With about a week before bucks start seriously seeking out that first hot doe (in most of the country), the whitetail woods are in a serious state of flux. It can be a confusing period for hunters, as buck sign increases by the day, but actually seeing the buck(s) that left that spoor isn’t always easy. That was a dominant them in the reports filed last week.

One of the reasons for this shakeup was pointed out by Northeast reporter Mike Shea, who noted that the annual corn harvest was progressing at a rapid rate. It’s been a boon year for the harvest across much of the country, and the disappearance—of corn especially—literally changes the landscape in farm country. Whitetails used to living in or near standing corn are now forced to relocate to other habitats for cover. By the same token, harvested cornfields are highly attractive to deer that can now pick grain from the ground (which they highly prefer to ripping cobs off of stalks). They’re also sucked in by the rich scent of chopped stalks.

I compare this phase to shaking a can of marbles. Deer just start bouncing around the landscape; some faraway bucks getting sucked into the area of harvested corn, while others move slightly away because their preferred bedding area is now dramatically altered. Then a new field gets picked, and it starts all over again. It can take some scouting, long-range observation, and stand time to figure out how deer are adapting to these huge changes.

Another interesting environmental change was pointed out by Great Plains reporter Dave Draper, who noted the arid conditions existing in his region. While rains have been pretty merciless in the East, the Midwest and Plains are at the other extreme, and savvy hunters are going to exploit the dry conditions. Whitetails are always attracted to water, but in a dry fall that attraction turns to need. If you have ponds or creeks on your hunting areas, they’re going to be a huge draw in the weeks ahead. I dug in a 100-gallon artificial pond on one of my farms a few weeks back, and was shocked to find it nearly empty the other day. With no rain in the forecast, I’ll be hauling water there this week. Scrapes and rubs—nearly nonexistent when I installed the pond—have now popped up in the immediate area.

We’re on the brink of some really exciting hunting right now, and I’m looking forward to scouting and fine-tuning stand sites in the days ahead. I’ve received several reports here in the Midwest of nice bucks already harassing does, so my plans include lots of midday speed scouting, followed by hang-and-hunt expeditions to figure out where the best doe concentrations are. As most of our reporters have pointed out, fresh scrapes and rubs are popping up by the day, and most of these will be focused in areas of good doe activity. Keep searching for these spots, and you should enjoy some terrific hunting.