National Report: Small Changes Make Big Differences

Three things jumped out at me when I was reviewing the posts by our regional reporters this week:

Mid-South reporter Will Brantley noted that farmers were beginning to harvest their crops in some areas. This is always a significant happening in any place where agriculture is a factor; once the combines come through, deer can not only lose a food source, but bedding cover. Whitetails adore bedding in corn, for example, and many early-season bucks may spend entire weeks living in this "tree of the prairie." We've made a fairly big point of the importance of keeping track of deer food and cover preferences in this space, and Will's observation is a further reminder of the role that farming plays in the lives of whitetails.

Another Brantley observation was that, in some of his region, whitetails had been chased by bowhunters for nearly a month now. Though bowhunters don't get as much credit for pressuring deer as our gun-toting brethren do, archers can have a significant impact on deer behavior. If you hunt a spot where bowhunting is common, you can bet that deer will notice the increased human activity. They'll adjust the timing and location of their travels accordingly, and savvy bowhunters need to follow them.

We're a day away from October, and the long-discussed "lull" that occurs in the early days of that month. I'm less convinced the lull truly corresponds to a lack of deer movement, so much as an adjustment on their parts to the increased presence of hunters in their world. Brantley notes he's moved stands further back in the timber, and this is certainly one solid approach to finding deer.

In the Northeast region, Mike Bleech reports on observing his first buck fight (actually a minor skirmish) of the season. I perked right up when I read this. While fighting is normally associated with the rut, the truth is that bucks will bash heads any time they're in hard antler. Indeed, a Wisconsin guide once told me that some of the biggest brawls he's ever seen occurred in the first weeks after velvet shed. His explanation was two-fold: First, when bachelor groups disperse, bucks seeking new core areas bump into strange deer and decide to duke it out.

Second, though bucks work out many of their dominance issues while in velvet, those roles are not cast in stone. Testosterone levels are building throughout the pre-rut, and a buck that was docile in August could get pretty feisty two months later. That's something to think about when you head for the woods and ponder whether rattling and grunting will work right now. I believe those tactics are totally viable, assuming a buck is in the right mood and ready to prove himself in a way he couldn't in summer.