Overall Activity Status: On Wednesday afternoon, I made a run up the river road and did some scouting on a few tributaries of the North Platte here in western Nebraska. There were noticeably fewer whitetails out that evening, which confirms the reports I’ve been hearing across the state. Whether the lack of numbers are from EHD, or due to the hot, dry weather conditions is yet to be seen, but blue-tongue is definitely the word on deer hunters’ lips around here right now. I’ve even started to hear reports of outbreaks in Kansas and South Dakota.
The deer I did see were exhibiting classic September behavior. A few groups of bachelor bucks were moving from timber to freshly knifed bean fields or skirting standing corn fields. Same goes for the does, all of which had single or twin fawns right alongside them.
Fighting: We’re in the very early stages of bucks having hard antlers, so I expect I will start hearing reports of light sparring in advance of bachelor groups breaking up in the next few weeks.
Rubs/Scrapes: Other than reports of a few broken branches here and there likely made by bucks shedding velvet, hunters in the Great Plains aren’t seeing much in the way of rubs or scrapes yet. You can bet as more hunters hit the woods for this weekend’s openers, we’ll start hearing about deer sign being spotted.
Daytime movement: Trail cam photos in Kansas show deer still on their feet well into the morning hours, with reports in from the Sunflower State stating deer are feeding as late as 8-9 a.m. On hotter days, deer are also getting up at mid-day to water before bedding down in deeper cover that provides some relief from the afternoon heat.
Estrous signs: Fawns are still attached at the hip to their mama, or not wandering very far.
X Factor:** One thing we haven’t talked a lot about is the effect of predators on deer populations. It’s no secret mountain lions are expanding onto the Great Plains, with cats showing up as far east as Omaha. This trail cam photo from Rob Burnett’s hunting spot near Broadwater, Nebraska, is a good reminder that cougars are out there and, with the average lion killing two deer per week, affecting the number of deer we see. For Burnett, the pic is also sure to raise some hackles on his neck as he walks to and from his stand in the dark.