Mother Nature is toying with us. Last week, in 60-degree weather on a warm west wind, I shot the first deer off my new place in western New York. The stand was set up in an apple thicket just east of a sizable brush lot, and around 7:30 a.m.—my second sit ever on this piece—three doe ambled into bow range. I watched them for more than 20 minutes before taking one for the freezer. She fell in a bed of green and I gutted her quickly in that warm wind. Less than a week later, it was 25 degrees and snowing.
Last weekend, I was near Canada for New York’s north zone muzzleloader opener. It was 50 degrees. Then it rained. Then it snowed. Then it froze. I showed up at camp in a t-shirt, and got up in the middle of the night to stoke the woodstove. It was the first time it snowed on the opening day of muzzleloader since anyone could remember. But soon after it was back up in the 50s. Tomorrow it’ll break 60.
The deer are used to this roller coaster weather, but I surely am not. I wake up at 5 a.m. like a kindergartner that doesn’t know how dress. I’ve defaulted to layers, and bring a large pack to store them all should I decide to tan.
Overall Activity Status: Food seems remarkably inconsistent place to place. During the north zone muzzleloader opener, one stand of red oaks had laid down a fresh carpet of nice, new acorns. In other spots, the acorns were old and rotted. All the deer I saw were on green fields. There was very little sign in the oaks. Reports out of Pennsylvania and Ohio say acorns are spotty at best, but in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts they seem to be booming, along with most other hard and soft mast. Central New Jersey had a strong hard mast showing, but friends there say the crop is pretty much over and that deer are returning to corn piles. Another food note: on the several hundred miles of driving I did in the past few days, I was surprised by how much corn is still standing up north. I’d guess 60 percent of fields north of I-90 are uncut. Talking to one local, it could be that way through the rut and into early December.
Fighting: Young bucks are squaring up to each other, but no full-grown buck brawls as yet reported.
Rub Making: Reports are as inconsistent as the weather. They’re definitely popping up across the region, but intensity varies greatly. Last week in the comments section, PA_hunt_fish_2013 said he’s just starting to see rubs in central PA, while most accounts say they’re booming in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and western Mass. Rub and scrape activity are intensely local and property dependent, but, generally speaking, I wager it’ll be a week or two before we start to see those picnic-table sized mega rubs in our social-media feeds.
Scraping: Like rubs, they’re starting to show, but I’ve yet to find in the woods—or see a photo—of a real whopper.
Chasing: During the north zone muzzleloader opener, one hunter saw two young bucks running nose to the ground. Another hunter saw a solo crotch horn doing the same. Mike Stevens, of Cedar Ridge Outfitters, in Maine, went out in last weekend’s snow and emailed this report: We got 4 inches of snow in the hills. I spent all day yesterday scouting and found lots of sign. Found the tracks of monster bucks roaming about. Yes, I found where one buck chased a doe all around. Things are looking good from here.
Estrous Signs: None reported.
X-Factor: The dramatic temperature swings are expected to level off regionally over the next 10 days. The full moon on the 27th will keep the night bright most of next week. As the days shorten, deer will get only ruttier as we push toward November. If new bucks haven’t shown up on your trail cameras or under your stand yet, sit tight. We’re right on the cusp of the year’s best deer hunting.