Brantley: Lessons from the 2011 Deer Season

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.

__

With only a few weeks of deer season left in most of the Mid-South, it's a good time to look back on this year's hunting and take a few notes. Late last summer, I read and listened to several experts who predicted, given cold weather, that we'd have one of the best ruts in a long time, mainly because of the full moon on the 10th of November. Unfortunately, it was warm, windy, and raining for most of that month, and many hunters reported slower activity this year than last. Count me among them.

Among a few other personal notes….

This year's rut was later than last. Chris Ryan, who works for the West Virginia DNR, predicted that right out of the gate, as reported in one of my October posts. Last year's record mast crop had the does fat and extremely healthy--and Ryan says that triggered an earlier rut. This year wasn't a mast failure, but it was way down from last year. Where I was seeing bucks dogging does with abandon on Halloween of 2010, I didn't see comparable activity until a week or so later this year.

When acorns did fall, deer were on them. Typically, my slowest hunting of the season, even though I'm mainly targeting does at the time, is early to mid-October. It was slow this year, too, but better than in years past. The mast crop was spotty, and that concentrated deer around the few trees that were dropping. Even black oaks--normally ignored in a good mast year--were hit hard this season.

Focus on saddles. One big weakness I have as a deer hunter is I like to see lots of deer--and sometimes I can't make myself back off the field edges. But this year, I pulled back into the saddles and pinch points off the fields. I didn't see as many deer--but I killed more of them, including my buck, shown here, and a fat doe on public land.

Even though I already mentioned the rut seemed later overall this season, some of the best chases we watched all season were after Thanksgiving--typically well into the post-rut in western Kentucky. My father-in-law shot a nice 8-pointer the Friday of that long turkey day weekend, and Michelle and I saw our biggest buck of the year chasing a doe in broad daylight the first weekend of December. Next year, I'll take the late rut a little more seriously than I have in years past.