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.

Oct. 18: Western Whitetail bucks are starting to shift gears, although they seem to be grinding a bit in the transition from low to second.

On Saturday, opening day of Eastern Washington’s rifle deer seasons, Jim Ebel of Colville encountered his first scrapes of the year. “Three fresh scrapes all on the same scrape line,” he said with a genuine air of optimism. “Seems to me that’s about a week or so earlier than I’ve ever noticed. Saw two bucks both alone. A 2 1/2-year-old appeared to be cruising for does.”

Montana deer have a break, and hunters can set aside their guns and bows to observe during this gap between seasons. Archery is closed; rifle deer season opens on Saturday.

“I am not seeing very many signs of rubbing or scrape making yet, but a couple of my fence post rubs are showing a few new shavings,” said Jerry Shively of Flatiron Outfitters in western Montana. “Does, fawns and younger bucks are still feeding at all hours of the day. The bigger bucks are showing up just at or after dark and long gone by the time its daylight. What sparring I have seen is getting a bit more aggressive especially with the 3-year-old bucks.”

Things are looking up even on Montana’s Milk River region, where Eric Albus of Milk River Outfitters warns that the winter kill and EHD outbreak has left hunters with 90 percent fewer deer than last year. “Few whitetails are showing up here on the Milk,” he said. “Starting to see some immature bucks posturing and traveling, checking does.”

But like any true hunter, human or wild, he’s ranging wider to find his quarry.

“On a positive note, just finished up an antelope hunt at the Powder River, went 4 for 4 on nice bucks, and saw several good whitetail bucks there and a handful of trophy mule deer, including two 30″ bucks and several that will score 170-190.”

Real hunters travel farther, put in more time and work around disasters to salvage a season.