Most does have been bred, but a few big bucks are still on their feet and looking for love
The woods in downstate New York have cooled off from the flurry of activity that took place in the previous week. Instead of covering a lot of ground in a hurry, mature bucks are searching in a more purposeful manner than the earlier frantic blitz. Most does have been bred by now, and mature bucks are slowly cruising, looking for the remaining does that have yet to hit estrus.
While it's not the free-for-all it was a week ago, you'll still see a few big guys when the sun is up. The 1- and 2-year-olds are stretching their legs now that the threat of rebuke from the older guys has diminished somewhat, and the young'uns are out to play during the day. Big bucks are still moving pretty regularly in the dawn and dusk periods, though, and should continue to do so for the next few weeks at least.
Deer always need to eat. If you can get a stand adjacent to a good feeding area on the right wind, you're just about guaranteed to see deer right now. Even if the one you've been after isn't chasing, he's going to need some calories — especially as the mercury drops. Get in early and stay late, and don't drift off or pick up the phone during the midmorning. Some of the best bucks of the year are taken at this time.
The does are starting to get back with the fawns, says Seth Gebo of Eastern View Outfitters, noting that most had been bred in the past week. Throughout western Massachusetts, does were mostly getting back to their normal day-to-day routines. The peak of the rut has come and gone, with buck activity tapering off significantly.
All the sign hasn't disappeared quite yet, with some of the scrape lines he's been watching still getting some attention.
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And the big bucks haven't disappeared just yet. Gebo has a series of cellular cameras that have picking up a few bruisers slinking through the woods around 10:30. He still plans on being on stand well before first light to capitalize on that brief period of movement without spooking any deer, as his cameras have also picked up plenty of movement in the typical low-light periods of dawn and dusk.
There's still some tending going on, and a few does still haven't hit estrus yet, Gebo says, explaining why the coming weeks are some of his favorite to hunt. Historically, he's taken some really nice bucks during the coming weeks, favoring it to the peak of the rut. The second estrus around here starts around Dec. 15. I usually do really well during that period.
It's been a weird year for deer movement, like everything else in 2020. We've killed some good bucks, but the rut just seems slow, says Danny Kelly of K&M Outfitters on the Potomac, where the rut seemed to be moving like molasses. He blames the slowdown on the unseasonably warm weather they have been experiencing, though the action has been still been pretty good.
We're passing on 115-class bucks right now, waiting for the big ones. Though the going is slow they've still managed to kill a couple of 140-plus class bucks so far this year, and the action should only improve as the rut ramps up in southern Maryland. I had a field with 12 does in it. One of them must have been in estrus because she had five bucks pretty much right on top of her, Kelly says.
Most of the movement right now is at dawn and dusk, though Kelly notes he's also getting some cruisers around 10 to 10:30 most mornings. To add to the mixed signals he's been receiving, rubbing and scraping have been tapering off despite the uptick in cruising behavior he's seeing. Despite all the odd activity, he expects that the hunting should improve a bit in the coming week.
Northeast reporter Joseph Albanese hails from New York. He began his career in wildlife management and has worked for multiple state and federal agencies. These days, he writes full-time about fins, feathers, and fur.