Learn the latest on what's up with the northwestern rut cycle
It’s that time of year when hunters in the Northwest will tell you everything from “They’re nowhere near ready to rut,” to “It’s hot and heavy right now.” Hunters are seeing a little bit of everything. But even in areas where the big bucks are still playing it smart, there are plenty of deer on the move.
In Idaho and Montana, mule deer are slowly easing into the rut. From the looks of it, they’ll be ready any day. Middle-aged and mature bucks are walking around with big swollen necks. Most groups of does will either have a buck with them, or one or two hiding nearby. My husband and a friend spent several days in the high plains chasing mule deer. They glassed dozens of moderate-sized bucks and didn’t witness any rut activity like chasing or seeking.
Unlike the two years prior, most of Montana did not experience drought conditions this year. While mule deer still enjoy frequenting agricultural land, there’s plenty of food sources in other areas. This means the mule deer populations are more spread out this year and less concentrated on areas of private land. My husband and his friend both successfully pulled the trigger on mature mule deer bucks, but it took lots of glassing, hiking, and patience.
Friends in Idaho report similar activity among mule deer. Despite being in an area where they’ve seen big bucks in the past, during this hunt they only spotted young bucks with groups of does. However, with the number of does around they don’t think the bucks are absent, just in hiding. One thing’s for sure, this cold weather has mule deer on the move. In Oregon, a friend said this is the first week he’s seen bucks on his camera during the daylight hours.
Hunters are also seeing more whitetail bucks during daylight hours. But similar to mule deer, the old, smart ones are still playing it safe. Younger and middle-aged bucks are mixing it up with does and fighting. The “ruttiest” activity I experienced this week happened completely unexpectedly during the middle of the day, but perhaps that’s a good sign the whitetail rut is really heating up.
While scouting a river for ducks, I spotted something moving fast along the bank. It turned out to be a whitetail buck running hard. With no does in sight, he was sprinting with his nose to the ground. Unfortunately, he was located on private land with no hunting opportunity. But I took this as a sign that it’s time to leave the duck dog home and my grab my blaze orange and rifle.
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