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.


Nov. 21: Big bucks have given whitetail hunters a lot to talk about across the West the past few days, as the rut kicked into high gear.

“If you have the late rifle tag, go now,” Hal Meenach emailed Saturday, the last day of northeastern Washington’s late whitetail buck season. “Things are about as active as it gets. I saw a buck with a doe this morning with his head on the ground, tuckered out.”

Archers and muzzleloaders who have seasons starting Thanksgiving day should expect just-past-peak conditions, said the Eastern Washington farmer and wildlife habitat consultant.

In northwestern Montana, “The rut is full-steam ahead, but numbers at all check stations are way down, both for number of hunters and game taken,” said bowhunter Ron Nail in Kalispell. Indeed, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is reporting a below-par harvest in several areas, confirming earlier reports about the toll winters and disease have taken on deer. Predators are an issue in some areas, too.

“I still haven’t seen a really big buck in this area,” Nail said.

Heavy snowfall and cold temperatures leading into the weekend could have changed things for a lot of hunters as Montana heads toward the end of the rifle season this week. But hunters with Montana Whitetails in southwestern Montana river bottomlands didn’t have to wait.

“The bucks have cut loose big time,” outfitter Keith Miller said last week. “Our hunters are having bucks chasing does, charging into rattling and grunt calls and just plain cruising through the midday hours.

“Some of the biggest bucks are getting really aggressive and showing themselves during daylight. Actually, midday seems to be when the biggest bucks are being seen.”

Miller sent the photo of one of his hunters, above, who rattled a fine buck in to a decoy. “He shot it posturing at the decoy around 20 yards from the hay bale blind–his biggest buck ever,” Miller said.

“The stupid factor is now officially starting to come to a head,” said Jerry Shively of Flatiron Outfitters in Western Montana. “I witnessed my first doe getting her frustrations removed Thursday. I must have seen 40 does, but only one of them was receptive. Bucks are moving all day now, so if you can find any sort of concentration of does and can stick with them, an opportunity will present itself. Almost all the fawns I’ve seen recently were either alone or with other fawns, another sign that mama is out making their replacements.

“This is not a good time for a hunting guide to not have hunters out! There is always something either happening or about to happen this time of year.”