Rut Signs Faint at Best, But Bucks Falling

Southeast Washington's Palouse region is rolling, mostly open country comprised of big grain farms and steep, brushy, partially treed draws. Whitetails and mule deer often share the same real estate here, and whitetail bucks sometimes dwarf their big-eared cousins, growing tall and fat on a steady diet of farm crops.

Nestled in in the Palouse's Touchet River Valley, Prescott is home to the Tuxedo Bar and not a whole lot else, but the river corridor and adjoining landscape are well known for upland bird and deer hunting. Mule deer are a bit more prolific here, but whitetails dominate in trophy potential.

Andrew Casey of Walla Walla first picked up a bow only two weeks before arrowing this horse of a whitetail through the lungs near Prescott on October 5th. Casper Taxidermy in Walla Walla scored the buck at 148, but what's perhaps equally noteworthy is the animal's body, which approached 300 pounds before field dressing.

On a tip from his friend, Edua Cheshire, also from Walla Walla, Casey started practicing with archery equipment and planned to hunt the muzzleloader season in early October with a bow, which is legal in Washington if one purchases a muzzleloader tag.

Cheshire, who is confined to a wheelchair, refuses accommodation in the disabled hunter program and instead pursues bucks with nondisabled hunters. Cheshire shoots a buck just about every season, according to Casey, and took a nice one this year. But he saw a much larger buck and had it patterned, the one that Casey eventually shot out of a treestand from 19 yards. Casey is a weightlifter, as is the friend who helped him drag the buck back to his truck, and despite their strength, the drag was a chore.

Although John Garner's October 13th Palouse whitetail buck wasn't as big as Casey's, the solo drag uphill out of the Tucannon River Canyon was more impressive. Garner, of Kennewick, shot the buck last week with his .30-06 from 125 yards on opening morning of rifle season near Starbuck. The nice mature four-point was with two smaller bucks, an indication whitetails on the Palouse are still living the bachelor life although a combination of high winds, cold temperatures, and hunters with high-powered rifles might change that soon. Garner reports no signs of rut activity at all in his hunting area.

Thanks to some frigid nights over the past few weeks, Northeast Wyoming's EHD outbreak is over, according to Wyoming Game and Fish Biologist, John Sandrini out of Newcastle. Those hard frosts I reported on almost two weeks ago appear to have killed the gnats, and the stream of dead-deer reports has slowed.

The results of that outbreak may not have been as devastating as previously rumored. With a little over half of pre-season deer surveys completed, Sandrini says only localized losses have been observed, confined exclusively to creeks and river drainages. He says no dead deer have been reported on national forest lands.

The positive effects of a mild winter have been essentially negated by the outbreaks, reports Sandrini. He says populations are still depressed from two previous rough winters, but buck numbers appear to be good. There was no need for reducing tags as a result of the EHD outbreak since tags had already been reduced to account for depressed populations. Seasons are just getting underway in Wyoming, which has been experiencing warmer-than-normal temperatures and extremely high winds over the last week. Bucks further west in Wyoming on the Wind River are already laying down some early scrapes, although Sandrini has seen no rutting behaviors during his surveys in northeastern Wyoming.

Temperatures have been in 90s in southeastern Colorado, along with high winds and gully washers. Hunters won't take to the field until October 27th, which will give the weather time to settle down and for farmers to harvest the remaining 50 percent of corn left standing. Jack Cassidy of Cassidy Outfitters reports that deer are much more visible now that the corn is being cut, but that mature bucks are laying low. He says southeastern Colorado whitetails are still a long way from showing any serious signs of rutting, but he nonetheless all but guarantees one of his first four hunters will knock down a 180-class whitetail in late October or very early November.

"Our deer won't rut until later in November," he says, "but with a mature buck for every three does, competition is fierce, and we see a lot of broken tines later in the season. The early season is actually a good time to hunt trophies without much worry about damaged racks."

Adding to potential pre-rut success for his hunters is the inundation of a previously dry reservoir from recent heavy rains.

"All of the cattails and brush that had grown up in the lakebed made for great hiding and escape cover," says Cassidy. "Now those deer have been pushed out of there and into the areas around the reservoir where we hunt."