This post is a newsletter compiled by Craig and Neil Dougherty, 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. 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 and Neil Dougherty
With reports coming in from all across our network, it looks like the hunter’s rut (p 179) is upon us. We’ve waited all year for this magic time and it’s time to get out there and hunt the rut (or at least what hunters call the rut) precedes actual breeding, or the biological rut (p 180) by about a week.
That said, the rut does not always play out uniformly across the whitetail landscape and there will always be some variability between individual properties. A single doe in heat can make a heck of a difference on a 200 acre piece of ground. The rut seldom breaks out uniformly across the entirety of whitetail country; a given location can be smoking hot one day and pretty cool the next but, break out it will. Calling the rut across whitetail country is a game of averages.
Our buck to doe ratios on film have shifted from 2.5 does to every buck to 1.2 bucks for every doe. The bucks are out and about and the does are starting to get scarce. A reduction of does on cameras is one of our favorite rut markers. They are becoming scarce due to the constant pressure by bucks powered by testosterone. Most of our cameras are on feeding locations and the does back off them as the bucks start visiting them on a regular basis. We’re getting reports of decreased doe/fawn sightings from a across our network. Many are reporting very “quiet” weeks on stand. This is to be expected, in spite of magazine headlines, rut conditions can be pretty quiet.
Another sure sign is a change in the age distribution of the bucks we are photographing. We are now seeing significantly more older aged bucks on camera than in weeks past. A month ago it was yearlings everywhere; you couldn’t find a racked buck, now we have a more even age distribution. The racked out bucks are running about even with the little guys. This is a great rut marker providing you have some age on the bucks in your hunting area.
Finally, we are picking up many more daytime sightings of older aged bucks. Our old guys are plenty smart and seldom show during daytime hours. Right now, they are out and about all times of day and night. If your cameras are showing any or all of the above, pack a lunch and start putting in some treestand time. A thorough discussion of the rut and the markers we look for is presented inChapter 9. We picked up a half dozen or so new unique bucks this week; most of them older aged deer. We haven’t tallied of late but our unique count should be into the 40’s.
Thanks for sending all the reports we received this week. This week they have really been rolling in; basically, it has been a mixed bag. Some reports are calling “rut on” others “kinda quiet”. The majority of “rut on” reports are coming from farm country. Plenty of fields and all kinds of crop harvesting mean fewer places for whitetails to avoid the watchful eyes of hunters. When guys are reporting bucks marching across open fields all times of day, you need to start paying attention. It’s not happening everywhere, but it’s happening enough that your farm might just be on fire this weekend when you show up.
Big woods hunters are reporting less activity. More than likely that is due to the huge abundance of fall foods that are still in the woods and spreading the deer out. Many hunters who have been seeing deer on isolated food sources (often food plots) all summer and fall are reporting quiet sits. No does, no nothing. That happens every year with the onslaught of the rut as these doe/fawn concentrations get broken up and forced off their feeding areas by bucks on the prowl. Chances are the does are back in the woods working acorns and browse and the bucks are in there with them. It’s harder for big woods hunters to keep track of deer activity when the deer they hunt are spread out all over the countryside not concentrated in a few known feeding locations where they were earlier this fall.
Neil’s week was made with the report of one very special buck being taken this week. He could well be 8-9 years old. Neil and the landowner have been plotting “Freight Train’s’ demise for the last 3-4 years since his 150” sheds were found 4 years ago. This old boy was finally taken a few days ago after he was forced out of his core area by younger, more aggressive bucks. He was taken from an area he was unfamiliar with and probably didn’t know all that well; at least how to avoid danger. This deer has been seen exactly twice in the flesh (the second for the kill) in 5 years, even though he was photographed regularly. How did he stay alive so long? He was probably a non-breeder (or almost). These deer become quiet homebodies who could care less about chasing does. All they care about is staying alive (he had no tarsal staining). These are the guys that live to a ripe old age. There is a lesson to be learned here gentlemen (or is it too late).
As you know, we consider everyone in the NCW network as family, we have a stake in your success as property managers and hunters and we celebrate your success as you do ours. When a program finally comes together we can all bask in the sunshine of a job well done. It won’t last forever but we’ll enjoy it for at least a season or two. One thing for sure, a bunch of good bucks got shot over the past few days and a whole lot more will be shot this weekend and next.
We saw the best bucks of the season over the last few days. They were doing everything a buck in rut should be doing. Neil picked up a nice mature long tined shooter (maybe a 4-5 yr. old) cruising along a ridge looking for does. He’s still looking for his 8 year old nemesis of the past 4 years but the cruiser he glassed looked pretty good from 20 feet up. Craig watched a fine 4 year old hang with a doe all evening on the food plot I was hunting. Being the old experienced gentleman he was, he didn’t harass her or make any moves, he simply escorted her along, never moving more that 20 yards from her side. It always amazes us to note how carefully an experienced buck works a doe (at least until he has had enough of her coyness). Two weeks ago that buck would still be on his belly during daytime hours. Now he is out in the open, on camera and out front of a stand (too far to shoot sniff, sniff). The soft signs of the rut (rubs, scrapes, sparring etc.) have been with us for weeks. Now we are seeing the actual hard signs, (does getting scarce, older aged bucks out and about, older bucks with does) and that means it’s time to hunt hard.
The trick to hunting this weekend and the next 10 days will be to get in the woods and stay there. This time of year can be the best of times and the worst of times (all in the same weekend). If you get in the middle of a chase or wind up in an area with a hot doe, you will never forget it, if all the bucks in your area are chasing the same doe and they are all over the hill, it can be a pretty quiet morning. In spite of what we all like to believe, and all the magazine articles to the contrary, you can have some pretty quiet sits during the rut. The smart hunter packs his lunch and hangs tough. You are just as likely to catch a good buck at 11 in the morning as at dawn or dusk. Forget the rules and hunt.
The best play will still be to hunt does because where the does are will be where you find the bucks. Not where the does were mind you, where they are. Many of the does we have been watching all summer have relocated to quieter, safer, areas to avoid the onslaught of buck pressure. They are still on the feed, but not in the same old feeding locations. One of the biggest mistakes of hunting the rut is hunting where the does were last week or the week before.Many does have been relocated by marauding bucks; one of Craig’s favorite doe/fawn groups has moved into his cabin door yard. If you know where the does are hanging out, set up there. If you aren’t sure, set up on crossing areas, neck downs and anywhere else you are apt to catch a buck as he marches about patrolling his turf, moving from one doe group to the next.
And one more thing, weather matters. Cold crisp days are what you are looking for. Temps over 50° means quiet days and wild nights.
This is a great time to evaluate your management program to determine age structure of your bucks. If they aren’t showing now, you have some work to do. If you had them all summer, you also have some work to do. What it’s all about is how a property hunts; Neil is busy right now revamping a number of client properties to improve how they hunt. He is also planning to revamp Kindred Spirits for next year. As we’ve learned over the years, you have to change them up now and again to keep them fresh and the hunting good. Speaking of management, our does will be getting a pass from now until the gun opener. Can’t afford to be tracking and recovering does each sit when the bucks are on the prowl.
Thanks for all the reports—keep them coming. Thanks for supporting our book, that’s how we keep things going here at www.northcountrywhitetails.com