This very heavy, tall, and wide 5×4 is one of several bucks I got pictures of yesterday. Mike Roby spotted and stalked the buck outside of Libby, Montana, just before the rut. He then spent the last few days in the field watching friends and family members take nice bucks as the rut started in earnest in Northwestern Montana–and across the rest of the West.
Typically after I speak with a bunch of contacts around the map, I’ll get differing opinions about rut status. But right now, everyone is saying the same thing: It’s on.
Roby first spotted his buck at 462 yards, and he worked to close the distance to 250 before setting up for a shot. He had been watching an old logging unit in one of his favorite whitetail spots just outside of Libby when he noticed movement out in the cut. Two good bucks were feeding together, silhouetted against three inches of fresh snow.
When Roby fired at the better of the two bucks, both deer ran off, and Roby wasn’t sure of a hit. When he walked to where the deer had stood, he found no blood in the snow. With the aid of perfect tracking snow, he followed the buck’s track, as he put it: “Till I jumped him, and shot him behind the shoulder at 70 yards to finish him off.”
“Up until the day I got my deer, they were moving mostly at night,” said Roby. “We were seeing lots of sign but were not seeing many animals. The snow helped with seeing more deer movement during the day. Since the 15th, we have noticed good rut activity. Deer have been sparring with each other and small bucks have been hanging with does. My brother, Jason Roby, shot this buck yesterday at 4:30 pm. It was alone and bedded. Its neck was swollen up, and he smelled bad of a rutting buck.”
Fighting/sparring: I have received reports from Montana and Wyoming of bucks fighting and of young bucks near does sparring with each other. I hesitate to speak so soon, but I may have a lead on a trail cam picture of a buck breeding a doe (stay tuned).
Rubs and Scrapes: Scraping behavior is widespread right now, and mature bucks are reportedly patrolling community scrapes and traditional scrapelines. No reports yet of stumbling mad bucks, just preoccupied foolish maneuvers so far.
Chasing: Bucks are actively seeking estrous does and are at varying progressions of the rut depending on region. Wyoming’s deer appear to be furthest along of the reports I’ve received. The first signs of rutting behavior were reported there as well. It’s difficult to make regional generalizations here because there are major outliers and different scenarios occurring in nearby drainages. One thing is for sure: They’re rutting and chasing does just about everywhere by now.
Daytime movement: As has been the case all year, nasty weather has sparked deer activity. Almost every uptick in deer activity I’ve reported on this fall has been tied to a weather event. Add to the increasingly wintry weather the ancient hormonal urges of bucks in rut, and watch as deer movement continues to be steady throughout much of the day across the West, especially on less-pressured landscapes.
X factor: Stay in woods right now. Don’t leave your stand, don’t give up on your still hunt, and don’t take your eyes off your field of vision. There’s no point in unnecessarily dispersing your scent on these super-short days. Deer are moving all day with bucks seeking does and patrolling traditional scrapelines between doe groups. If you’re seeking a trophy, don’t pay attention to the little bucks’ scrapes on field edges or other open country. The bigger, more secluded scrapes deer make in the same places, year after year, will consistently draw bigger bucks. Of course, a big buck could also stumble into you when you least expect it. Finding and setting up near doe groups is an excellent strategy right now. Rattling and calling are still accounting for bucks, too, but rattle, grunt, and bleat sparingly and strategically, especially on pressured properties.