Rut Reporter Will Brantley of Murray, Kentucky, knows the region well. He spends 40 to 50 days each season in the Mid-South whitetail woods. Brantley shot his first deer at age 10 with a sidelock muzzleloader. States covered: KY, TN, WV, VA, NC.
Overall Activity Status: From Nov. 12 through Nov. 15, the wind blew in excess of 15 miles per hour (with gusts over 40 at times) all day and night in most of the Mid-South. Right now, it’s raining and in the mid-50s in Kentucky (although still quite breezy), and that frontal system has moved east. Jerimiah Waddell, my North Carolina contact, said the wind was howling and it was 70 degrees in his area at the time of this report.
In short, not ideal weather for deer hunting–but the bucks have been moving regardless. I’ve seen numerous reports of big bucks being shot throughout the Mid-South in the past week. Kentucky hunter Alicia Murphy bagged the big 8-pointer in the photo shortly after daylight Saturday morning.
“I was in a ladder stand overlooking a cut corn field when he came out,” Murphy says. “He was headed right across the field toward two does when I shot him. I saw several other bucks in the field chasing does that morning.”
Jimbo Robinson, my Tennessee contact, reported seeing “the biggest dead buck of my life last week,” which was killed on the Hatchie River NWR in west Tennessee. No photos of that deer, unfortunately.
Fighting: Fights are of the serious type right now. We were studying some trail camera photos over the weekend, and noticed a buck that had been a nice 8-pointer the last week in October was now a massive 4-pointer–he’d broken every main-beam tine he had at the bases.
Rub making: Rubbing activity is holding steady.
Scrape making: Scraping activity has waned in my area as the peak of breeding is underway, but in Southwest Tennessee, where the peak is still a week or two away, Robinson says new scrapes are popping up everywhere.
Chasing: Chasing is at a fevered pitch throughout the Mid-South, with much of the peak breeding taking place in the region’s northern states.
Daytime movement: The rut happens regardless of the weather, and though daylight activity has been surprisingly good given the high winds and warm weather, it’s still at its best on the cool, calm days. “Every time we get a cold spell in Tennessee, you see bucks chasing does. It’s like clockwork,” Robinson says.
Estrous signs: Big numbers of does are in estrous right now in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and northern Tennessee. As mentioned, the peak is probably a week or two away in southern Tennessee and North Carolina–meaning this is a great time to get in on that chase-phase action.
X Factor: On the one hand, with numerous does coming into estrus and open firearm seasons across much of the Mid-South, I’d say we can expect a decline in daylight buck sightings. Hunting pressure and breeding will have them locked down in thickets. On the other hand, the weather has been so terrible for so long that a cold snap on a calm day could produce a lot of action.
Another factor to consider is the wide variation in rut timing in the southern United States. While not as dramatic in the Mid-South as it is in the Deep South, there may be a month’s worth of difference in the rut timing in deer herds only 100 miles apart–and sometimes even closer.
“There are so many does here in North Carolina, the rut can sometimes seem to last from the fifth of November through the first of January,” says Jerimiah Waddell. “Generally, I consider mid-November to Thanksgiving to be the peak, but there are a lot of does to breed around here. It’s nothing to see bucks chasing in late January.”