November 16, 2023
This is Week 5 of the 2023 Game & Fish Regional Rut Update, our series of exclusive weekly rut reports from the field by whitetail contributors Doug Howlett (East), Darron McDougal (Midwest) and Josh Honeycutt (South). As gun seasons open in many states this weekend, here's what to expect:
- In the East, Howlett suggests that no matter what you’re seeing at your hunting grounds, the rut is happening now and you need to be in the woods. "Localized conditions are indeed changing fast," he said.
- In the Midwest, McDougal reports doe-chasing and lockdown is on throughout the region. Prepare to sit all day, use calls, and hunt areas around food and water.
- In the South, Honeycutt says rut activity is heating up and some areas are seeing lockdown. More mature bucks have been chasing and cruising, though some are still nocturnal.
The Rut is on in Many Places; Target Travel Corridors and Feeding Areas
- In some states, bucks are chasing does or locked down, but in others, the main event has yet to arrive.
By Doug Howlett
Ask any wildlife biologist who understands whitetails and they all will tell you that wherever you live, the peak of the rut occurs the same time, every year, without fail. Weather conditions, hunting pressure, even local habitat and food sources, can all influence what a hunter sees on the ground. However, the rut doesn't "happen next week." Similarly false are the "it came in two weeks early" statements or the ridiculous "there wasn't a rut this year" grumblings.
Yes, Virginia, there is always a rut, and throughout the East—regardless of what you are seeing—it is happening now, which means you need to be in the woods. Gun seasons throughout the region are opening up this week, so the woods are also about to become a lot more crowded.
That means more bucks are going to drop and conditions could get challenging as the week goes on. It also means that, especially in high-pressure areas, a lot of the daytime activity that cranked up over the past week could very well go more nocturnal—and quickly at that. Localized conditions are indeed changing fast.
Just last Thursday, my son Cade was hunting our land in Virginia and sitting on the ground along a creek bottom surrounded by pines. In less than 30 minutes, he had four bucks stroll by, two of them shooters, but he just couldn’t get a clear shot with his crossbow. Two days later, in the same spot, another bruiser came in and made a scrape 54 yards away, a distance at which he wasn’t comfortable shooting through the trees.
I was on the same farm Sunday evening and saw 10 deer, including one doe being chased by a good-sized buck, during the last two hours of daylight. The next day, I hunted nearly the entire day and saw one little 4-point just before dark.
Lockdown? Maybe. The big bucks that were wandering on their own last week, and were so visible during the day, grew scarce over the weekend. But maybe I was just sitting in the wrong spot as well. Certainly, observations from around the region are all over the place right now.
In Massachusetts, George Hamilton offered his rut intel via video. He was out checking his trail cameras, sans any sort of legal method of take, when a big 10-point ran right up to him in pursuit of a doe. There were two does actually. Because he was without his bow, he did the only thing he could. He captured the moment on his cell phone, so he at least had proof of what played out. "This happened today while I was out checking a camera, and I didn't bring my bow!" Hamilton says. "I’d say the rut is on!"
In Connecticut, "The Outdoor Drive" podcaster Trevor Berwick reports there has been a lot of great activity in the past week. "Bucks are on the move, nose to the ground searching and searching," he says. "It is really starting to pick up! This coming week should be the week."
In New York, Quaker Boy Game Calls’ Ernie Calandrelli agrees. "For some reason, activity has been a bit slower this year," he says. "However, the deer take has seemed to pick up this week, so some of the bucks are starting to cruise. From now till the 18th of November will be the time you should be after them."
Fellow New Yorker Tiffany Bezio has been watching her cameras from Ohio, where she took another nice public-land buck with her crossbow this past week. But she’s eager to get back to the Empire State, as new bucks started popping up on her camera just last week, meaning it's game on. Bucks are ranging farther in search of hot does.
"I have seen a very high uptick in harvested deer pictures in the home area," she says. "I have had no bucks on camera and on the nights of the 8th and 10th [of November], I got good bucks traveling on camera. It should only get better."
Michael Wheeler has been on the ground, hunting and scouting both Vermont and New Hampshire. He's seen numerous bucks cruising this past week in search of does and groups of does still together. But then earlier this week, while still-hunting, he came upon two different bucks that had does pinned down and he called another in with a doe bleat. The bucks are eager and are going to be after does hard this coming week.
"I think it's fully on in some areas with more balanced buck-to-doe ratios like southern parts of New England and New York," he says. "Farther north, it's going to be happening for the next week or two. It will be better than right now."
In Maine, Chris Cobbett has been monitoring about 25 cellular-enabled trail cams across the western foothills. He's seeing bucks still in search mode and just starting to pin down does. "The rut is upon us," he says. "It's shaping up to be a great season."
While some bucks will be locked down with does, as soon as other bucks finish, they'll be cruising in search of another. This can equal big opportunity for hunters in the woods at the right time and place. It's important now to work travel corridors and feeding areas. Does that have been bred, and even those that haven't yet, will be looking to feed, while bucks will search these areas looking for that one doe still ready to go.
In New Jersey, where Triple B Outfitters’ David Sichik says the lockdown period tends to come a little earlier, hunters are starting to see more mature bucks roaming the woods in search of does. This means that the next week or two at the most will likely be the last big hurrah for rut-focused hunters.
Indeed, in both West Virginia and Maryland, reports show things have been a little slow, but plenty of bucks are still hitting the ground at the hands of hunters. However, with regard to the rut (and gun season), this week should be prime time.
"We are one week away from the main event, the rifle buck season," former West Virginia game warden Larry Case said. "While some chasing by bucks is being talked about, the general word on the street is it is still a little slow. I don't know why. It has cooled down some. You would think that would help. But, in general, the rut doesn't seem to be really cranking just yet."
