By Mark Kenyon
This past week was in my opinion, the final calm before the storm. While there were flashes of excitement, it seemed we were still a bit too early for any substantial daylight activity from mature bucks. But it’s just a matter of days now before many of us will begin seeing signs of the rut popping up in our local whitetail woods. From here on out, it’s game on. That said, here’s a recap of my last week of hunts, the rut related observations I’ve had so far, and a few lessons learned!
This past week I was able to get out to hunt just a few times. I hunted last week Wednesday and Thursday night, and then last night (Monday).
Wednesday and Thursday I had very, very high hopes – as we had colder than average temperatures and a little bit of precipitation. With conditions looking right, I headed in to two of my better spots. On Wednesday I hunted the stand I hunted on October 6th in which I encountered Leaner last time. This time though I saw just a handful of does, and one possible big buck – but he was far in the distance and in tall CRP grass.
The next night, with really cool temps again, I decided to head into my “honey hole” for the first time this year and see if I could catch a big buck on his feet early. Unfortunately, no luck. I saw lots of does, and four 1.5 old bucks, but none of the big boys.
Fast forward to last night, Monday, and I headed back into the woods. I hunted a transition area between bedding and a couple feeding areas and was hoping to catch one of the mature bucks on this property doing a little early cruising between the two. I didn’t end up having any big buck luck, but there were definitely some signs of early rutting activity! I saw a couple 2.5 year old 8 pointers and a few does, and there was some serious chasing going on. But more on that later….
So what kind of sign of the rut have I been seeing so far? Well last week I was definitely seeing strong signs of major pre-rut action. First off, scrapes and rubs were getting tore up everywhere I looked. I just saw a tremendous amount of sign. Secondly, my trail cameras began telling the story of the pre-rut. First off, I was seeing a lot of pics of mature bucks showing up in or near my food plots just after daylight. This seemed very indicative of pre-rut behavior to me, as the bucks last week were just starting to scope out doe hot spots to check on their status. As you may have seen in my post last week, I actually had three different shooters hitting one plot within just hours of each other
In addition to these pictures on food plots, I also was getting a lot of pictures on scrapes. I had set up one of my Bushnell Trophycams on a mock scrape and after checking that camera last week I saw that a lot of bucks were freshening it up. Of the many bucks visiting the scrape, two were on my hit-list – Pirate and Six Shooter.
The pictures of Six Shooter were particularly interesting, as he had actually visited this scrape four times during daylight last week! Unfortunately, I believe I might have bumped him from this location on Thursday, as I spooked a single, large bodied deer when I walked in to check the camera and he had been on trail camera not too long before.
Now as to the observations last night, it looks like younger bucks are really starting to feel their oats. About two hours before dark a 2.5 year old eight pointer came cruising out of a bedding area, clearly on a mission. About 30 minutes later another 2.5 year old eight pointer was hot on the trail of a doe, grunting up a storm and tearing around. Throughout the rest of the night, I continued to hear a lot of chasing and crashing around in the nearby corn field, as well as a number of loud grunts.
I think it’s safe to say that any day now things could break wide open, it’s just a matter of time before a doe or two actually comes into estrous.
As to lessons learned this week, I think two things stuck with me.
Number one, don’t get too excited, too early. With the cold temps last week, I was pretty fired up and was hopeful I’d see some significant activity. Because of that I did two things that I now wish I hadn’t. First, I hunted on Wednesday morning – even though I had decided earlier this year that I wouldn’t hunt any mornings in October on this property until November (here’s an article talking about that decision). I was hopeful the cold front would keep some big bucks on their feet later into the morning, but I didn’t end up seeing anything – and all I did end up accomplishing was spooking a bunch of deer on my way into the stand. On top of that, I also moved in and hunted one of my best stands the next day – and again it didn’t pay off with any mature buck sightings. Despite the cold temps, I think I headed in too soon. This is a stand that I think will only be good for a couple sits before the pressure starts getting felt, and I unfortunately wasted one of those sits last week. In the end, I should have stuck with my original plan of waiting until the last day or two of October or early November, when the chances of the rut getting bucks on their feet would be much greater.
Number two, I was reminded again of the importance of access.
As mentioned above, I bumped a large deer on the way in to my stand this past Thursday. Then again, last night, I had to access the same general area of the farm and I was concerned that this deer might be bedding in this spot again. To try and skirt the area, I thought I could travel 10 rows deep in the corn to get around that spot without potentially spooking anything. But again – at the same spot – I heard a big deer lope away. Frustrating to say the least!
In retrospect, I probably should have used a completely different route – but I just couldn’t believe that there would be a deer in this area during daylight again, and I also am really limited in access points on this farm. It’s a major downside of the property.
I spent this past Sunday in New York with Wired To Hunt contributor Craig Dougherty of NorthCountry Whitetails, and he too drilled this message home. Stealthy access and exit to your hunting areas is CRUCIAL. Craig and his son Neil have taken this to a whole new level on their property, and have even bulldozed whole new roads, paths and access points through their property just to ensure proper access when hunting certain areas. It truly is just about as important of a factor as there is.
Where We Go From Here
All that said, it should still only get better from here. Last night marked the beginning of my “rut hunting marathon”, during which I’ll be hunting 21 straight days. Hopefully over these next three weeks I’ll be able to take advantage of the upcoming rut and put a buck or two on the ground! I’ll be hunting the next four days here in Michigan, and will be focusing on a couple of my better spots. Then this Friday I’ll be heading down to Ohio to hunt our lease. I’ll be there for 11 days, or until Josh and I both kill a buck. Hopefully we can make it happen!