Overall activity status: Deer activity has increased over the past few days. More dead bucks can be seen along highways. Deer are coming out into fields earlier.
Fighting: You do not have to see a buck fight to know one has happened. My scouting partner Mike Stimmell almost got into one.
We had been driving our regular spotting loop in northcentral Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest, seeing few deer, when Mike told me a story about an experience he had the week before while taking a hike to look for deer sign.
He had spotted antlers sticking up in a laurel patch and decided to practice his stalking since the wind was in his face. When he was within about 15 yards of the buck, it jumped to its feet in reaction to a sharp noise that came from a nearby drilling operation. On its feet, the buck was staring directly at Stimmell. Stomping its feet, ears back, with its head moving up and down, the buck was obviously in an aggravated state of mind. Stimmell could see why: Its’ left eye had been badly injured and might have been gouged out. Blood ran down from the eye. Its’ face also showed signs of a scuffle. It was clear the buck had been in a serious fight with another buck.
Then the buck charged Stimmell.
He was able to jump behind a white oak tree as the buck passed within 10 feet. With impaired vision, the buck’s attack was ineffective. Following that, it walked back to where it had been, then it started walking in circles, about 15 yards away, still stomping its front feet and appearing very aggressive to the point that Stimmell figured another charge was imminent.
But by taking advantage of the buck’s impaired vision, Stimmell avoided any further charging. While the buck faced away he started slowly backing away, and was able to leave unseen.
An interesting experience, but that is not the very strangest part of this tale. Not more than 5 minutes after Stimmell told me that story did we see our first buck of the evening. It was acting strangely, perhaps somewhat off-balance, walking in irregular loops with its head close to the ground, much like a buck on the trail of a hot doe. But such was not the case. The buck had just one antler, on the right side, with three points. The left antler had been broken off. Then I noticed that its left eye was injured. Almost certainly it had been in a fight with another buck, and not long ago. That encounter ended when the buck walked straight away, with its head still to the ground.
We can be quite certain that bucks are still doing some serious fighting.
Rub and scrape making: It appears that there has been more rubbing and scraping over the past week or so than at any other time during the rut. Thomas Hiegel, of Erie County, Pennsylvania, sent a message saying that he has seen many does on the move during the daylight hours. There are numerous scrapes and rubs. Deer are responding to young buck calls and bleats.
Chasing: Has the rut peaked?
I still hear from hunters who seem to be under the impression that the rut lasts just a few days during that period termed the peak of the rut. Read posts from other hunters, and reports I have posted over the past several weeks and a picture should appear, though not clearly. Some hunters have seen a lot of bucks chasing does recently. More, though, have seen what I have seen: does coming into heat but not at a usual hectic rate during the time when the rut should have been peaking. For that reason, and because Hurricane Sandy probably prevented a large number of does from being impregnated during their first cycle, I am anticipating that we will see more does than usual coming into heat over the next few weeks.
Daytime Movement:** From southwest Connecticut, Robert Rogan reports that “The big boys have been on their feet from 10-3, and I am chomping at the bit to get out in my stand.”
Estrous Signs: No reports, but certainly does are in heat.
X Factor: It appears that there was a peak period of the rut over the past few days. This is not the case throughout the Northeast Region, of course. Fighting is a sure sign that, whether it is a peak or not, some serious rutting has been going on.