The rut has set in deep in much of the Southwest. Bucks are cruising, looking for remaining does in estrus
Big deer are out and moving in much of the Southwest. That goes for Colorado and Texas both. We will start with Texas, as we are just getting into the thick of things there.
North-central and west Texas are at the stage where you just never know what might walk out. The rut has been happening for a few weeks, with the majority of does being bred by now. What’s great about that is the bucks are cruising again, looking for a hot doe. Southeast region rut reporter Will Brantley just spent a few days over Thanksgiving with his family hunting on our lease. It’s located pretty far north in Texas, so our rut generally follows the Midwest or Mid-South more than south Texas.
As usual, the first day was spent checking cameras and sitting primetime in known hotspots. A couple days in and Will called me. He said he wasn’t seeing many mature deer on camera and was struggling to pic a target buck to chase. A good mature 8-pointer that I hunted last year (and failed to kill) showed up and became a possible shooter for Will or Michelle. The next day, Will and I visited again about how he thought the rut was over and it could be tough for a while. A couple hours later I got a photo of a heavy, old 10-point with Michelle sitting behind it smiling ear to ear. “Where the hell did that deer come from,” I said. Will told me that the buck came out with his nose on the ground, scent trailing a doe. It was early afternoon, about 2:45 pm. No one had seen this deer in person, or on camera for that matter.
In 2021 I shot my biggest buck to date in a similar situation. I showed up to hunt on December 6. I had no information about what was there or what the deer were doing. I checked one camera with nothing great on it. The next camera had one photo of a giant buck, three days prior. It was about time to be getting into a stand anyway, so I just sat right there thinking I would hunt that stand that evening and again in the morning — and then go check the other cameras. I was there about 20 minutes when the giant buck came cruising a wood line all by himself. He was scent checking, looking for any remaining does in estrus. I shot him at approximately 4:30 in the afternoon. This is the time of year to sit as long as possible, because these bucks are unpredictable and cruising whenever the feeling hits them. In a few weeks we will start to see more activity on feeders, but for now, that’s not the case.
South Texas is on the other end of the rut. The bucks are just now starting to feel their oats. Mature bucks are starting to cruise with immature bucks that are scent checking already. The mature bucks are rubbing and scraping. I have reports of mature bucks already pushing does, but they’re few and far between. Now is a good time to catch a mature buck migration from the hole he hides in all year to the group of does he has plans for. South Texas will only get better for the next few weeks.
Colorado had to wait longer than usual this year. We struggled through the regular seasons with some hard fought wins and some great bucks being taken. Fourth rifle was the season this year. Travis Reed of Western Sky Outfitters sent me a photo Thanksgiving day of a buck that was pushing the 200-inch mark — and might even break it. They had never seen this buck. It seemingly just appeared out of thin air. That same week, a few days prior, a 272-inch behemoth of a buck was taken on a governor’s tag. The buck was known to the outfitter and hunter but hadn’t been located since 2022. The buck grew by 70 or 80 inches in 2023. It’s one of the most impressive mule deer bucks I’ve ever laid eyes on. It just goes to show you, even with many units managed for opportunity over quality, monsters do exist.
Most of the mountain states deer seasons are over now, except for a few special tags and eastern Colorado. The eastern Colorado late rifle should be pretty awesome this year. We’re still a ways out on most of New Mexico and Arizona. I look for those areas to pick up closer to Christmas.
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