Reports from across the country all point to the same conclusion: The best part of the deer season may not be here yet, but it is very, very close. Rubs are popping up in new places, scrapes are increasing in size and number, and young bucks are appearing in daylight, responding to powerful urges they don’t yet understand.
As Mid-South reporter Will Brantley pointed out recently, there are hunters who intentionally stay out of the woods now, waiting for things to “get really good.” That’s is a big mistake. Your chances of seeing a mature buck on his feet may not be quite as good right now as they will be in a few days, but here’s the thing: Every buck is different. Just because the majority isn’t quite feeling it yet, doesn’t mean that one of the true monsters in your area—or any one buck you’d be proud to tag—isn’t up and at ’em just a little early.
Plus, I’ve been through enough ruts to know that no one plays out exactly like any other. Some progress very slowly, while others explode like a powder keg. Since we never know the character of the rut until it actually happens, it’s risky to assume that we have plenty of time to wait for the action to hit its apex.
Finally, I believe mature bucks are so darn good at finding those first estrous does that by the time we see what we call the “chase phase,” the best bucks in the area are already in lockdown. Younger bucks are running like nuts because they’ve smelled estrous in the air, while Mr. Big is settled in some brush pile with the actual source of that scent.
Okay, enough of my preaching and on to our weekly recap of the latest reports. South-Central reporter Brandon Ray noted that some bucks in his area make a big move for at least part of the breeding season. This observation is backed by science. Telemetry studies prove that bucks have different breeding strategies. Some visit and revisit areas of peak activity, called “focal points,” within their home range; some go on excursions that carry them far outside their normal homes; and some relocate to an entirely different area for a time. Ray brings up a fascinating aspect of the last strategy, pointing out that an individual buck may make this relocation at about the same time every fall (this has been proven by telemetry work, too). It seems crazy to be thinking about next fall when we’re just enjoying the best part of this one, but it does make sense to pay attention to individual deer and the unique ways they behave during in the rut. Those observations can pay huge dividends in the future.
Finally, several reports mentioned the importance (and fickle nature) of the weather right now. I mentioned the powder-keg nature of some ruts, and I should note that most of the ruts I’ve experienced like this were the result of a significant cold front or snowstorm that hit fairly early. The most memorable was the fall of 1991 (yup , dating myself here) when we had a Halloween blizzard that socked the Midwest with snow, ice, and bitter cold. The rut that followed was among the most chaotic I’ve ever witnessed.
Speaking of snow (as Northeast reporter Shea did), few things in my experience can kickstart a rut better. But Mike’s source in Maine noted one of the most valuable benefits of an early snow: There is no better scouting tool out there than fresh white stuff. Of course if you’re in a snow-covered stand and seeing deer, don’t you dare move. However, if you’re struggling to get on bucks, jump from that stand and speed scout your areas. The snow will reveal not only where deer are traveling, but also their relative size. The most successful deer hunters I know are the ones who act on the most recent information, and nothing can top a fresh snow for that.
Things are about to get very interesting in the deer woods, and I’m already looking forward to next week’s reports and photos!