**Editor's Note: **Craig and Neil Dougherty take hundereds of thousands of trail camera photos on their properties in upstate New York each year. All fall they will be submitting their most recent photos, as well as photos from their contacts across the country, to Outdoor Life to help predict deer activity. Despite the fact that buck activity is picking up, a few groups of "buck buddies" remain intact and showed up on camera last week. These two year olds have been hanging together all fall. Give them another week and they will be battling not grooming.
Scrape activity has picked up dramatically over the past week. Young bucks like the one on the left are responsible for many of the early season scrapes. Now that we are a week to ten days from the hunters rut, more mature bucks will frequent scrapes. Keep in mind the vast majority of mature buck use of scrapes is well after dark.
The big boys are finally getting up! We hadn’t photographed this deer all fall, he showed up for the first time last week. Older deer like this one don’t waste a lot of energy during the pre rut period. When they start checking social gathering areas like this one, the hunter’s rut is usually about a week away. Expect to pick him up a couple times after dark before he will show up during daylight hours. We will hunt him in travel corridors near the thick stuff to try and get a shot of him during daylight hours.
Warm weather is the only thing that will slow the rut. Deer are currently carrying their winter coats and are forced to cool by panting. Notice the open mouth of this young buck. When the daytime temp runs about 10 degrees above the normal high daytime movement will slow. For us bucks can run hard all day long when the temperature remains below 45 degrees.
Sparring was on the increase over the past week. These young bucks spent the better part of an hour pushing one another back and forth. Want to know if rattling will work in your neck of the woods? Watch a sparring match like this one; if more and older bucks show up to investigate, it’s a good bet that you can rattle bucks in. Sadly no big bucks showed up to settle this sparring match, no need to lug the rattling antlers into the woods on this site.
Doe family groups remained intact on most of the sites we surveyed last week. Older bucks were scent-checking does from the security of the timber last week. Major changes in doe feeding behavior are expected over the next week. Don’t be surprised to show up on your favorite plot and not see a deer. As buck pressure mounts, does will start to spend less and less time around food plots.
This 10 has been hit and miss all season around the food plots. Last week he turned up the heat and started to pressure does. We picked up several blurred photos of him bumping does off of plots last week. In this photo he is alone but his open mouth gives away what he has been doing. Panting is one of the best ways he can cool back down after chasing does. A week of photos like this and you know a buck is vulnerable. He hasn’t shown up on food plots yet during daylight hours but it’s a good bet that a hunter can get a shot hunting in between bedding areas or other travel corridors. Expect a buck like this to go from one bedding area to the next looking for receptive does. Be patient, based on camera photos he is covering lots of ground. He is likely covering miles of ground daily and it’s going to be nearly impossible to pattern.
PHOTOS FROM LAST WEEK (OCT. 21-27) Doe family groups continue to remain intact. Doe groups like this one are feeding for hours in the plots with very little attention from bucks. Very soon the story will change, in another week or two doe groups like this one will feed while walking. Constant buck pressure will keep them moving during the evening hunt.
Only a few new bucks showed up on the cameras during last weeks monitoring. This three-year-old buck showed up for the first time and was photographed walking about 30 yards within a woodlot on the downwind side of a standing corn field. Looks like he was scent checking for does.
Standing soybean fields like this one are attracting a lot of attention. If you look close on the bottom of the image you will notice some dry bean pods still clinging to the stem. Once the beans dry down deer flock to soybean fields–we are seeing more feeding in beans than standing corn right now.
We continued to notice a slight increase in sparring bucks. As a whole, we are still observing just a fraction of the intensity that will be coming in upcoming weeks. Knockdown, drag-out fights among bucks are rare this time of the year. However, things will dramatically change as bucks start covering ground over the next two weeks.
