Rut Activity Steady, but Won't Last Much Longer

Overall Activity Status: The rut's still cranking in most of the Mid-South, but deer activity has slowed significantly on the fields the past few days, and that's often a sign of "lock down." My good hunting buddy Tim Daughrity shot the big buck in the photo Saturday morning near Murray, Kentucky. Tim began the morning in a ground blind on the edge of a picked cornfield, but decided to change his strategy after sitting 45 minutes without seeing a deer. "It just didn't seem to be happening in the fields," he said, "so I took my climber and eased into the woods near a thicket. I wasn't up there any time before the first doe came through."

Another doe walked through a short time later. Tim expected a buck to be following somewhere behind the does, and before long, footsteps in the leaves and a glimpse of antler through the thicket confirmed his hunch. Tim wasted no time filling his Kentucky buck tag.

Fighting: Quite a few of the trophy photos I'm seeing on Facebook and hunting forums are of bucks with broken tines and main beams. This time of year, especially in an area with a fairly even buck-to-doe ratio, it can be difficult to find a mature whitetail without some antler damage. Those antlers are there for fighting, after all.

Rub making: Holding strong.

Scrape making: I noticed a few big, fresh scrapes in the woods yesterday afternoon.

Chasing: I sat in a stand waiting on a doe yesterday evening. Deer activity was slow until just before dark, when the hardwood ridge 70 yards from my stand erupted in chasing and grunting. All I can say for sure is a buck was chasing a doe; it was too dark to see much else.

Matt Knox, deer program coordinator for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, worked a check station over the weekend, and he said hunters were still seeing bucks chasing does. "We've had two good weeks of rut activity here, but if history holds true, it'll be about over by the end of the week in Virginia," Knox said.

Daytime movement: As mentioned, field activity has declined in the daylight around here. Lock-down may be a part of that, but hunting pressure is a huge factor as well. Gun seasons have been open for weeks across the Mid-South, and when rifles are popping, deer learn to avoid open areas pretty quick.

Estrous signs: A good portion of the does have no doubt been bred by this point in the season, but we aren't quite to the post-rut yet in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. Down in West Tennessee, things are just getting started. Evin Stanford, a deer biologist in North Carolina, says the rut is over in the eastern half of the state, but the peak breeding in the mountainous northwestern counties is usually around the first of December.

X Factor: It's warm right now, but be on the lookout for the next severe cold front. As the rut wanes, deer will be recuperating and looking for food. Cold weather will often get them on their feet in the daylight looking for high-calorie food sources, and bucks will still be on the lookout for some late estrous does. The edges of corn, bean, and brassica fields could be a good bet as soon as cold weather gets here.