The rut is breaking loose across the West. Not only are deer getting more active, so are big numbers of hunters who spent most of the fall fishing, watching sports, and hunting other western species. Where seasons allows, most western whitetail hunters focus solely on the middle of November. Many deer tag holders spent large portions of open seasons away from the whitetail woods this fall, but that’s changing, and so are the results from the field. Hunters are seeking bucks right now, and bucks are reportedly seeking does with purpose, all over.
Not only are more bucks being reported on their feet during daylight, but the annual reports of sheer-luck big bucks are starting to come in, a sure sign of the rut. I’ve confirmed a bunch of nice whitetails taken over the past several days from Montana, Idaho, and Washington–some by pure luck–and I’m on the trail of reports from Wyoming and Oregon. Colorado will open up again for whitetails at the end of the month for their late season.
Now is prime time for rattling and calling across the West with bucks actively seeking does across the landscape. Inclement weather historically triggers even more rut activity, and while I no longer put too much stock in October and November forecasting accuracy–at least this year–the cold weather ahead looks conducive to ideal rutting and hunting conditions in the Inland Northwest and the Northern Rockies.
Between now and December, I’ll receive more reports of whitetails down than I can share, and I look forward to more stories of tough hunts and hard-earned trophies. Out West, with vast tracts of roaded public lands and plenty of rural hunters on the landscape, a surprising number of whitetail bucks will fall to woodcutters, people coming home from work, and underdressed hunters avoiding torrential downpours by driving logging roads.
This story from Reid Moots of Troy, Montana, is not one of those tales featuring the challenge of the hunt. By his upfront admission, “it wasn’t a very exciting hunt, until I got the buck and saw how nice he was.” Moots lives in a small timber and mining town on the Kootenai River of Northwestern Montana, home to few people and lots of game. Although Moots hunt is as anti-climactic as a hunt ending in a 7-year-old 5×6 buck can be, it’s representative of the types of kills that get made with regularity out West during the madness of mid-November seeking behavior.
“For me NW Montana big game season started out good. I filled my cow elk tag outside of Thompson Falls Montana on opening day with a nice sized mature cow. The weather was a little on the warm side. After that we have had a wild mix of weather with some sun, rain and snowy weather, but it was rather mild weather for western Montana.”
“I took a few days off hunting but got back at it in the second week of November when the weather switched. The day started out with a couple inches of snow and my brother-in-law and I decided to check out the higher country where the snow would hopefully not turn to rain. We saw some mule deer does and a small forked horn on the way up there and decided to each walk a gated road for a couple hours. By the time we got back to the truck, it had started to rain pretty hard, so we decided to take a drive to dry off and warm up. We decided to go to an area outside of Thompson Falls that always looked good with a lot of open country. We saw a lot of deer moving on the way there. Seems that the rainy weather and the onset of the rut had them on their feet.”
“We climbed up into higher country and the road had snow on it, but with the rain on top, it was making driving a little dangerous, so I decided the next good turn around I was going to head back down and give it up for the day. Just as I got to where I was going to turn around I spotted this nice 5×6 whitetail buck standing there. I got to where I could shoot legally, and the buck decided he wasnt going to stick around, but I got a shot off and hit him in the lungs and he piled up after about 40 yards.”
“It wasn’t much of a hunt and wasn’t very exciting until I got the deer, but I have a nice blacktail and mule deer mount already, so decided this is going on my wall also. I brought it into John Hayes’ taxidermy shop in Libby Montana and he estimated this buck being between 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 years old. The deer was starting the rut with his neck being swollen.”
Say what you will about getting lucky, but I doubt I’ll see a track of a buck as nice as Moots’ when I take the field at the end of the month. In the meantime, I’ll just have to fret and pine over the whitetail woods until I get my shot on the backside of the rut. Take it from me, if you have a season and a tag in your pocket, you should be in the field every chance you get right now.
This is the witching hour for bucks under spells to walk right in front of you, bucks who haven’t knowingly shown themselves to humans in daylight for months, maybe years. Dress for the weather, take a stand or still hunt carefully, and give yourself the best odds of the year to bag a mature whitetail buck.