The 100th meridian splits the Great Plains states of Nebraska, Kansas and the Dakotas roughly in half, and also serves as a general guideline for the presence of mule deer on the Plains. To the west, mule deer roam the prairies and grasslands. East of 100 degrees, the forked horn deer forfeit lands to the dominance of the whitetail until muleys all but disappear from the map. For many hunters in this region, a deer tag is good for either species. In areas where both deer cohabitate, it’s possible for that hunter to target both species in the same day.
In terms of the breeding season, it’s been said mule deer will generally go into rut as much as a week earlier than their white-tailed cousins. If that is the case, then deer hunters in the western half of the Great Plains should expect to see some serious rut-related behavior now.
Several of my contacts have reported mule deer are deep in the rut. In the southwest corner of the Nebraska panhandle, Troy Kurz states matter-of-factly that is the case. “I can tell you the mule deer are rutting,” said Kurz. “Been watching bucks chase and check does for about a week and saw a couple bucks go at it this morning before work.” With Nebraska’s firearms season opening last weekend, I expect Troy to have some good stories, and hopefully a trophy photo, to share with us soon.
Trevor Black hunts a bit farther east of there and he’s seeing the same thing. I ran into him at the Cabela’s in Sidney, Nebraska, last week where we were both picking up a few things for upcoming hunts. Black says both the mule deer and whitetails on his lease have stepped up their game recently. He watched a small muley buck harassing a doe, and showed me a photo of a dandy mule deer buck his trail cam snapped during the daylight hours.
If the guy in the photo above is starting to look familiar, it’s because he’s having a heck of a season. Last year, Spencer Neuharth tagged a whitetail buck with his bow on one of Field & Stream’s Best Days of the Rut and just last week, filled a doe tag. He followed that up with a weekend trip to Gregory County, S.D., where he connected with this beautiful, rutted-up buck. I’ll let him tell you the story:
_”The first 30 minutes of shooting hour went by without spotting a deer. Anxiety was creeping in when movement on a distant hill came into my binoculars. It was a buck, one I would be proud to put my tag on. He was scent checking a tree line and heading for the creek bottom I was perched on. At 800 yards away buck fever was already setting in.
“When he hit the creek bottom at 600 yards away he was on a mission. Cruising down the dried watering hole he didn’t care that my scent was blowing right at him or that he was in the wide open. He was rutting, hard. This buck was playing right into my hand now; he would be at 100 yards or so in no time. Then he hit a stop sign, something in the nearby draw changed his direction and he was about to sneak into the thick evergreens.
“I quickly ranged and stopped him with a loud “meh.” I realized how unnatural it sounded afterwards. None the less, I put the .243 on him and squeezed off a shot at 210 yards. Then there was that blink of an eye moment when you transition from looking through the scope to looking with your naked eye. I thought I saw a high leg kick that goes with a connecting shot, but wasn’t sure. He ran about ten yards and stood there looking around. I didn’t hesitate to send another piece of lead his way and after the second shot he disappeared into that draw that he was so interested in.
“I picked up my gear and sped for the draw. When I got there I found some blood, not much though. I started following the faint trail and it swerved through the evergreens. Simultaneously my phone was blowing up from my dad and brother as they heard the echoing shots. Then I saw his bloodied up muzzle and horns, he was laying a stone’s throw away and lifeless. He was beautiful.
“I answered the texts and admired him. After recovering him it turned out both shots hit him in the lungs and the entrance holes were just an inch apart. It was my biggest muley buck to date and I was so struck by his curled tines. Having a public land hunt come together is such a great feeling!”_