Overall Activity Status: Movement is very good in most of the South. The weather has remained cool with some frosty mornings and only occasional warm afternoons. The rut in Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia, and some of Louisiana is raging right now, so deer are deer up and moving.
Fighting: In states where the rut is on, some fighting will occur between bucks that are after the same estrous doe. In the pre-rut states, they will bang heads over territory. In both cases, some rattling is likely to lure in a buck.
Rub making: Rub making is increasing in the pre-rut states of Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. With the rut in the near future, bucks are actively rubbing and preparing for action. In Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana, there is less rubbing because bucks are doing more seeking, chasing, and breeding. Most rubs I have seen have been old. I did see one rub that appeared fresh at Cedar Creek Wildlife Management Area in central Georgia, but the majority look weeks or months old.
Trevor Fitzgerald of Southern Arrowhead Outfitters in Florida is starting to see more rubbing. “Our bucks are still grouped up and feeding on acorns and our food plots real heavy. We are seeing more rubs than we did a month ago, though.”
Scrape making: Most scrapes I’m seeing in Georgia have leaves in them. This is likely because most bucks are out looking for does, or are with does, and not spending much time leaving sign. Another reason is that leaves are falling from the trees in abundance. A scrape can be full of leaves in a few hours or whenever it is windy. If you find a scrape with no leaves, it likely is very fresh. Like rubs, scraping is increasing in Alabama and Mississippi.
Chasing: Most hunters in Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Louisiana have seen some chasing in the last few weeks.
Daytime movement: Frosty mornings make for hot deer activity. The South is seeing regular cool mornings, which stimulate whitetails to move and feed or look for action. Even mature bucks are active and looking for does or have already found one.
Estrous signs: Reports abound of hunters seeing estrous does and hot buck action. Twenty-year-old Austin Baxter hunted Arkansas’ White River Refuge last weekend with his father and had the hunt of a lifetime, bagging a 170-class nine-pointer shown above.
They scouted an area that they had hunted before and saw more buck sign than usual. Their spot was a long strip between a lake and river that was an ideal pinch point. They moved into their spots early that morning and got ready for some action. Austin describes the hunt:
“Within 20 minutes of legal shooting hours I became aware of a heavy animal moving towards me near the lake’s edge. A large black bear was headed right at me! After the initial rush, I watched the beautiful bear until he finally caught my scent ten yards to my right. Without so much as a hint of alarm, the bear simply looked at me, grunted, then turned around and walked right back where he came from. At 6:50 a.m., barely fifteen minutes after my visit from the bear, I sighted two does coming toward me at a heavy trot from almost exactly where the bear had come from.”
“I had just enough time to spot antlers behind the pair before they were on top of me. The three galloped by 15 yards in front of me, completely oblivious to my existence. Just as they passed I readied my rifle and slowly stood at the same time. It became completely obvious that the buck was running the more mature of the two does. After passing he stopped 30 yards to my left, with several small trees obstructing any clean shot. The next 10 or 15 seconds seemed to drag on for hours as I fought back heavy breathing and the urge to rush into an unclean shot. I have never felt more helpless in my life watching the buck of a life time through my scope, broadside, full view of the antlers, and yet absolutely no responsible clean shot.”
“Finally he turned and eased into a steady trot back the way he came from. “Furiously trying to keep my composure, I eased into a steady leading bead and squeezed off. The buck lurched and bounded away at a quartering angle. After 75 yards, he wavered and fell. It was only then that I realized just how violently I was shaking. Seconds later I heard my dad shoot what I would later find out to be one of the does that had ran through the narrow upon my shooting. From out of nowhere,laughter uncontrollably billowed from me the moment I picked up his rack.”
“As soon as I saw him, my father grabbed me and hugged me in a way that he has not done since I was 4 or 5 going out on my first turkey hunt with him. Upon arrival at an AGFC check station, the deer weighed in at 236 pounds field-dressed. The deer was gross scored by a warden at 165+ as a typical 8 and around 170 as a non-typical 9. But we were not the only ones with good luck, many other hunters had good bucks and many reported them to have been running does at the time they had shot them.”