How to Hunt Whitetails This Weekend: The Rut Isn’t On Yet
While it’s tempting to get all wrapped up in “rut speak” this week, it is still about hunting fall food...
While it’s tempting to get all wrapped up in “rut speak” this week, it is still about hunting fall food sources this weekend. The does are still filling their bellies and where there are does, there will be bucks.
On Stand Observations
We are seeing some definite behavior changes in bucks this week. Nothing that tells us the rut is right around the corner but changes none the less. The bucks we have been watching are much less food oriented than they were a few weeks ago. The bucks-only social groups are breaking up and they are starting to do a lot of posturing for the ladies. Last night I watched a buck hanging out on 5-acre a food plot and brushy cover complex. In the course of an hour he walked all over the area looked hard at does (no he didn’t chase them) made 3 or 4 scrapes and worked any number of licking branches and lip curled every time he got down wind of a doe. He chomped down some pears and apples and a little bit of clover, but basically he wasn’t in the mood for food. His testosterone was ramping up and didn’t know what to do about it. A week ago I watched him and he fed most of the time. The bucks are getting “bucky” but are a long way from being crazy with the rut.
We have received a number of reports of mature bucks starting to show up during daylight hours and dominant bucks walking younger bucks out of doe feeding areas. The bucks are definitely beginning to fire up and stake out their territories. Don’t start calling in to work sick just yet, but maybe start packing the pickup for a quick getaway in a few weeks.
Younger bucks are starting to bother does and the does are starting to shy away from them. The older guys are still biding their time. Young bucks are aimlessly walking about eating a little here and there. They are walking in and out of plots and sparring with other young bucks whenever they get the chance. This is all testosterone-driven behavior as we are seeing no evidence of estrus does.
As those of you who have read our book are aware, we attach great importance to doe/fawn behavior when tracking the rut. Does and fawns are food driven 99.9% of the time and when that changes and we start seeing isolated does and fawns or a marked shift in feeding behavior, you know something us up. The doe/fawn groups we have been watching are still inseparable, and plenty interested in food. In fact, food is all does and their fawns are interested in. We are seeing them on every type of deer food imaginable.
This morning I watched a group of 3 does and 2 fawns work natural brushy vegetation and for a good hour. They ate forbs from the ground and berries from the bushes. They browsed brush tips and ate fallen leaves from the ground and hanging limbs. It was a good reminder that whitetails cannot subsist on clover and other planted forages alone; in fact, they need the roughage that comes from plant lignin to balance and digest the fancy stuff we plant for them. When hunting deer “on the feed” we tend to think planted foods exclusively even though deer in heavy agricultural areas generally consume 60% or more of their daily diet in native vegetation.
As far as observations go, our average sightings is up to over 4 deer observed per hour. That is a significant increase over last week. This is largely due to a few good sits caused by the recent drop in temps. Those hot days and south winds we had last week here in upstate NY really took their toll. This week, late night the temps in our area dropped into the 30’s and the deer responded. Fawns scampered about, does moved aggressively from food source to food source and the bucks were all about being bucks.
Every day brings us closer to the rut and you should see more and more bucks on every sit, but the sure signs of “rut on” are not there yet. We have yet to see even the beginnings of older aged bucks continuously on the move, an insurgence of new bucks, or a change in buck to doe ratios on stand and on camera. We watch for these faithfully. We are seeing dark spots on tarsal glands, but until the lower rear legs start darkening up, we’re not going to get too excited. Sure we are seeing an increase in testosterone driven behavior but without some estrus to go with it, the show is yet to begin.
That said, may we offer a disclaimer. Does are being bred as you read this, just not all that many of them and not enough to call “rut on”. The rut may be on all over your farm due to a doe or two in heat, but the bulk of the breeding is yet to come.
How to Hunt
This week we’ll still be hunting food because that’s where the does will be and the bucks will be hanging out closer and closer to the does. Most of whitetail country is calling for cold weather so that will help get the deer on the move. The winter coats are on and they hate being up and about in temps over 50 degrees. We have been getting plenty of good buck kill reports from guys hunting food sources and being there when that big guy just happens by. Cold weather has been driving kills and plenty of hunters are reporting success with big bucks, but these guys have been hunting food, not rut behavior.
Remember food comes in a all shapes and sizes for whitetails. It is not just about food plots and bean fields. Mast sources are still producing in most areas. The beans and corn is being picked around us and the food still on the table changes by the hour. Much of the alfalfa out there has been frozen and no longer drawing whitetails. If your favorite food sources have dried up (or been harvested) shift to other foods now because the deer have already beaten you to it.