Right now is a great time to see a mature buck cruising once again
It's true, the best days of the rut are likely behind us. Don't cry, though. Some of the biggest deer killed each year fall in late November, and we're seeing similar results again this season.
In Iowa, Midwest Whitetail's Bill Winke and Josh Sparks are seeing exactly what they expect this time of year. Most mature bucks are cruising in attempts to find the last estrous does.
Sparks' friend's target buck was locked down with a doe on the Nov. 21. He left her sometime that night, and they encountered him alone on Nov. 22. The buck picked up a new doe by Nov. 23. This deer is the dominant buck in the area, but he's making the same rounds as other cruising bucks. They have a specific game plan for this phase of the rut.
In the mornings, we're targeting transitions between bedding areas, and evenings we've shifted to hunting food sources, Sparks says. Each day, we will focus more on the food, but morning bedding [area hunts] are still going strong here.
While Bill Winke hasn't been hunting, he has been scouting a lot. He's not seeing nearly as many bucks in the open as he did throughout the first few weeks of November.
They are coming off the primary breeding and should be making the transition back to food, Winke says. If I was hunting, I would be sitting on a good food source in the afternoons. Bedding areas should still be good in the mornings for another week. Then, the rut will more or less shut completely down, and the morning cruising will die with it.
Up to Minnesota, Bone Collector's Nick Mundt says whitetails are definitely still in rut mode. His trail cameras are revealing plenty of action, but mostly at night.
Since the gun season — which is during the seeking phase of the rut — daylight deer activity is nil, Mundt says. Nighttime activity is still taking place, making it tough on bowhunters to see daylight activity, especially on small tracts of land. This is a good time to use a decoy on travel routes while bucks try to find receptive does.
Eastward to Wisconsin, Own the Season's Art Helin says much the same. There are a few late chasers enjoying the fun, but for the most part, they are done. He also says the beginning of rifle season — which started Saturday — really put a damper on deer activity.
In the lower Midwest, The Hunting Public's Aaron Warbritton has been in Missouri. He says deer are yarded up in secluded areas as a result of firearms season and hunting pressure.
The second half of the rut is winding down, but mature bucks are still cruising looking for the last remaining does in heat, Warbritton says. Overall buck movement is down. But it's still a great time to find deer if you locate the few remote areas which received little pressure.
Backwoods Life's Kevin Knighton recently hunted in Illinois, and he says virtually all of the adult does have been bred. That doesn't mean the game is over, though.
If you're lucky enough to be in a spot where a hot doe is hanging out, there may be a giant nearby, Knighton says. Between all of the hunters in camp, and guides out scouting while we hunted, several 170-plus-inch deer were spotted, and they were all walking behind does.
That said, he says it seems that most deer are switching over to food sources now.
According to Realtree pro staffer Carl Drake, Indiana is still running just a little bit hotter than its western neighbor. Bucks are coming out of lockdown, and cruising is increasing. He's seeing scrapes being hit again, and bucks are hitting more trail cameras in daylight.
Overall, looking at the entire region, the next seven to 10 days should offer pretty good deer hunting. Mature bucks are cruising more, fewer estrous does are demanding their attention, and the weather is shaping up quite nicely for the next week or so. If you didn't already have plans, consider heading to the deer woods for the remainder of the holiday weekend.
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Longtime Realtree.com contributor Josh Honeycutt is a guy who knows big deer and makes a full-time living writing about them. He hails from Kentucky but hunts all over the Midwest.