Overall Activity Status: Strange, strange, strange. There has been very little consistency from day to day, or from one place to another even where those places are not far apart.
Fighting: No reports lately of bucks fighting.
Rub & Scrape Making:** In Maine, outdoor writer Steve Carpenteri said there’s “not much of a rut going on here. It could be over (might have been before Sandy hit). Very little sign, no rubs or scrapes.” Carpenteri has noted before that since deer density is so low, finding sign can be difficult.
Chasing:** Andy Buschak, who hunts both sides of the Ohio/Pennsylvania border, is seeing more activity in northeast Ohio than in Pennsylvania. He has seen an increased number of rubs, but no scrapes lately. The only bucks he has photographed on trail camera have been of modest size. The only bucks he has seen from his tree stand have been small, and none were pursuing does. Nighttime has been a different matter. Driving at night, he has seen bucks chasing does.
Daytime Movement:** Back on November 12, Tom Hiegel wrote from Erie County, Pennsylvania, that does were on the move during the day. “Scrapes, rubs, lots of action,” he wrote. “They are responding to young buck calls, doe bleats.”
A couple of my trail cameras are in Crawford County, which borders Erie County on the south. Those trail cams tell a different story: virtually no daytime activity. Instead, most visits to the scrape have been happening around 11:00 p.m. and around 5:00 a.m.
Estrous Signs: It’s been a most confusing situation in the Allegheny National Forest. On November 14 (and the days before and after), when the Pennsylvania Game Commission says the rut should peak, the only hot rut signs we have seen were when my scouting partner, Mike Stimmell, killed his 8-point buck last Saturday, November 10. That buck was following a doe, but Stimmell did not think the doe was in heat yet.
X Factor: When I combine what I have seen and heard about in my home area in northwest Pennsylvania with what I have learned from my various contacts and replies to this site, things are at the same time confusing and interesting. For several weeks we wondered if the timing of the rut might be off. Now it appears that overall there has been no great rut peak. Instead, hunters have been encountering does in heat over an extended period.
Mast conditions are generally good, but not everywhere. This has a large effect in deer movements and perceived deer movements. The difference between deer movements and perceived deer movements is that if we do not see a lot of deer movement we perceive there to be little deer movement. But in fact there might be much more deer movement than is being perceived because the deer are not making themselves visible by spending time in open areas, near roads or moving during daylight hours. Because of abundant mast, deer do not need to move far or often to get plenty to eat.
All of this means that hunting based on deer feeding has been difficult. But rut tactics have been effective over a very long period, and probably will continue to be so. Try estrous scents and deer calling tactics, and be persistent.