Will We See An Early Rut In Wyoming?

An exciting report from the foothills of Wyoming's Wind River range indicates wild storms and weather typical of November has stirred up deer activity, including clear signs bucks are moving into the pre-rut. Mike Rinehart of Wind River Whitetails offers a report that I'll first preface with his description of the Wind River Valley.

"Our ranches are in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains where they intersect with the farmlands of Fremont County. The Wind River flows through both of our ranches and the river bottom is loaded with heavy thickets of large cottonwoods, willows, and lush vegetation that intermingle with some of the best agriculture lands of alfalfa, corn, and soybeans in Wyoming and the Rockies. Riverton, Wyoming, the closest town, is 5300' in elevation. Fremont County is the largest county in the state and is the largest producer of alfalfa hay. The hay is mostly exported to the southern states and is sought after by horse breeders due to its high protein and no blister bugs etc., which is why I believe we are harvesting bucks that are 250 to 275 pounds. The surrounding landscape has whitetail, mule deer, bears, moose, elk, beaver, mink, mountain lions, bobcats, foxes, pheasants, coyotes and unbelievable waterfowl."

This big four-point on a recent game camera shot illustrates Rinehart's theory. The buck is only a four-point by western count, but its serious body mass stands out. The biggest whitetail I ever saw alive was in far western Wyoming south of Cody. I saw it feeding midday during September and couldn't believe my eyes. The rack was huge, but the body looked like someone had strapped antlers to a young horse. Rinehart's observation about the quality of forage is supported by big animals and lots of them. Still, when he told me yesterday that he expects to start seeing scapes pretty soon based on the action he's seeing, I had to ask the question: Isn't it a little early?

"It might be too early, but bear in mind the past three weeks we have had November weather in late September and early October. We have had a total of 18 inches of snow, freezing rain, and temperatures in the teens. A big part of what drives rut here is weather, and I believe we are going to have an early rut in this part of Wyoming. I have seen rut as early as November 5th and as late as December 7th. I might be wrong, but based on the behavior I have been seeing the past few days, it would not surprise me to start seeing scrapes.

"Two days ago, I watched two mature bucks behind my house in what started out as a tingling of horns and ended up in an all-out war. That is way too early to see that kind of fighting, but something is kick starting them early, and it has to be the weather. This morning at 9:30 am, I watched three bucks, two mature and one young, one come out on the edge of the river about a ½ mile below our house. They stayed single file and walked the edge of the river bank all the way past my house heading up river. Normally, I call these bucks cruisers, and this kind of activity I don't normally see until pre-rut. If I were a mountain man in the early 1800's and didn't have or know what a calendar was, I would swear its November, not early October. With the cold weather, we are seeing a lot more daytime activity and longer feeding hours. I have seen a lot of deer at midday still on the alfalfa fields, and in some cases they are bedded down in the feed fields, which just ain't supposed to be. The first ten days of November last year we were hunting in T-shirts but I don't think that is going to happen this year.

This picture leaves something to be desired in terms of focus, but snow, hard-frozen ground, and 23-degree temps illustrate why deer activity has spiked in the Wind River Valley.

"The does are still being does and I have not seen any unusual behavior from them. The only thing that has changed with them is daylight activity is up three fold from 3 weeks ago.

"The bucks are still in groups so when you see one you will see 3 or 4. The big difference is the posturing is starting to take place and you can see the attitude and pecking order falling in place. The 18-month-old bucks are rushing does but they are probably clueless as to why they are doing that. Rubs galore but still have not found my first 2013 scrape."

It looks like things are getting very interesting Wyoming and very soon elsewhere. The pre-rut appears to be getting underway out West.