Things are changing quickly in the deer woods now. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission research I have referred to from time to time, the peak rut should be today, Wednesday, November 14, in Pennsylvania anyway. But I still would not say we are at a rut peak.
The responses we have been getting on this site have been great. I hope everyone is learning as much as I am. This is the reward for hunters who share information. We all win.
Last Sunday, November 11, I found a new, large scrape in one of the areas where I’ve been using trail cams since early September. Very large tracks were visible plainly in the soft, bare earth.
Here is something I have found very enlightening, and surprising. This fall I have continually set out two or three trail cams at two different areas. One is in big woods on the Allegheny National Forest. The other is in checkerboard habitat–a mix of agriculture, wood lots, wetlands, overgrown fields and human development in Crawford County, Pennsylvania. In both places, it seems that every time I get a buck on the camera it is a different buck. I think most hunters would be very surprised by how many bucks use a relatively small area.
I have 20 different bucks on trail cams at the checkerboard location. The majority of them have been at the large scrape I’ve mentioned in several reports.
We might point to this as an example of bucks moving more and farther during the rut, but it does not explain why there have not been at least a few repeat showings.
I have photographed about a dozen different bucks at the big-woods location. Most deer hunters that live in this area would swear that there are not that many deer, both bucks and does, within 5 miles of that location.
Here may be the oddest part: The biggest buck that I know about in either place has not yet been captured on a trail cam. I was driving to a goose hunt about 90 minutes before sunrise when I saw it in a field no more than 1/8-mile from the trail cams in the checkerboard habitat. While I have photographed more big bucks at the big woods location than at the checkerboard location, this one has not turned up at either. It is a monster buck, the kind than makes any hunter tremble, the kind you may see at a deer farm.
Many hunters would consider the sightings of so many different bucks as a sign of the rut peak. However, this has taken place over several weeks, starting in the last week of August. There has been no noticeable increase in buck sightings as the anticipated rut peak nears.
On Monday, November 12, I spent the last hours of the first half of the split Pennsylvania deer archery season in a ground stand, using natural cover. It was windy, but not as windy as it had been at midday. Rain started falling before the end of legal shooting hours. With the rain and cloud cover, it was not possible to see well enough to hunt before hunting time ended, regardless, I stretched every bit as much of the time as I could. All it got me was wet, because by the time I walked out of the woods it was pouring.
Now, I’m wondering how much Sandy has affected rutting activity. Have fewer does come into heat, or are bucks moving less and not finding the hot does? Will there be a stronger-than-usual second peak if relatively fewer does are bred the first time around?
This evening, my hunting partner Mike Stimmell and I drove our 32-mile loop. At one point we had seen four bucks and just one doe. By the time we completed the loop, we had seen five bucks and 13 does. Most of the does were bedded. Two of the five bucks were bedded. One was very intently smelling the ground as he walked at a good pace.
Reports from Ohio, New York and Vermont suggest rut conditions are about the same. One report from western Maryland points to the rut happening a bit later.
No matter what anyone says or sees, myself included, I would prefer to spend as much time as possible hunting this week.