Overall Activity Status:** It’s still hot out West, and we’re still a few summer barbeques away from autumn, but days are growing shorter and nights are slightly cooler as we move into September. Deer are visible mostly in the early mornings and late evenings as they continue their summer feeding patterns. At higher elevations in Montana and Wyoming, where nighttime temperatures have been dipping below 40 regularly, deer are beginning to be visible a little later into the morning and a little earlier in the evening.
In Washington’s Okanogan Country, a stronghold of the state’s mule deer herd but also home to some very large whitetails, guide Jerrod Gibbons of Okanogan Valley Guide Service started patterning whitetails with game cameras and mineral blocks this week after incidental sightings over Labor Day of some possible 150-170-class bucks in velvet. Most of Gibbons’ deer hunting clients come in search of mulies, but he has noticed a steady increase in whitetail hunters over the past few years, an increase that has drawn his attention.
Those bucks Gibbons is trying to pattern had better watch out for arrows being slung as early archery seasons open in Washington and around the West, but game statistics in Washington and elsewhere reflect more reason for bucks to be wary as the autumn progresses. In the Okanogan as elsewhere, game managers reveal higher harvest rates as rutting activity increases. However, whitetail hunters in September at least have the advantage of unpressured bucks, and most who harvest deer will do so as the animals move between bedding and feeding areas.
Rob Clavie works for Montana Whitetails north of Livingston, Montana, where deer populations are booming despite some struggling herds elsewhere in Montana. Clavie reports that about half of their whitetails still have velvet, while the roughly half that do not are still in their summer feeding habits and bachelor groups. Clavie reports that these freshly shed bucks are beginning to spar with each other, as sure a sign of the season’s progression as an upcoming first weekend of NFL Football. Montana Whitetails’ hunters have already taken two bucks in the 120 class so far in the infant Montana archery season, and Clavie says they are seeing lots of shooter bucks that will become easier to target as temperatures drop and days shorten.
Fighting: Bucks that have shed their velvet can be seen sparring with the same bachelor groups with which they spent the summer. This gentle sparring will increase as more bucks scrape off their velvet in the coming days/weeks.
Rub Making: None
Scrape Making: None
Chasing: Deer are still in summer patterns, and chasing is minimal and not related to the breeding cycle. Fawns are chasing fawns, bucks are chasing bucks (in play), and does are chasing coyotes.
Daytime Movement: As temperatures drop around the West, deer are becoming increasingly visible later in the morning and earlier in the evening.
Estrous Signs: None
X Factor: While drought grips much of the nation and is negatively affecting humans and deer alike in some areas, Western whitetails appear to be doing very well, perhaps because of the ready availability of water in the river bottoms and irrigated croplands they prefer. It is yet unclear how the ongoing drought might affect whitetails as they move closer to the rut, but, for now, populations are mostly strong, and antler growth seems very good.
The river bottoms, farmlands, and woods of the West are home to some big-bodied trophy whitetails, and Jeff Holmes knows them well. A university faculty member and a lifelong whitetail hunter, Holmes is lead contributing writer for Northwest Sportsman Magazine and writes for many other outdoor publications. States covered: WA, OR, ID, MT, WY, CO.