Deer activity patterns are changing by the day, and they just keep getting better
One of my sources from Maryland summed up the recent activity: The young bucks are starting to break out their dance moves but the mature bucks and does are quite a bit behind. If I had to sum things up in a phrase, I'd say it's been slow rolling. That's a good way to sum up this past week's activity in the Northeast and a common thread among many of this year's reporters in search of bucks. The winds of change are certainly blowing and an abrupt turn in deer behavior has been the result.
Though deer have still been relatively consistent on food, the number of sightings per sit and locations of where deer are being seen has shifted dramatically — almost at a daily cadence. In states where baiting is legal many deer have transitioned away from piles of corn, grain, and other attractants in favor of more natural food sources like acorns and browse. Open fields, fruit trees, and certain oaks that were producing numerous buck, doe and fawn encounters waned to a limited number of sightings, if any, on the same resource this past week. What's more, instead of the standard leisurely attitude of deer lazily feeding, there appears to be a bit more of an agenda behind this week's daylight movement. Nocturnal activity was definitely on the rise, as well. This is certainly an indication of change, some of which could likely be driven by an adjustment in desirable or available food sources, hunting pressure, or — the overarching theme for this entire report — the calm before the impending rut storm. This feels a lot like what many refer to as the dreaded October Lull. I often wonder if that may be better labeled as a transition time that we need to adapt to rather than waiting for the deer to do what we want, where we want!
Following the full moon, several people specifically commented about scouting camera activity at 2:30am, which I found curious. Some detailed the activity over scrapes, while others on trails. I found the amount of exactness intriguing. Normally, during the second week of October, especially after the full moon, we hear of some false rut movement and behavior, but this year not a single word has been uttered about early seeking, chasing, or rutting behavior.
Some tickling of antlers, sparring and light fighting is reported, and the bachelor groups many detailed seeing the previous week(s) have broken up. Sightings of single bucks, especially young bucks, are the norm. There was still some mature buck activity early in the week as experienced by my own time in the field and as indicated through a story told to me by a young man I met at a local deer processor. The evening before he had successfully killed his first buck during New York's youth rifle weekend. His excitement was hard to contain as it punched through what you could tell was his otherwise timid personality. He spoke of the wide 10-point buck slinking through the woods headed to food when his well-placed shot interrupted the buck's pattern. The resulting lethal shot sent him and his dad to their feet with celebratory high-fives and hugs. On the same evening, I had an encounter with a beautiful buck that escaped harm as my arrow abruptly passed under his vitals at just 24 yards.
This week, many commented on the increasing number of scrapes, specifically on field edges and the amount of daylight utilization of scrapes and licking branches by younger bucks. One reporter from Pennsylvania commented on how quickly rubs were starting to pop up throughout the land he hunts. It's no secret that bucks are beginning to draw their party lines and establish their individual ranges, perhaps harassing a doe or two along the way. I expect that, as the leaves and the mercury continue to drop, the amount of buck activity will begin to climb with more and more bucks starting to lay down rut sign while cruising the countryside. Morning sits should become more favorable and frenzied activity will be on the rise. However, for now, we'll work to adapt to the lull and wait for the great rut reset which is just around the corner. The best is yet to come.
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