NorthCountry Whitetails Deer Report #7 11-12-12
A few weeks ago we predicted 10 days of great hunting as the “hunter’s rut” was beginning to kick in. The action really picked up after the east coast hurricane subsided and the cold weather settled in. We predicted some of the best hunting of the season and looking at the kill reports we have been receiving we were right “on the money”.
The “hunter’s rut” is that brief period (few days) of time just before the “biological rut” kicks in and the deer settle down for a few weeks of breeding. The hunter’s rut typically varies property to property depending upon a doe or two approaching estrus, but basically it is characterized by the appearance of older aged bucks during daylight hours, bucks marching about looking for does, new bucks showing up on camera and a change in buck to doe ratios in favor of bucks.
This week we have transitioned into the “biological rut”. Doe breeding is occurring as you read this report and will continue for the next few weeks. Evidence of the biological rut is a marked decrease in food plot use, fewer sightings of mature bucks, fawns grouped up in strange places with no mama present, does very much on edge and bucks and does “paired up” or multiple bucks hanging around a specific doe that is obviously in or approaching estrus.
7 Second Sequence of Breeding Doe (See Below)
The most obvious indicator of “biological rut in progress” is observing breeding (or close to breeding) behavior. Last week’s report noted that we actually caught a breeding event on camera and we have included it here as proof positive of the event.
While it is not our practice to talk much about kills, we are also including a second photo as proof positive that the hunting and management strategies we have been sharing with you for the past 10 years actually work. After tracking this buck all season and leaving him alone for 40 days, Neil finally made his move. He killed him on his second hunt.
This was not a random kill. As regular readers of this report well know the10 point first appeared on camera the end of September. Like most of our mature bucks, he first showed under the cover (and safety) of darkness. We didn’t have to look too hard to know he belonged on the “shooter list”; in fact, he belonged at the top of the list. Bucks like this one are hard to come by in this part of the world (western NY).
The strategy was simple-a single sighting or trail camera photo means little. More information was needed to better understand how and where he was spending his time. Once that was ascertained, we could fashion a plan.
For the next 40 days we used scouting cameras to keep track of his whereabouts. A series of 6 cameras showed him working a 100 acre area of our property. The area included two main destination plots, a good deal of cover and some hardwood woods. Unfortunately, he showed only every so often and that was always in the middle of the night. A neighbor picked him up once or twice on camera a mile or so away. This guy was a “traveler” so our hopes of his staying alive until we could hunt him were not too high. We needed him to be using our property with more consistency in order to hunt him.
We have always viewed hunting neighbors as a double edged sword. Yes they hunt and occasionally take a buck we wished they had passed, but they also pressure deer and mature deer don’t like pressure. The more hunting pressure builds the more a buck like this will seek out quiet places where he can find food, security and friendly females. Our job was to put out the “welcome mat”. We are surrounded by thousands of acres of big mountain country and he had plenty of places to “hole up” for the season so we had quite a challenge. Fortunately, 25 years of habitat work had created everything he needed.
The first thing we did was put “his 100 acre area” off limits to hunting and anything else other than checking cameras. In particular we isolated a 30 acre area which featured a sizeable destination plot (we had photographed him a number of times on it) designed to concentrate does and intercept rutting bucks. Unlike most of our destination plots, this one was set up for bowhunting as well. A west wind stand was in place and everything was set, all we needed was a good buck to hunt. We identified this “safe zone” as the most likely place to take him.
All we needed was for him to stay alive, come home, and stay home long enough for us to get a chance to hunt him. And boy did he ever come home. These amazing “homecoming” photos were taken within the 100 acre “safe zone”.He had plenty of food and does to choose from and we wound up photographing him on 4 consecutive days in the 100 acre area after the “homecoming” photo was taken; best of all a few of the pics were during daylight hours. He was “home”, in love, and no longer nocturnal. It was “time to drink the wine” so to speak.
On the 36th day of bow season Neil made his move. His first sit resulted in plenty of does, plenty of fawns and plenty of young bucks but not Mr. Big. Now that he was “rutting” the trick was to sit patient and wait for him to show up and work the plot and oak flat. Sooner or later he would have to check the 30 acre area looking for a hot doe. Every day he didn’t show the percentages became more favorable that he would show the next sit. Hunting the “hunter’s rut” is totally different than hunting deer on a feeding pattern. Feeding pattern deer need to be killed within the first two sits or the game is up. “Rutters” are less careful, less predictable, and you can generally get away with more intrusion. Neil planned on staying with the stand until Mr. Big showed and he either jigged him up or got the shot. Liking his chances, Neil played the same card night two.
