Peak breeding has bucks on their feet in the mountain regions of the southwest. Texas is split, with peak breeding or pre-rut depending on your location. New Mexico and Arizona are weeks away
My dad used to say that if he could hunt one day per year, it would be Thanksgiving Day. It was a pretty safe bet that the bucks would be in rut and, in some cases, already on the winter range. Up until a few years ago that wasn’t even an option for us. Every five years, Colorado implements a new five-year season structure. The current structure has the fourth rifle season running right over the top of Thanksgiving. 2023 was the fourth year of this five-year structure. These dates have made things a little more difficult from the guiding perspective, because it means you must choose between spending Thanksgiving with your family and making money during that season. Most of the guides I know have figured out how to navigate that, but the real issue I have seen is that these later season dates, along with managing opportunity at max capacity, has destroyed mule deer hunting as we know it in much of Colorado.
The last four years have seen a steady decline in mature bucks to the point where they are nonexistent in some areas. Add in a hell of a winter that killed off any weak, run-down or, in many cases, even healthy animals and we are left with a serious problem. I can tell you that the deer in Colorado are rutting and where I’m at in northwest Colorado, they have been for two weeks. It doesn’t really matter though because the mature bucks that should be coming out of the woodwork just aren’t there anymore. I guided in a few units during third rifle season that historically are pretty good units without being considered a “trophy unit,” and I was sorely disappointed.
There have been some giant deer killed this year in each of the southwest region states, including Colorado, but I fear the good old days are gone in many parts. Utah and Nevada have been producing some great quality and, of the two, Nevada has impressed me most this year. In terms of the rut, now is prime time for most of Utah and Nevada. I think Thanksgiving week will be as good as it's going to get. The regular deer seasons will be coming to an end soon in these three mountain states, so I’m starting to focus on the far south part of the southwest region.
Texas is the place to be right now. I have a lease in north-central Texas that is catching fire. With the cold front that’s coming in, Thanksgiving week will likely be the best week of the year. The ranch owner sent me some photos this week of some awesome deer that have been killed recently. It certainly got my blood flowing, and may have sparked a hint of jealousy knowing that it’s that good. I can’t be there. I did this to myself though. I am headed to Africa in a few days to hunt Cape Buffalo. Further south in Texas, rattling has been working well with rubs and scrapes everywhere. It’s a little early yet but it's starting.
I checked in with Jordan Christensen who owns The Draw (www.thedraw.com). Owning a hunting license application service, Jordan keeps a pretty good pulse on all areas, but he’s truly an expert on New Mexico and Arizona. Jordan told me northern Arizona and northern New Mexico are just getting going. It’s a matter of days at this point until they really fire up. The central and southern parts of those states aren’t seeing any indication of the rut. The bucks are still in bachelor groups and generally just being deer. These areas usually heat up closer to Christmas.
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