Overall activity status: Depending on where you are, the action might be chaotic or non-existent. I experienced this a few days ago, over the course of three days of hunting in northwest Oklahoma. Sitting in a hay bale blind on a wheat field covered in snow, in 7-degree temperatures, I saw a dozen does at last light. No bucks. On the way to town, I saw a 140-class 10-point chasing a doe in my headlights off the highway. Where was he when I was in my blind? The next day, miles away, a different 140-class 10-point was standing beside a hot doe at 1 p.m. He was 40 yards from a busy highway, standing in sunflowers and tall grass. An hour later, he was still standing there, guarding her while 18-wheelers blazed right past him. Meanwhile, that evening on stand, there was no action. So if you happen to be where a hot doe is, you might see a frenzied chase or a buck stuck to her like glue. If not, you might think there isn’t a deer left in the county.
Fighting: In the northern half of the region, now is the perfect time to call and rattle. It won’t work every time, but when it does, it’s exciting. One friend rattled in a big 11-point a few days ago in the Panhandle at 1 p.m. The buck came to within 25 yards. In Oklahoma, my friend Shawn and I rattled several times with no luck. On my last evening there, Shawn rattled up a 120-inch 8-point to 100 yards just after sunset.
Rub making: Close to home, I watched an 8-point buck with a swollen neck demolish a small mesquite tree. After he rubbed his eyes and nose on the exposed bark, he trotted down the creek, neck stretched out and low to the ground, following the trail of three does from earlier in the morning.
Scrape making: I asked Shawn while I was in Oklahoma how many scrapes he had found this season. “None,” he replied. “The brush is so thick and tall on the creek, even seeing a rub is tough this year.”
Chasing: Lots of reports of bucks chasing does from Abilene to Amarillo, and many towns in between. When the rut starts, and small young bucks are the only ones chasing, it usually means the does are not ready to breed. But seeing a mature buck acting like a cutting horse in daylight, chasing a doe with his tongue hanging out, means serious action is taking place. The next ten days to two weeks typically spell good action on stand.
Estrous signs: There’s no doubt the buck and doe I described on the side of the highway in Oklahoma were a breeding pair. The doe did not try to evade the buck. Her tail was outstretched and twitching at one point. While the 140-class whitetail stood guard over her, a forkhorn mule deer was 50 yards away across a barbed wire fence, watching. When the scent of a doe in heat hits the wind stream, it’s common for multiple bucks to pursue the same doe–even bucks of the other species.
Daytime movement: Cold weather and snow hit the region this past weekend, with lows around 5-15 degrees in some areas, putting deer on a very active pattern. At the same blind where I’ve only seen a few photos of deer during the first and last half hour of daylight, there were a dozen or more pictures of bucks and does walking by the camera between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. If you have the patience, this is the time of year to hunt all day. I think it’s best to gain some elevation—a hay stack, windmill, or mesa–so you can glass more country to find a buck on the prowl.
X Factor: When the deer are active, and bucks are putting on a show chasing and fighting, is a great time to take a kid hunting? I recently spent an afternoon with my 7-year-old daughter, Emma, here at left. We sat in a pop-up ground blind. Emma had all the necessary supplies of a young huntress: lip gloss, purse, three different jackets, ipad, snacks, more snacks, and a blanket. We saw only a few deer–but it was one of my favorite hunts of the season.