Whitetail Hunting photo

No, Montana’s moose aren’t hybridizing with whitetails, but this buck’s heavily palmated rack trumps those of several small bull moose I saw this summer. With an inside spread of only 13 inches, the buck’s typical rack scores 170.

The 275-pound deer was taken on public ground adjoining private land comprised of big tracts of CRP and grain fields during the season’s first snowstorm during the last week of October. Conrad, Montana’s, Bill McKinley happened to get very lucky in this case while scouting this buck during season for some lady friends.

“They’d been down in there hunting him, but no luck,” said McKinley, who had watched this buck on game cameras and in person for four years.

He’s a hardcore whitetail hunter with an impressive scouting regimen that begins July 1st and continues throughout the season. His family farms where he hunts, so he’s able to spend a lot of time in the field, checking his game cameras “20 times a year, combined with 30 to 40 scouting days. Then I hunt every day of the three-week rifle season and most days during archery,” says McKinley.

“I was watching from a distance, trying to spot this buck in an area where he moves between his bed and feeding areas.After a while of no luck, I started to walk back to the truck, and it just so happens this buck was taking a different route, and I had him at 122 yards. I thought about not shooting him, but just couldn’t pass him up.”

McKinley says he shot a 195-class buck several years ago in the same area. That’s remarkable for Montana, where the bucks grow big bodies but not always huge racks. “Anything over 150 most places in Montana is a really good deer,” says Shawn Dawson of Great Falls’ Timberland Taxidermy.

Hunters during the general season in most of Montana don’t have the advantage of pursuing whitetails during the peak of their rut, which McKinley believes protects bucks and improves the age structure. He says there was no sign of rutting when he took this big palmated buck, but that the rut is on.

“They’re starting to rut pretty good now. Yesterday [November 6th] my uncle and I were down by the river and saw quite a few bucks chasing around does and quite a few scrapes.”

McKinley notes that much of Montana is very open, including his hunting area, which improves chances on bucks before the rut, and during its earlier stages, like right now.

Overall Activity Status: Rut signs are increasing steadily, with some areas exhibiting more intense rutting activity than others. Whitetails in the northwest seem to be a bit behind their more eastern counterparts, but overall the rut is ramping up everywhere.

Fighting: I reported last time about seeing a picture of two trophy bucks fighting in Montana (couldn’t get the photographer’s permission), and now I’ve heard reports of broken tines elsewhere in the state, including on bucks near Dillon and Bozeman. Bucks in Colorado are deep in combat already. I don’t have reports of broken tines or other fighting observations from the other western states, but that doesn’t mean that bucks aren’t getting started or that they won’t very soon.

Rub Making: Rubs continue to be observed in all six states, but, more notably, scrape making is increasing dramatically.

Scrape Making: Scrapes have been reported in Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Wyoming. Bucks are probably laying down scrapes in Oregon, too, just no reports–yet. Hunters ambushing scrape lines should start knocking down lots of bucks.

Chasing: Finally, some serious and entirely appropriate sexual harassment is taking place out West. Bucks are beginning to chase does in plain view during daylight hours. There’s no indication chasing is at or close to a peak in most states, except for Colorado and maybe places in Montana
Estrous Signs:** Reports so far have been about pesky bucks badgering does with no signs of receptivity.

X Factor: Hunters are beginning to switch to tactics suited for the rut, including using scent attractants, rattling antlers, grunting, hunting scrape lines, and locating does and staying close to them. With bucks increasingly likely to be out moving during daylight hours, hunter who pay attention to sign and the wind and who spend lots of time in the field will improve their odds dramatically as bucks get dumb.