permitting.
Chasing: The only chasing has been playful. It is possible for does to come into heat this early, but it would be extremely unusual.
Daytime Movement: Daytime deer movements now are merely feeding activity.
Estrous Signs: Do not expect to see estrous signs for a while yet.
X Factor: The progression leading toward the rut can be seen now. From New England to Ohio and across Pennsylvania, reports indicate that many bucks lost their velvet around the first of September. Not all of them, however. Because their antlers are hard, bucks are more active than they have been. We are seeing more bucks in one evening now than we would have the week before they started shedding velvet. Bucks tend to be in the company of other bucks. The biggest buck I have seen to date this year crossed a road right in front of my truck Wednesday night. It is a 10-point, maybe 22 inches wide on the outside, thick-necked, thick through the waist, walking with head held low. It was in the company of another fair, but clearly smaller, buck. The bucks were on public land, so I will try to get the big one on a trail camera, but this is a long-shot proposition.
This is a strange year in some ways. Some things, from what I hear, have happened unusually early. We have had the same drought as commenter IND_NRA mentioned occurring in Indiana, but the drought seems to be breaking. Weather was unusual all year, so it would not be out of line for the rut to be unusual. We will see. Apples here are scarce in most places, but I have been finding a lot of acorns, including one oak tree that I will have to use a field guide to positively identify.
Bucks occasionally spar, but there have been no reports of knock down, drag out fights, or signs of the same.
Since it is unusual to see bucks seriously fighting, watch for signs of buck fights. Real buck fights are nasty, powerful battles that tear up the ground and everything on it. Bucks sometimes suffer terrible wounds. Looks for blood on the ground. Often the bucks will also get their antlers tangled in brush and pull the brush out by the roots. Signs of a fight tend to make a wavering line which may be 12 feet wide. The signs of a serious buck fight might be mistaken for kids tearing up the ground on ATV’s.
Do not ever try to get close to bucks that are in the mood to fight. Twice I have been attacked by bucks, and I feared for my life, escaping serious injury, I am truly convinced, by a guardian angel.
We are loaded with coyotes. I can hear them howling from my yard. The Pennsylvania Game Commission did a good study on deer predation. Bears got the most, but coyotes were close. I expect that varies with the relative populations of each. In the big woods some of our coyotes get to 70 pounds and more. They can pull down adult deer. This has been witnessed by ice fishermen on the Allegheny Reservoir. Yes, I have also seen some does with no fawns. I will start hunting coyotes immediately following deer season.