It’s time to share a couple photos that show you what to look for when the hunters rut kicks in. A couple of photographed behaviors will cause me to drop what I am doing and get in the woods. Groups of fawns or lone fawns like the one picture here can be a great indicator that mama is pinned down in a breeding party. If you monitor photos closely you will start to see fawns hitting the plots frequently at all times of the day without mama present. Hunt close to the fawns and watch their body language they often will try and hook back up with the doe only to be driven off by the bucks. Follow the fawns and you just might find a good buck. However, don’t be fooled by button bucks wandering alone. It’s normal for these little guys to explore without mama.
As the rut approaches you will find more pictures like this one that are blurred due to speed. We photographed this yearling about a dozen times over a one-day period. Every time he was moving at a rapid walk. You know you are in the rut when you look at thousands of pictures and only a handful of them are clear without blurring. Things happen fast in the rut, even the cameras have a tough time keeping up. Things to look forward to over the next couple of weeks.
_We are starting to see early signs of bucks becoming restless. This yearling buck showed up in a woodlot funnel traveling away from a bedding area toward an acorn flat. Daylight photos like this one will become much more frequent in the upcoming weeks. As it stands right now hunting at midday is a low percentage hunt.
Doe family groups still remain intact. The current snapshot of doe movement shows does arriving on the food plots for the evening feed with more than an hour to go before shooting light ends. Now is an excellent time to harvest does. In two weeks buck pressure will start to break up family groups and make it tough to pattern does around food.
These two yearling bucks are starting to posture with one another in an attempt to establish dominance. Pushing matches like these are more play fighting than the real thing. In the background a doe family group feeds undisturbed by the two young bucks. This photo sums it up well, right now bucks are more focused on one another than does.
Now this is more like it. This shooter buck has been showing up on the food plot for the past four weeks. Every time he has been photographed is has been hours after dark. One photo during daylight hours doe not show a huntable pattern but you can bet we will be watching the cameras close over the next week to see if he is transitioning to a more huntable pattern. Notice he is alone in the photo, when buck groups break up and t start to walk solo like this ten bowhunters have a much better chance intercepting the deer on trails leading to the food plot. A couple more photos like this one and he will be ready to hunt.
Notice this two year old has a stained tarsal gland. Although the staining is still light he has been making his share of scrapes over the last week. Based on our camera surveys he is an early bloomer, a little further along the rut curve than the majority of the bucks in the area. No wonder he is staring intently at the does feeding in the back of the photo.
Another first for the season. This two year old buck is cruising through a food plot at 11 a.m. We typically use the date of October 15 as the day that bucks testosterone level has peaked. This semi mature buck is all revved up and can’t help but take a walk now and again to see what’s going on at social gathering areas like this food plot. Keep in mind that an occasional walk like this one is a long way from marching that will happen in two or three weeks. Despite the occasional photo like this one showing up during daylight hours hunting all day is a low percentage hunt at this time.
Several new bucks showed up on camera last week. This four year old buck on the left showed up on the plot for the fist time this fall. As the fall progresses and we get closer to the biological rut more new bucks will show up on our food plots. Counting the frequency of new bucks showing up in you hunting area will help you keep track of the overall buck movement. More bucks on camera equals better chance of hunting success. This is a good buck but he is feeding with a group of deer. It’s tempting to charge in and hunt him but as long as he keep showing up late after other deer have entered the plot it’s going to be tough not to spook the early deer while we wait for this big guy. Better to let the cameras scout him a little more and pin down the trail he uses and hunt him in the transition area a couple hundred yards away from the food plot.
The tarsal gland on this two year old buck is starting to show the earliest signs of staining. Tarsal glands darken as bucks urinate on the gland while working scrapes. Expect to see a dramatic up tick in scraping activity over the next week. Bucks with dark tarsal glands are typically more aggressive and cover a larger area than those with light staining.
PHOTOS FROM LAST WEEK Many deer are taking advantage of mast falling in the woods. This doe family group has been traveling back and forth on an oak ridge eating acorns two or three times daily. Although no mature bucks have been photographed on this site, it’s a good idea to pay close attention to doe movements. In a few weeks this doe will attract the attention of a good buck, if you have her patterned you will have a good idea on how to hunt the buck.
