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.
Overall Activity Status: All my contacts reported slow rut activity, but decent deer movement the past couple days. The long Indian Summer finally broke and gave way to cold nights and mild afternoons–classic weather for this time of year in this area.
“Deer have been moving, but by far most of the movement I’m seeing is in the mid-morning,” says Jimbo Robinson, one of my contacts in southwest Tennessee. “Honestly, I’d tell someone to sleep in and climb in the stand around 9:00 a.m. if they were hunting right now. Virtually every deer I’ve seen the past few days has been between 10:00 and 2:00.”
Fighting: No reports of fighting from me or any contacts this week.
Rub making: Rub making is holding steady. Jerimiah Waddell, my North Carolina contact, was still-hunting yesterday and noticed several fresh rubs in his neck of the woods.
Scrape making: Spotty. “You can tell some scrapes are still being checked, but many others have been full of leaves for weeks now,” Robinson says of the Tennessee woods. Chris Ryan with the West Virginia DNR had a similar report: “Scraping activity is very sporadic now. I’ve had cameras set up over scrapes, and though they are being hit every four or five days, the activity is infrequent,” he said.
Chasing: Even in southwest Tennessee, which is typically the latest peak-rut area in the region, things are slowing down. “I’m still seeing a few little bucks cruising, and occasionally you see a buck with a doe, but it has slowed down a lot in the past week or so,” Robinson says. In general, that’s the report across the region. Chasing has been slow here in Kentucky for a while. In West Virginia, Chris Ryan says the bucks are beginning to focus much more on the food.
Daytime movement: Daylight movement has been slow here in western Kentucky, but that happens every year just after gun season. Things will pick up before long, though, especially as colder weather sets in. I expect activity to increase around cut corn and remaining standing beans, especially, but winter wheat fields are also good late in the season. Baiting is legal in Kentucky, and many of the most successful late-season hunters I know see a lot of deer over corn piles in December.
“Does have really been on the move lately, and a lot of them have herded back up,” says Jerimiah Waddell in North Carolina. “They’re really hitting the fields–beans, cut corn, food plots–stuff like that.”
Estrous signs: No doubt there are a few does, young animals especially, that haven’t been bred yet, but for the most part, the breeding has come and gone.
X Factor: With gun seasons winding down across the region, there seems to be a general mood of “deer season’s over.” Thing is, it’s not. In Kentucky, a month and a half of bowhunting and muzzleloader hunting remains, and though I’ve never been much of a late-season hunter myself, I know folks who prefer this time of the year over the entire rest of the season.
As the temperatures plummet and food sources dwindle, deer become much more predictable–in fact, other than the cold and lack of foliage, the hunting can be a lot like early season hunting. And, a few does always come into estrus later in the season. Call it the second rut if you like.
Brandon Gavrock a game warden and buddy of mine in Central Tennessee, says that although the chasing has indeed slowed a great deal, he’s seen some big deer that have been shot in the past few days. “It always seems like there’s a period of time after the real peak of the rut that, although you might not see as many deer, the bigger bucks get on their feet, especially once it gets cold,” Gavrock says. “Right now, with this recent cold snap, the does are hitting the bean fields and corn fields, and a few big bucks are still cruising around and checking them out.”
Long and short, if you still have a deer tag, deer season’s not over. It’s just changing. Prepare for the weather and get out there.