This past weekend I had the pleasure of heading to New York to visit esteemed whitetail and habitat management expert,  our friend, and Wired To Hunt contributor Craig Dougherty of North Country Whitetails. While learning a bit about his hunting property + strategies (check out that gorgeous food plot in the pic above), we also discussed the terrific weekly newsletter that Craig and his son Neil put together,  in which they summarize whitetail and rutting activity across the nation per a group of thousands of hunters sending in their observations from across the country. Craig was kind enough to allow us to share this report with you for the next few weeks. So read on for some great insight from the whitetail woods, and be sure to sign up for this report to be sent to you directly if you enjoyed! (click here to sign up) – MK  

By Craig Dougherty

“While it’s not exactly time to start hunting the rut, there are storm clouds on the horizon.

If the weather cooperates (pun intended), this weekend could provide some very interesting whitetail hunting. I said “interesting” mind you, not “exciting”. The real excitement will most likely come next week and the week to follow.

This past 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 characterized the week as “quiet”. Deer sightings were down as the need to feed (at least among bucks) subsided. Does and fawns were still “on the feed” but shifting food sources and hunting pressure has taken its toll on sightings. More than one report referenced the infamous “October lull” while wondering where all the deer are. Your reporting is really getting terrific. Remember, the key to communicating deer behavior is to describe not label (177).

That said, we had a few good sits last week which raised our average sightings to almost 6 deer per hr. in stand. Our buck to doe sighting ratios are headed in the right direction and we are starting to see a little age on our deer, Best of all, both Neil and I have our eye on a mature buck or two in the areas we hunt and the mission has been accepted. The next few weeks should be busy ones for us.

In spite of all our talking about taking does, looks like we will be waiting to gun season to get that done. We are tip toeing around our property keeping our eyes on these guys and the last thing we need a week before they show is a disruptive recovery right in their back yard. Our doe hunting is over until we get these bucks killed (wow, talk about confident) or we catch a solo doe away from our core areas where we believe these bucks are hanging.

We have a few bucks with decent age (3-4) and 2 that appear to be fully mature. This is about normal for our property. Depending on the shot (assuming it comes), any of them could catch an arrow. They are 90% nocturnal. We are looking for Neil’s favorite old timer (he could be 8) to show but so far, he has gone missing. He showed a week after the season ended last year. We’ll keep you posted.

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. Neil posted some pretty interesting video with voice over with an abbreviated version of this report on (click on blogs and “Big Buck Zone BBZ). Check it out. Younger bucks are moving about and doing all the usual pre-rut things. They are making scrapes, lip curling, licking branches, and any thing 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 visiting social and feeding on a regular basis and harassing all the does; one of our most important rut markers (187). Eventually the area is wiped clean of feeding deer and the bucks drift on to another doe gathering place. In time the does will avoid these places altogether but we are not there yet. The older aged bucks are still biding their time with the does 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 when things will really break open. That said, we did receive a report or two of some pretty intense rut behavior this past week with older age bucks chasing does. These reports however, should be viewed as outliers as for every one we receive describing “does in the mood” we receive 50 stating “all quiet” in the doe breeding department. As our conception graph in the book clearly shows (181), there are always outliers when it comes to breeding and even though the bulk of the breeding is a few weeks out, there has to have been some breeding by now. Note where the buck activity peaks on the chart; that’s what we call the “hunter’s rut” (179) and that’s when we want to be in the woods.

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. At least the young ones are. 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 things will begin to happen in the whitetail woods. 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.

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 5 different bucks for 10-15 minutes. They would leave and be back again 45minutes or so later. It was not a good night to suit the field (like I did) but a very good night to it 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 him as he swings back through the doe area.

Thanks to all of you have ordered Whitetails: From Ground to Gun from us at Reference pages in parentheses. And thanks for your kind comments and reports. Welcome to all of you who read Craig’s piece on the rut on NY Outdoor News and asked to be added to the NCW mailing list. Don’t forget to forward this report to your hunting buddies and tell them to click on the “add to list” button.”