While it’s not exactly time to start hunting the rut, there are storm clouds on the horizon.
If the weather cooperates, this weekend could provide some very interesting whitetail hunting. I said “interesting,” mind you, not “exciting.” Exciting will come next week and the weekend after that.
This week across most of whitetail country was relatively quiet; the calm before the storm, so to speak. Ninety percent of the field reports we received confirmed this. Deer sightings were down as the need to feed (at least among bucks) subsided. Does and fawns were still on the feed but were shifting food sources, and hunting pressure has taken its toll on sightings. More than one of our reporters referenced the infamous “October lull” while wondering where all the deer are.
On Stand Observations
That said, most of our whitetail watchers noticed an uptick in buck activity and a definite change in buck behaviors, especially toward the end of the week. Younger bucks are moving about and starting all the usual pre–rut activities. They are making scrapes, lip curling, licking branches, and anything else their testosterone overload tells them to do. They are also doing a lot of posturing and pushing each other around (especially young bucks).
Trouble is, as of yet, very few does have any interest in them. One of the reasons some does are not being seen out in the open feeding is young bucks are harassing them when they go to feed. Eventually, open feeding areas will be wiped clean of does and the bucks will drift on to another doe gathering place. The older aged bucks are still biding their time and we are seeing very few of them during daylight hours.
The does are still “on the feed” with little sign of interest in suitors. This will more than likely continue for another week or two until things really break open. That said, we did receive a report or two of some pretty intense rut behavior this past week with older aged bucks chasing does. These reports however, should be viewed as outliers, because for every one we receive describing does in heat, we receive 50 stating the opposite.
This week we began to see our doe to buck ratios (on camera and on stands) shift to an almost equal mix of antlered bucks to does. This is a significant change from a few weeks back when the mix significantly favored does over bucks. This is a pretty good sign that the bucks are up and about, getting their pictures taken, and walking past deer stands. The older bucks on our property are not moving much, but we expect to start picking up night time pics of them sometime in the next few days to a week. They will start moving during the day a few days after they start to move aggressively at night. The ratio of older aged bucks to younger bucks will improve in the next few weeks and new bucks will start showing up where they have never been before.
Most parts of whitetail country are looking at a pretty wet and nasty weekend. Our guess is that once the fronts move through and the weather clears, the deer will move. This of course, depends on temperature, the colder the better. Mature bucks don’t do much moving in temps of 50° and above. Especially with uncooperative does.
How to Hunt
As far as a hunt strategy, hunt the does, wherever they may be. Bucks will be moving from one doe area to another but this week you will do well to hunt ridges and funnels between doe feeding and socializing areas. The bucks will be visiting the does but chances are, they will not stay long if there are no interested does to be had. I watched a food plot this week that was visited by five different bucks for 10-15 minutes. They would leave and be back again 45 minutes or so later. It was not a good night to sit in the field (like I did) but a very good night to sit 50 yards back from the field on a commonly used crossing (that’s tonight’s plan).
Rather than camping out on a food plot, apple orchard or field, a good bet will be to camp out between two areas where does are likely to be hanging out or back off a known feeding area 50 yards or so and catch a buck as he swings back through the doe area.