Deer remain active but the peak of rutting activity, including breeding, appears to have mostly concluded
“All I’m seeing are fawns and young bucks.” A common statement the first part of this week, transitioning into, “Wow, that changed quickly.” Deer activity appears to have taken an abrupt change this past week — and is certainly on the rise, just not in the form of a major breeding sequence. Many reports of frustration came in via text, calls, and online the first half of the week — followed by elation as a result of increased sightings and even a few kills. For all those who reached out, I’m right there with you… I saw and felt the same thing.
Depending upon the woodlot, and what doe was — or was not in heat — the first part of this week’s feedback was a lot about lockdown. Many hunters told of a huge swing in deer activity with very few sightings, mostly dominated by abandoned fawns and lonely young bucks looking for love. I would echo this in my own experiences, especially on open food sources like green fields, cut corn, open oak flats, etc. Those who stuck close to cover continued to experience a good amount of breeding, seeking, chasing, rubbing, and scraping, just not at the previous week’s fevered-pitch.
Bucks remained receptive to calling, as detailed by a friend of mine who arrowed a monster-framed buck after taunting him with an aggressive series of grunts. The buck was the only deer feeding in a clover plot at 8:30 in the morning. Despite a number of previous attempts to grab his attention, the monster 13-pointer paid him no mind. When my friend ratcheted up the intensity in his calling sequence, the buck couldn’t hold back his aggression as he ran across the field and through some goldenrod to engage in a fight. Rather than being met by another buck, he took an arrow through his side at just nine yards.
The above is a prime example of what we can expect this time of year after the apex of the breeding season. Though breeding is still on their minds, food and survival tactics start to increase by orders of magnitude. Their rut-worn bodies are light, lean, and in need of nourishment. Food and winter survival begin to take over with their focus. The bucks are a lot more intent on packing in calories than finding a mate. Don't fret! They’re still receptive to solicitation for sex, just not at the levels experienced earlier in the month. Given the opportunity, they will capitalize and we heard it many times in this week’s reports, especially in the back half.
As if someone flipped a switch, the second part of the week transitioned into a lot more dialog about feeding behavior, with bucks and does commingling. However, bucks-will-be-bucks and their drive to procreate never seems to fully diminish (at least while they still have antlers on their heads), so they’ve still been sniffing around when there’s a crop of ladies to investigate. The interesting part of this switch is that that overall deer activity increased despite a several-day bump in temperatures to higher-than-average daytime warmth.
Rubbing and scraping activity is still present, but we received many reports that scrapes were leaf-covered and rubs were popping up a lot less frequently — if at all. Seeking and chasing? Yup, there was some of that, too — again, with a lot less fever than the previous week. Instead of the nose-to-the-ground frenzy, this week saw a lot more wandering aimlessly seeing who was around and willing to play.
Looking ahead: I would anticipate more of the same type of behavior as experienced last week, with a mixed-bag of experiences depending upon where the deer are in each area’s rut-proceedings. As the fever subsides, we should experience more activity on food sources and the age-old bed to feed travel patterns. Keep those rattling antlers, bleat calls, and grunts handy, because they can certainly draw a big buck in. However, with many states standing at the door step of firearms seasons, this will likely lead to significant changes in all deer behavior due to increased human presence and overall hunter pressure. In my experience, this can often bring more frustration and fatigue than any rut, but we’ll see if 2023 breaks the rules and brings a different set of experiences. Pray for snow and cold weather. In tends to keep the bucks on their feet and the less motivated hunters at home. Right now, the forecasts look favorable — we just need the deer to cooperate.
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