The Rut Reporters are back–and we’re ready to help you get your buck again this season. Our team of seven reporters across the country will bring you twice-weekly reports on exactly what’s happening in the whitetails woods near you. We’ll let you know when every phase of the rut is occuring, from the first faint stirrings in September all the way through the second rut in December. And we’ll tell you the best tactics to use, when to use them, smart hunting tips, plus photos and reports of trophy deer. Plus, our Rut Phase Map is back–as well as an all-new Deer Activity Map.

Ready? We sure are. Here’s what’s happening in Whitetail Nation:

Though whitetail hunters enjoyed a largely-stellar season across much of the country last fall, it wouldn’t be tough to don a pessimist’s cap as we look forward to the 2011 season. Weather reports prove that hunters in some areas could face serious difficulties this fall. There’s a 100-year drought slamming Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas; three states boasting some of the nation’s finest whitetail hunting. The arid conditions in this region translate into reduced browse and a stressed deer herd; biologist Mickey Hellickson told me last week that poorly-managed ranches in the Lone Star State will see only a 10% fawn recruitment this year… basically the loss of an entire age-class of deer.

More recently, Hurricane Irene may impact the hunting experience on our eastern shore, as storm damage will certainly make some areas unhuntable or difficult to access. In the long term, Irene may create more deer habitat than it destroys (significant wind events are the equivalent of a logging operation), but in the upcoming weeks, deer hunters may be cussing the hurricane.

There are other areas of concern. Maine has been dealing with an unintended reduction in deer numbers, thanks to severe winters, a reduction of yarding habitat, and the growing presence of coyotes. Minnesota joined the list of states to record CWD in its free-ranging deer herd. Wildlife managers in North Dakota are asking early season hunters to report any dead deer they find because conditions are ripe for an EHD outbreak there. Managers in Illinois are expressing similar concerns.

But not a bit of this will stop whitetail hunters from going afield and enjoying a great season. As Northeast Rut Reporter Mike Bleech points out, now is the time to get out and start gathering recon for the rutting activity that will occur later this fall… and it WILL occur, regardless of the curveballs Mother Nature throws at deer. Hunters in South Carolina are already taking advantage of early rifle season and tagging some great velvet bucks, and bow season will be opening in perennial hotspots like Kentucky and the Dakotas by the time you read this. South Rut Reporter Will Brantley notes that if September isn’t one of the best months to tag a giant, it’s certainly tops for starting that all-important hunt for sign and sightings of the bucks we’ll target in the weeks to come.

With seasons set to start in my region and others, I’m as optimistic as I’ve ever been. My own trail camera surveys prove that if I don’t kill a nice deer this fall it certainly won’t be because they don’t exist. Moreover, I’ve talked to experts across the country that feel the timing of the first full moon in November (it falls on the 10th) will result in classic, full-bore rutting behavior; with concentrated buck activity occurring in those first two weeks of the month. I happen to concur, and I look forward to a long, enjoyable fall of chasing bucks–and reporting on hunting success and rut activity. Have a great season!