Scouting missions have been showing very little in the way of scraping. This young buck in the right corner of the photo is starting to get the urge to make scrapes. He is licking and rubbing his forehead glands on the branch to leave behind a scent signature. In another week or so, young bucks like this one will take it to the next level and paw the ground when working scrapes. When this happens it’s a good time to place cameras on scrapes to document bucks working your area.
This two-year-old buck is feeding back and forth on a narrow oak ridge. Eighty percent of the photos of this particular buck have been after dark. The one exception has been an early morning visit as the buck traveled from the green fields in the valley back up into the woods to bed for the morning.
This three-year-old buck has been working a small hunting plot planted in clover and brassica for the past two weeks. He is feeding nightly seven days a week. In situations like this, it’s tempting to move in too early and hunt this deer. Hunting him now will only reinforce his nocturnal tendencies. If it all possible, check the camera during the middle of the day to let things quiet down by the time deer show up to feed in the evening.
This is exactly what we are looking for this time of the year. This old boy is fully mature and still in a summer feeding pattern with a few immature bucks. He is showing during daylight hours five out of seven days on a three-acre clover plot. Better hurry and hunt him, most mature bucks will reach peak body weight in the next week or so. Once this happens, they often drift away from the plots and turn nocturnal until the breeding season starts. Also note he has no tarsal staining yet, good sign that he will remain feeding on the plots for a little while longer. – Photo taken in Adirondacks, NY
We have had a few reports of bucks chasing does. This yearling buck is making a run at this doe. Now that the testosterone level has nearly peaked in bucks they will start to flush does more frequently. Don’t be fooled, this buck is just blowing off a little steam.
Mast is king this time of the year, both soft and hard. Keying in on food sources like this apple tree left and pear tree right is a good bet. We have been getting four times more pictures per week on apple trees vs food plots. Deer will also frequent apple trees more during windy days looking for fresh fallen fruit.
These two yearling bucks have been hanging with doe family groups all summer. More than likely they are young bucks that didn’t join up with bachelor groups of older bucks. Instead, they opted to remain with their doe family groups for the summer. They often show up minutes after the does. These yearlings have shown some playful interest in does but nothing truly rut related.
Doe families and extended family groups are still intact on food plots. Does will remain grouped up like this until bucks start to put the pressure on prior to the “hunter’s rut.”
Watching doe groups for behavior changes is an important part of tracking the rut.
Buck bachelor groups are starting to break up as fall dispersal of bucks gets underway. These three young deer showed up at the research center for the first time last week. Small buck packs like this one will frequently roam together for a couple weeks before the breeding period starts. These three showed up around a doe family group for two days before they were off to parts unknown.
Dominance is a year-long process. Our mature bucks have already established dominance over bucks in their area but younger deer like these two yearlings are starting to develop their sparing skills.
Pre-breeding behavior like scraping is just about ready to kick off. Look at the tarsal gland on the buck on the left. The tarsal gland is still brown showing little scraping behavior. As the breeding season nears, the tarsal gland will start to darken ultimately turning black. Dominant bucks will often show staining well below the tarsal gland from urinating down their legs. Often times bucks with dark, well-defined tarsal glands will respond well to grunting or challenge calls like a snort wheeze. Pull the binoculars out prior to calling, this buck isn’t ready to respond to a buck vocalization challenge call. However, he just might come in to investigate a doe or fawn bleat.
Early season is one of the best times to connect with mature deer like this four-year-old. Expect them to feed heavily as they pack on the pounds until mid-October when they reach peak body weight. Typically, they then will go nocturnal until the breeding period. Let the cameras do your scouting, this ten is showing up well after dark on one of our plots. We are going to keep the hunting pressure off of him and wait for him to transition into a huntable daylight pattern.