National Report: Big Bucks Still Out There

Rut Reporter Scott Bestul is a Field & Stream's Whitetails columnist and writes for the website's Whitetail365 blog. The Minnesotan has taken 13 Pope & Young-class whitetails and has hunted, guided for, and studied deer in the north-central region all his life. States covered: IA, IL, IN, MI, MN, MO, WI.

Yogi Berra had it right when he said "it ain't over 'til it's over," and that's the theme for this week's rut summary. Perhaps the most telling indicator was Rich Landers' report from a Montana guide who noted that he'd seen two of the biggest bucks of the year during the last two weeks of the season--when he had no hunters in camp. It's human nature to want first crack at everything, and of course deer hunters are no different than anyone else, but every year reports like this remind me that some of the best buck action can occur long after the excitement of the opener fades.

Landers also noted the success of late-season archery hunters in Washington who successfully used calls and scents. That's another excellent point. Big bucks respond to the same attractants in the post-rut phase as they did several weeks earlier, and Mike Bleech noted this in his Northeast report as well. Bleech also made the spot-on observation that determining rut phase in areas of low deer densities can be difficult.

I've seen this first-hand in my region of Minnesota, where herds have been reduced in recent years. Nailing down the specifics of deer behavior is one thing when you see multiple animals every day, and quite another when you're getting skunked. Fewer deer means less buck sign, as bucks without competition don't advertise themselves as aggressively. They simply cover more ground until they find the does they're looking for. Hunting bucks in areas like this requires us to mimic their broad-ranging treks; we'll rarely bag a buck without burning boot leather.

Reporters Brantley (Mid-South) and Draper (Plains) both quote sources who observed that rutting behavior is on the wane in their regions. Still, hunters who keep scouting (especially near active food sources), maintain a positive attitude, and keep hunting hard still have a great chance to tag a good buck. Pickup (or secondary) breeding will occur in the weeks ahead, and the only way to take advantage of that movement is to stay out there!