Landers: Rut Kicking Off

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.

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Snow the past few days at higher elevations across much of the West, including Montana, is welcomed by whitetail hunters. Storms have been forcing some of those thin-air-loving bucks down to the still snow-free lowlands. This helps concentrate the action into a smaller zone for hunters to ply.

Cloud cover may help neutralize the effect of this week's full moon phase, which peaks on Thursday. Everyone reporting across the West says bucks are more active. We're looking for all the help we can get this week to encourage more action during daytime and less during the night.

Some hunters are reporting hot, active bucks chasing does, although I haven't heard that estrus is kicking in and letting those bucks accomplish much, yet. Other hunters say the buck activity was only lukewarm this past weekend.

"We are beginning to see some scrapes showing up, but not many bigger bucks are being taken so far," said Ron Nail in northwestern Montana. "In about another week that should change."

The biggest factor may not be the stage of the rut, but rather the dearth of deer, he said. Bad winters and wolves have taken a noticeable toll in his area.

However, the hunter above brought his deer season to a quick end Sunday by bagging a buck in Western Montana's Clark Fork River valley, where Flatiron Outfitters guides say the whitetail chase is on. "This buck stopped to curl his lip at the wrong time, at least for him," said guide Jerry Shively. "This one's neck is somewhat swollen but we saw another buck today that was really big--maybe he will be featured in tomorrow's e-mail."

Several other bucks were seen chasing does, but the does were not showing much interest in them, yet, Shively said.

Along Montana's Milk River region, Eric Albus of La Garita Outfitters said he's seeing signs of the rut kicking off. "Immature bucks are starting to sniff does and travel," he said. "Most mature bucks are still by themselves or with one other buck, but they are starting to posture and push each other around."

Albus is betting buck buddy-time will be over by mid week. "Then I expect to see a lot of rut activity, followed by a 'cooling' period of 3-5 days. Then look out; it will be on."

His observations of bucks picking up activity, then backing off before surging again may be playing out in some areas that reported significant sparring, lip curling and other pre-rut activity last week. The surge in your area could start tomorrow. You won't know unless you're out there.