In case you haven’t been keeping track, we’re into our third month of reporting on the 2012 rut here at Field & Stream. That’s a lot of information, stories, and analysis, not only by our reporters, but also from the experts they interview. I’m enjoying my 40th deer season this fall and I’m still learning from them.
South Central reporter Brandon Ray brought up an excellent point–and a needed skill–as he discussed the rut in his area: the art of tracking and monitoring the rut each fall, then using the information from past years to not only forecast next year’s rut, but decide on the best techniques to use as the season unfolds. One of the most common mistakes made by deer hunters (and I know because I made it again this fall in Wisconsin) is to slightly miss the signs that mark the onset of serious rut activity. This omission puts us one step behind the deer…which is rarely a good place to be.
Brandon noted parenthetically that he keeps a journal of observations of rutting behavior and sign in his area each year. This is a critical undertaking, as it can help you anticipate rut phases before they unfold, and adapt techniques accordingly. Brandon also stressed the importance of talking to fellow hunters and biologists during the hunting season, another key step. Too often, we rely only on the information we can see from our stand, which is often not enough to keep up with broader trends of deer behavior…behavior that deer could be exhibiting in your spot the next time you hunt there.
Northeast reporter Mike Bleech points out that his Maine contact, Steve Carpenteri, was experiencing difficult hunting; the majority of the buck sign he’d seen this fall was laid down before the onset of Hurricane Sandy. Hunters in areas affected by the superstorm may have some serious post-season scouting to do this year, as the severe habitat changes will certainly impact how deer use the landscape. Here again, talking to other hunters and their experiences could shorten your learning curve.
Meanwhile, the post-peak rut blues seem to have settled in for many hunters across the nation. Mid-South reporter Brantley aptly called this phase of the season “hangover mode” for whitetails, noting that his trail cams had not picked up a daytime deer photo in over a week. While it’s tempting to take a break at this time, it’s important to stay optimistic and remember that we’re hunting individual deer, not the entire herd. This point was made in David Draper’s report from the Plains, where Nebraska hunter Mark Nelsen called in and killed a great buck at midday. While it’s easy to feel let down when peak breeding has passed, it’s just as important to remember that big, mature bucks are the only ones with enough stamina to keep plodding, looking for estrous does and responding to challenges from rattling horns and grunt calls. You may not see as many bucks now as you would have two weeks ago, but the one you do see could be the right one.
Finally, I’ve discussed aggressive tactics often in this space, especially when bucks are with does and pretty invulnerable. West reporter Jeff Holmes brought us the great story of Brooke Moncrief, who put a great stalk on a fine whitetail bedded with does. Brooke crawled to within 50 yards of the buck before killing it with her muzzleloader. You can’t get any more aggressive than that.