In general, the southern half of whitetail range appears poised on the brink of heavy activity, while in the north and west, things are already pretty exciting.
West reporter Jeff Holmes points out that Colorado outfitter Jack Cassidy is seeing tremendous activity in the mature buck population, with clients tagging some truly impressive animals. Hunters often overlook western whitetails, and this is a huge mistake. Record books reveal that, while “fringe” territories may not produce the most of any species, they often produce the biggest. This is true of many big game species.
Another interesting observation from Holmes’ report is that western hunters are already seeing bucks with busted up racks. This is perhaps the most telling sign of a deer population with a strong mature buck component and a reasonably balanced buck/doe ratio. Broken tines and beams are one of the surest indicators of bucks that fight often–and hard–when they meet. It’s also a huge tip-off to hunters that rattling and calling will be highly effective.
Speaking of rattling, Mid-South reporter Brantley notes that he rattled in a buck again this week, but the deer hung up outside bow range. This is important information: Bucks may charge into the horns, but are often afraid to commit the final yards without knowing exactly what they’re getting into. Sometimes they can be coaxed into range with further calling or the presence of a decoy…but not always. It’s classic buck behavior to try and circle downwind of a rattling hunter, so when possible, set a stand or blind with some type of obstacle–a steep creek bank, a fence, etc–on the downwind side to block such a maneuver.
Northeast reporter Mike Bleech brought up an interesting subject when he discussed trails that are used by different sexes of deer. It’s certainly true that some trails seem to be used primarily by does, particularly ones entering a major food source. And in my area at least, bucks often skulk along secondary trails that stick to (or skirt) dense cover. However, as the rut nears, it’s always important to know where–and how–does are moving through a particular area. In other words, paying strict attention to bucks is fine for the early season, but when it comes to the rut, ignore does at your peril.
Finally, Brandon Ray wrote a great Bonus Post about taking his daughter Emma on her first deer hunt. I was smiling through this entire tale, not only because it reminded me of hunting with my own kids, but also because it made a special point of reminding us all of seeing hunting through the eyes of someone who’s never done it before. This is supposed to be an activity full of wonder and fun…and it’s so easy to lose sight of those qualities when all we’re thinking about is finding a nice buck.