This time Mr. Big worked up through the oak flat trailing a group of does but zigged when he should have zagged. A half hour later showed on the plot working does in Neil’s direction. He paused at 31 yards and the rest is history. At 5.5 years of age he is one of the older bucks taken at Kindred Spirits. He scored 151″ and weighed in at 215 so he was a trophy by any measure.
Best of all, he was proof positive that good bucks can be raised and taken on small to medium sized properties in heavily hunted areas. He’s the second best buck ever taken at Kindred Spirits. They don’t come easy but when they do, they are special indeed especially when they are the result of a good plan coming together.
This report has often advised, take your time and tread gently. It also advises when the time is right make your move. You now know why.
But we digress, where are we now? Based on reports from the field and our own observations we are in the throngs of the “biological rut”. They are breeding and having a grand old time of it. And, while there is plenty of activity associated with the breeding there is not always a whole lot of movement.
We watched a beautiful dominant buck tending a doe on Neil’s farm last Saturday. She stayed on the plot quietly feeding for well over an hour under his watchful eye. He fed with her, shredded some brush, chased off a few rival bucks and kept all the deer in the area (including her fawn) away from her. He even went down for a 15 minute rest. He grunted but never crowded her knowing full well that within 24 hours she would stand for him and he would have fulfilled his biological destiny.
This is what mature bucks generally do during the “biological rut”. But what they don’t do is the important part— he didn’t change his location. Didn’t move more than 60 yards and didn’t pass by any hunter’s stands for the entire evening. As a matter of fact Neil has four cameras located within 200 yards of where the scene played out but not one of the cameras picked up movements of the buck and doe.A week earlier he would have been all over the property looking for breedable does in the same time period.
During the next 2 weeks 95% of the biologically mature does will have been bred. During that time the older bucks will take control of the breeding and the only time they will be wandering around is between the 3-4 does they will wind up breeding. Hot does attract bucks, a doe in heat typically attracts not only dominant bucks, but lesser bucks as well.
Another sure sign of does being bred is “orphaned” fawns with no mama in sight. For most of the past weekend Craig watched 2 fawns hanging out in his cabin dooryard. These fawns were “stashed” there as babies last spring and now have returned to this safe place to wait out mom’s “fling” with that nasty old buck.
Our cameras recorded “waves” of action all last week. We caught many does running through with gaping mouthed bucks following, family groups scattering, and fawns looking for somewhere to be. The action ran hot and cold and seemed to happen just about any time of day. You certainly couldn’t set your watch by it as it was almost “random” in nature.
As we are writing this, a report from the property we refer to as the “laboratory” is informing us of 8 separate does being tended in an area comprised of a few hundred acres of CRP fields. In each instance, a dominant buck is doing all the tending, but in almost every case, 3-4 bucks were hanging tight to the action. That means roughly 20 bucks were tied up by these 8 does for hours at a time. This is typical “biological rut” behavior. During the hunters rut all 20 something bucks would still be on the prowl. Which time would you be most likely to get a shot at a buck?
Now make no mistake, the “biological rut” is a fine time to be in the woods but to paraphrase Dickens, these are the best and worst of times. If you get in the middle of a breeding party the action can be fast and furious. On the other hand if the action is occurring 200 yards away you may not see a deer all day. It can get pretty discouraging and it can be a random hunt but you need to be there.
Changing locations every few hours is a good bet during breeding as is hunting does in order to find bucks. Mature bucks stillmove from doe to doe so that argues for stand locations on travel routes and near where does are likely to be “hunkered down” hiding from bucks.
The key to hunting the rut is to put in your time and be there when he is. It is often a matter of rolling the dice and hoping they come up lucky 7. Many get discouraged after a few slow days and declare “rut over” and give up for the year. The rut ain’t over till all the does (and fawns large enough to breed) are bred and that will be sometime in December. We don’t expect you to hang tough until then but you need to keep at it at least through the peak of breeding season (next few weeks).
This can be a very frustrating time of year. It’s almost impossible to pattern a deer with any degree of accuracy or put together a well thought out plan. Hunting favorable weather conditions (cold snaps and changing weather conditions) can pay off some but basically it’s just having the staying power to stay after them and stay positive.