Two general themes emerged during last week’s series of rut reports; hot weather and early season buck behavior. And as always, our rut reporting team did a great job of addressing how hunters can use general information about hunting conditions and buck behavior to formulate a solid strategy.
South Central reporter Brandon Ray noted that bucks are sorting out dominance issues even when they’re still wearing velvet. Posturing, bumping, and hoof-swatting/ kicking are all ways that bucks can sort out who’s-the-boss problems, and such non-antler fighting can actually go a long way toward saving bucks from serious fighting later in the fall. Bachelor groups always have a pecking order, even when velvet shed is weeks away, and this dominance hierarchy typically last into the fall. However, it’s important to note that some bucks just get testier when they hit the hard antler stage; whether this is due to increased testosterone levels or the sudden knowledge that they’ve now got weaponry on their heads is not known.
Northeast reporter Mike Bleech noted a couple of important buck behaviors in his report. First, early season rubbing is usually not a sign of a buck working off velvet. Though some bucks might work over a sapling in order clean up their antlers, that’s not the main purpose of rubbing; which is to advertise their presence to other bucks (there’s some belief that rubbing also increases the strength in a buck’s neck, sort of like working out). To me, the most important thing to remember about any early season buck sign (rubs or scrapes) is that they are almost always done by mature deer. Mike also points out that, once a buck sheds velvet, he now has the necessary testosterone to breed a doe. And he’ll remain in this condition of readiness until he drops his antlers in late winter or early spring. So technically, the rut starts as soon as that velvet falls.
Western reporter Jeff Holmes conducted an excellent interview with western whitetail guru Troy Pottenger, who has built an amazing reputation for taking mature whitetails in Washington and Idaho. Troy pushes the envelope by setting up close to buck bedding areas on both morning and evening hunts, and pays special attention to terrain features that allow him to hunt a wind that makes a buck feel comfortable, yet is just “right” enough for a stand setup that allows the hunter to remain undetected. Pushing the envelope by hunting close to a buck’s bed–particularly when the weather is warm and the buck moves only early or late–is the sign of someone who understands buck behavior and knows enough about proper entry/exit to pull off a successful hunt.
Always willing to dare to be different is mid-South reporter Will Brantley, who’s been enjoying good action on morning hunts. Evening-only hunting is standard procedure on early season hunts, but with afternoon temps pushing into the 90’s, Brantley went for the cooler morning hours. And while he admits to bumping some deer on the approach to his stands, Brantley still enjoys good activity. This confirms my belief that bumping deer in the morning dark is rarely as catastrophic as we fear; I believe that most whitetails hear a strange sound in the dark and spook on principle (before making a positive ID), then quickly resume normal activity. In my mind, this much better than crawling from a stand or blind after an evening hunt and busting a field of feeding deer that know exactly what they’re running from.
Finally, South reporter Eric Bruce shared one of the first and best field photos of the season, a picture of young Christopher Lambert, who tagged a dandy South Carolina 8-point while hunting with his dad. We celebrate everyone’s success here on Rut Reporters, but when a 10-year old is the one posing with a trophy, it’s particularly exciting. Many congrats to Christopher!