Whitetail Hunting photo

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.

The fickle weather seems to be settling into normal fall conditions in time for Idaho’s Oct. 10th deer season opener for rifle hunters and the last week of Montana’s archery hunt, which ends Sunday. But it’s not clear the whitetail bucks know it.

I watched a prime alfalfa bottomland feeding area in northeastern Washington from afternoon through dusk this week and watched does, fawns and spikes feeding casually in the open starting at about 3:00 p.m. No bigger bucks showed before dark, even though trail cams indicate they’re around. The deer are in the safe period between archery-muzzleloader seasons and the rifle season that opens Saturday, but nobody’s told them.

Western Montana bowhunter Ron Nail said cold and rain hadn’t immediately changed deer movements near his hunting stands. “Young bucks are still in small groups, sparring, and acting like kids,” he said. “The big boys are for the most part nocturnal. Does and fawns are still moving any time of the day; no sign of the bucks bothering them at all so far.”

Most of the die-hard Montana bowhunters are still trying, but with the clock ticking toward their season’s end, many archers are willing to settle for does to fill their B-tags if the opportunity arises, he said.

Rain hasn’t put a damper on hunting prospects for Jerry Shively of Flatiron Outfitters in western Montana. He expects bucks to be moving by the time he’s guiding hunters during the rifle deer season that opens Oct. 22.

Incidentally, I’ve heard a similar comment from many deer observers across Washington, Idaho and Montana in the past two months. Here it is in the words of north central Washington guide, Jason Verbeck: “The wet spring and the consecutive mild winters have really helped produce some amazing bucks with exceptionally good antler growth.”

Be careful out there.