Several contacts are still in the field in search of big bucks, like North Idaho’s Troy Pottenger of Nextbuk Outdoors, who’s after this wide-racked mountain whitetail along with a couple others that survived general deer season. I’ll have his reports from the Inland Northwest as well as plenty more action from Colorado and Montana later this week.


Bitter cold and winter conditions are settling in on much of the West right now, and hunters are braving the elements in search of some of the biggest bucks of the season. The year’s best trophies are taken every year on the backside of the rut.

After a typical western rut peak of November 20 or so, the last week and half of November continued to produce solid reports of wide-open rut activity. Conditions were perfect across much of the West, and western game managers in Washington and Idaho are already crowing about very good hunter success during ideal hunting conditions brought on by colder and shorter days.

I just came out of the field after a several-day hunt on prime river bottom in Washington’s Palouse. Score? Whitetails 1, Holmes 0. I passed up several quality muzzleloader shots at fat does in hopes of a shot at one of several big bucks in the area still tending does over the Thanksgiving weekend.

I saw bucks out in the open on wheat-stubbled hilltops, but no buck sign in the deer nirvana of timbered draws and buckbrush along the Palouse River, except for old scrapes. Why? When pressure descends on heavy cover on a broad western landscape, deer sometimes move to where you least expect them to be: out on the open. I saw one large buck watching does in a farmhouse yard, surrounded by wheatfields for at least a half mile in every direction. I saw a mature 5×6 from several hundred yards away, atop a Palouse dune in an immense wheat field, shepherding five does.

In a game management unit where wildlife managers declare open season on antlerless whitetails, getting close to open-country bucks in the company of rattled does on a highly private landscape is a chore. Still, I’ll probably go back next year. For the rest of the season, I’ll try to ambush a blacktail buck to add another species, and I’ll hunt down whitetail reports.

The end of November has been very kind to Keith Miller’s hunters at Montana Whitetails. He still has hunters in the field and will offer a report soon, just as severe arctic cold improves scenting conditions and forces deer to feed more actively. According to Miller, however, activity has been very steady, and his hunters are all getting opportunities at mature deer.