Rut Reporter Rich Landers, a native Montanan and life-long hunter, is the outdoors editor for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane. He has written several books about the western outdoors and has hunted whitetails all his life. States covered: WA, OR, ID, MT, WY, CO.

Western whitetail enthusiasts are beginning to see a glimmer of light in the tunnel toward the rut. The 75 to 80 degree days that were keeping the bucks subdued and “friendly” have subsided.

I’m not seeing any rubs in eastern Montana, except the lingering signs of last month’s velvet removal on the brush, and neither is Jerry Shively of Flatiron Outfitters in western Montana, where recent rain prompted a green-up that kept the feed patterns about the same.

“Most of the fawns have now lost their spots and the older deer, both bucks and does, are considerably darker now,” he said. “I expect to see some more serious sparring,” he added, referring to the cooler weather moving into the region.

But not far away, near Lincoln, Montana, the keen eye of wildlife photographer Jaime Johnson caught a glimpse of two nice bucks locking antlers and sizing up their abilities this week. “I was quite surprised by how violent this spar was,” he said. “Lots of heavy breathing and finally one buck actually being rolled on the ground.”

The advancing calendar and cool, wet weather that moved into eastern Washington this week clearly has been a game changer. “The deer went from being in bachelor groups to separating, sparring, and I have even seen quite a few 2- and 3-year old bucks running does like it is the rut,” said hunting guide Jason Verbeck in north central Washington. “All the bucks over the age of 3 have switched to being completely nocturnal throughout the days and will most likely remain that way until the rut.

“Almost every big buck I saw last week was passing my trail cams around 10 p.m. and going back to their beds between 3 and 4 a.m.”

The rifle season for hunting deer is still a week off in eastern Washington. The bucks might start moving a little more through the day if the cool weather holds, but Verbeck isn’t getting too excited, yet.

“It’s still a little early,” he said.