National Report: Bucks Need Food and Water, No Matter the Rut Stage

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.

Whitetail seasons are winding up across much of the country's northern tier, but we'll continue to provide rut activity reports from the southern states, where some of the best hunting still lies ahead. This is the time of year when northern deer hunters are either played out and turning their sights to ice-fishing, or wishing they lived in Mississippi or Alabama.

Speaking of those states, southern reporter Eric Bruce posted a great photo of a Georgia buck that would draw a crowd anywhere in the country. The buck was shot as it visited a late-season food plot, and that harvest serves as another reminder that food sources become more and more important to bucks as the rut progresses.

There's an enduring myth that because a buck can lose up to 25% of his body weight during the rut, he simply isn't eating. I don't buy it and you shouldn't either. Just because he's chasing does doesn't mean a buck doesn't stop to refuel. If he doesn't take on some forage a buck simply can't keep going. When hunger strikes a buck that wouldn't hit a green field in daylight a month ago will suddenly appear in the wide open an hour before dark.

In his report, Brandon Ray points to another often-overlooked whitetail necessity--water. While the extreme drought in Texas makes this a no-brainer this year, water is a critical need for whitetails in virtually every breeding season regardless of conditions. Bucks and does need to rehydrate during the running and chasing of the season, and water sources--especially those close to thick cover--will always be a strong draw and provide excellent stand sites. Also, natural water sources like creeks, seeps and springs will always harbor some of the last green forage of the season, and whitetails often rely on the cover adjacent to water to provide good dining.

Finally, Will Brantley brought up a very important point in his post regarding the end of the season: the need to reflect on the successes and failures we all experience over the course of the fall. Every year I make it a point to muse over my journals, which invariably reveal tidbits of information that can make me a better deer hunter. No matter how much experience we have, whitetails are always capable of teaching us more if we're willing to listen and observe!