Okanogan Valley Guide Service’s Jerrod Gibbons is a well-respected fishing and hunting guide, but he’s way better known for putting client’s on muley bucks amidst Washington’s biggest mule deer herd than he is for guiding them to whitetails. That’s not likely to change soon, but what is changing is the population of whitetails in Northcentral Washington and the number of clients interested in hunting them, even in December.
“I have clients that book the second half of the season just because they see more deer during the second rut,” says Gibbons. “You will see some bucks coming into our feed stations rut chasing does, while the others are coming in to feed to start putting some fat on their bodies for the rest of the winter.”
In Washington and northern Idaho, where rutting is still going in places as the last few does come into estrus, archers can stay in the field until the 15th in Washington and the 24th in Idaho. In northcentral Washington, after a lull in rutting behavior, more does appear to be coming into estrus.
“The second rut is just now in full swing here in the Okanogan,” says Gibbons. “My client and I are seeing scrape lines being freshened up. A week ago, the bucks seemed to go nocturnal, but with the second rut coming on now, I’m getting more buck pictures and seeing more bucks during the daylight.
“I’m also starting to see bucks running together,” Gibbons points out. “Notice in the picture [shown above] how that buck has his ears pinned back and is probably about to snort-wheeze and has the hair on its back raised. The dominant bucks are covering the last few remaining does, and the others are getting back to their routine…feeding. Cold weather that has just kicked on in the last week (10 degrees to lower 30s) also has forced deer to be more on the move. They have to feed.”
This is true across the West as deer move into winter patterns. On my late muzzleloader whitetail hunt last weekend, I planned to hunt prime private land in Southeast Washington above the Grande Ronde River at about 3,800 feet. Brushy, timbered draws cut gouges in high-plateau wheat farms harboring excellent whitetail populations. I counted on being able to take a doe on the last day of the season if a buck wasn’t in the cards, but I watched deer make their migration to lower elevations and winter patterns as I entered the field. The forecast called for cold and snow all week, which I hoped would have deer seeking feed throughout the day. Light snow and a breeze on the evening of my arrival evolved into a severe winter storm packing 50 mph gusts, lots of snow, and severe lightning the next day. It sent whitetails and yours truly packing for lower elevations.
Although dominant bucks are still seeking out estrous does, the rut is on its last legs. Most bucks are becoming more focused on food and more often as temperatures drop. Whether they’re seeking food or does, a good number of bucks should continue to fall to Washington and Idaho archers.
Gibbons and his clients are putting in long days in stands and seeing good activity still in the morning and evening with a little activity right in the middle of the day, around 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“The big bucks on trail cam keep my clients in the stands all day, (waiting) for those big bucks to make their mistake and show up.”