The rut pressure has decreased but hunter pressure remains high, impacting daylight movement patterns
It’s all downhill from here. Well, I guess that depends upon how you look at things! With the rut winding down there’s no question we will see more and more of a bed/food related pattern with deer doing mostly what they do during the other 11 months of the year. For some, this has a tendency to bring struggle, while others embrace and adapt, returning to more traditional hunting methods — and still finding measures of success. This week’s observations validated this shift.
If you’re a hardcore rut hunter, the breeding holiday is all but over. At least you had Thanksgiving to look forward to. Deer season continues on, with most of the rut-related activity having come to an end. During the Thanksgiving week there were still reports of seeking, a little chasing, and even some breeding on the rut radar — just not at levels previously experienced. Despite things winding down, it’s still a great time to kill a buck.
This is the time of year when the great debate about the rut’s intensity, duration, and timing find their place at holiday gatherings and hunting camps across the East Coast. Earlier this season, I predicted a red-hot barn burner with short-burst intense activity that would incinerate quickly right around the first of November, spread like wildfire across Northeast wood lots, and flame out before the strike of the first half of the month. Based upon this year’s feedback, I was wrong. Way wrong! Similar to the past several years, this year seemed to once again resemble the dreaded trickle rut, where it’s hard to identify its peak, or even how intense deer are yearning to breed. There were definite highlights — just not one distinguishable peak in rut-related behavior that everyone could agree upon. However, perhaps, this is a pipe dream to begin with.
Most of this week’s commentary was about food-related behaviors, with deer finding their happy place on greens, grains, and mast filling their bellies, rebuilding after the rigors of the rut, and preparing for winter. Bucks, does and fawns were all reported to be using the same food sources at the same time — paying little mind to each other. Reunited family groups are being seen in abundance, while mature does cautiously watched with side-eye glances, knowing the opposite sex almost always has love on the brain. Similar to the behaviors we saw a month prior, bucks (especially younger age classes) had no shame in checking out the does, yet with little intensity. We did hear of breeding activity from three reporters — in Maine, New Jersey, and New York — who all got a glimpse of a mature buck breeding a doe. Each was similar in their specifics, though witnessing this at this point in the cycle is a sight that’s becoming rarer by-the-day. Some hunters state the week of Thanksgiving is one of the best times to fill a buck tag, and there were several reports of exactly this — some with a sharp broadhead-tipped arrow and others with well-placed lead and copper.
The feed-the-beast mentality of most herds has also started to diminish daytime movement, isolating the majority of visible travel to the first and last hour-and-a-half of daylight or the extreme edges of dawn and dusk. Many reported deer being more on alert, and skittish, especially while on open food sources. The citizen science suggests this is a result of the month-long increase in pressure across local wood lots, and the presence of the “orange army” after the opener of several states’ firearm seasons. You’d probably be at a heightened sense of awareness if people were stomping through and stinking up your house, too!
With more and more states coming into active firearm seasons, there’s a high level of expectation for new kills, mostly unrelated to any form of breeding/rut-related activity. One thing of note is the number of really impressive deer being killed in the Northeast. Through social media channels, text, and the rumor mill, I have seen and heard of some incredible deer.
There’s still plenty of season left and December can be a banger month, as proven by many of our reporters. These stalwart deer experts lean strongly toward the late side of October and early December being the best times to bag a big whitetail, especially under the right conditions. We’ll see what the remaining hunt days have to offer. Thus far, the weather appears to be cooperating and so are the deer. Despite the apparent presence of a “trickle rut,” 2023 has certainly been a good one, and we’re optimistic the trend will continue, even under the shifting patterns.
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