Brantley: Chase Phase Just Around the Corner

Rut Reporter Will Brantley of Murray, Kentucky, knows the region well. He spends 40 to 50 days each season in the Mid-South whitetail woods. Brantley shot his first deer at age 10 with a sidelock muzzleloader. States covered: KY, TN, WV, VA, NC.

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Overall Activity Status: Deer activity has been on the upswing throughout the Mid-South the past week, and daylight sightings of bucks are on the rise. A big cold front pushed through late last week, and the weather has been pleasant and seasonal since. My buddy Tim Daughrity called yesterday evening and reported seeing half a dozen different bucks cruising field edges while on his way home in northwestern Tennessee.

Jimbo Robinson, a friend and contact in southwest Tennessee, reported that after several days of agonizingly slow movement, deer finally seem to be back on their feet this week. "It's nothing for me to see 30 or more deer when hunting my place in Haywood County, but I went five trips in a row last week without seeing a deer," he said. "No does, no little bucks--nothing. But after that cold front came through, things have picked up."
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Fighting:** Now is a great time to rattle because bucks are fighting. Tim sent over a few trail camera pictures Sunday and noted that small bucks, like the two in the photo, have been squaring off and fighting in front of his camera on a regular basis. Chris Ryan, who works for the West Virginia DNR, says that although he hasn't been in the woods himself for several days, he's heard reports of bucks fighting from numerous other hunters.

Rub making: Rubs are everywhere--pretty typical for this time of year. Even in southwest Tennessee, where the rut typically doesn't peak until the end of November or first of December, Jimbo Robinson says rubs can be found just about everywhere.

Scrape making: For whatever reason, scraping activity seems lighter and somewhat delayed this year, at least in my areas, as compared to years past. By this time last year, I'd gotten numerous trail camera photos over active scrapes. Though I've seen plenty of small scrapes, I've yet to find one active enough for hanging a camera. My contacts are all finding scrapes, but none of them have mentioned any especially heavy activity.

Chasing: Internet chatter has been busy with talk of small bucks nosing does around in fields for the past few days, but I think we're still five or six days away from serious chasing.
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Daytime movement:** Matt Knox, deer project coordinator in Virginia, said a co-worker e-mailed him from the woods this week and said, "The last seven deer I've seen have been antlered bucks."

Indeed, judging by casual reports and first-hand observation from the woods, bucks, especially the little guys, are on their feet right now. Food sources continue to change, and that's affected the doe movement in several of my hunting spots. The acorns are largely cleaned up, and harvested soybean fields are now sprouting their winter wheat cover crop--which in essence turns them into giant food plots. And finally, the food plots we worked so hard on late this summer are green, lush, and full of deer tracks. I'm hoping for a big push in doe activity around that stuff over the next few days.

X Factor: Any uptick in doe activity around the fields will captivate my attention over the next two weeks. This time of year, when I find a spot where I'm seeing does, I like to stay put. It's only a matter of time before the first one comes into estrous, and when that happens, bucks will find her. If you're seeing deer right now, even if it's just does, you're on the right track. But if you're not seeing anything, move. The upcoming days are too precious to waste in a gar-hole.

"Now is not a good time to keep hunting the same spot over and over if you're not seeing deer," says Chris Ryan in West Virginia. "Move around, find the doe activity, and be ready. Things are going to pick up big-time over the next two weeks."