Tristan Taylor in Maryland thinks it will be a "trickle rut" this year, with sporadic activity of great days mixed with slow days depending on where you are sitting. "This weekend through the day after Thanksgiving, there are always a couple of unknown, very mature bucks showing up," he says.
All signs indicate that this is going to be the week, so get out there, no matter what you're allowed to hunt with. The rut is on.
Old Dominion Hunter Bags Giant Public-Land Buck
- Hunter: Dennis Lawson
- Date: Nov. 4, 2023
- Location: Bath County, Va.
- Method: Muzzleloader
- Stats: 183 inches
Swords Creek, Va., resident Dennis Lawson achieved every public-land hunter’s dream—every deer hunter’s dream actually—when he recently tagged an incredible buck that green-scored 183 inches. Lawson shot the buck in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests on Nov. 4, the opening day of the state’s muzzleloader season. The beast sported 18 scoreable points.
Lawson believes he had seen—and missed—the same buck four years ago when it was a big buck even then. He was toting a .270 during rifle season, and after missing, figured that was it.
But this fall carrying a .50-caliber Thompson/Center Omega inline, he was hunting an open drainage that was surrounded by thicker, recently timbered mountainsides. While trying to avoid making any more noise than necessary in the crunching leaves, he spotted a flash of movement ahead of him.
"I was easing along trying to get a glimpse over this hill, when suddenly a squirrel ran up a tree," he says. "I felt like a dummy."
But then he heard leaves crunching and sticks breaking and could hear several deep grunts. "They were the deepest grunts I have ever heard," he says.
Lawson stood motionless between two trees, and the buck stepped into sight a mere 70 yards through the open woods. "I shot and the buck took off," he says. "He was quartering to me, and I hit him a little farther back in the ribs than I had intended."
The buck ran as Lawson rapidly, and nervously, reloaded. He quickly got to another hilltop, from where he spotted the wounded buck still on its feet. "I was able to get another shot into him," he says. "This time he was quartering away."
The buck ran another 30 yards before collapsing. Lawson was awestruck as he approached the buck. "I just walked circles around him looking at him from every angle and he just seemed to get bigger and bigger," he says.
Not surprisingly, it is Lawson’s biggest buck ever. "Now I'm famous, at least around here," he jokes.
MyOutdoorTV: 'Realtree Roadtrips' Hunts Kansas Rut
We all have our favorite places to hunt during the rut, and the whitetail fanatics featured on MyOutdoorTV are no exception. If you can’t get out to your top spots this week, take a journey with Tyler Jordan and Bryan Brown in this episode of "Realtree Roadtrips," when they return to a special place in Kansas with a history of producing awesome bucks during the rut.
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Bucks Chasing and Locking Down; Use Calls, Hunt Food and Water, and Sit All Day
- While it seemed that the chase phase was delayed this year, now folks are seeing bucks locked down with does.
By Darron McDougal
The buck was within reach of my rifle but only 3 1/2 years old. He was locked down with a doe in some of South Dakota's terrain breaks. As I scanned the surroundings, I noticed another 3 1/2-year-old buck about 200 to 250 yards away from the pair, obviously looking for a chance to swoop in and steal the doe.
In other words, lockdown is on.
While following up with longtime whitetail expert and Bucks & Bulls Archery owner Gary Hintz, he mentioned that he's noticing a mixture of lockdown and chasing behavior in Illinois. He says now is prime time. He saw four bucks on Sunday, and his son shot a nice one that day, too.
"They are responding to calls a little bit yet," he adds. "I've seen just about every single phase of the rut over the last few days. I've seen chasing. I've seen bucks locked down. And I've seen lone bucks out searching."
In Iowa, Whitetail Freaks' Kaleb Kisky shares his latest observations. "Honestly, we seem to have had a major die-off of our mature bucks," he says. "But the ones we have left are all locked down with does. If they break away from their does, the frenzy occurs at night when they hook up with another doe. Mature bucks are moving very minimally during daylight hours right now."
Things aren't a whole lot different in Kansas. Outfitter Joe Conyers of Conyers Outdoors mentioned that he's been seeing inferior bucks relentlessly cruising.
"Mature bucks are tending and chasing does," he adds. "Hunting over water is the key right now given the warm weather. And, bucks are starting to get hungry, so food sources can be productive, too."
READ: Lockdown Logistics—When to Move and When to Sit All-Day
Rifle Hunter Bags Bluegrass Beast
- Hunter: Tosha Boyd
- Date: Nov. 11, 2023
- Location: Eastern Kentucky
- Method: Rifle
- Stats: 157 5/8 inches
For Tosha Boyd, the Kentucky firearms opener "has always been like Christmas." However, Boyd's toddler resisted staying with a babysitter last Saturday. So, her husband Brandon decided that they'd simply bring their young son along.
"Since it was too late to go to our intended blind," she says, "we went to one of our favorite glassing spots. We had just gotten comfortable when I looked down at the bottom and noticed a big buck staring at us. He gave us a side view and we identified him as a buck from our trail cameras. Before I could shoot, he took off with his doe. But he circled back around and gave me a quartering-away opportunity at 187 yards."
She says that dropping the big buck in his tracks with her husband and their almost 3-year-old son beside her has been the highlight of her hunting career. "It was a quick season, but I'm so thankful for how everything panned out," she adds. "Just when I thought there was no chance we'd see anything, God basically said, 'Watch this.' My son just might be my good luck charm."
Why You Need a Great Binocular for Whitetail Hunting
Technology-rich binos, such as Bushnell's large selection, have become one of the most important tools in the modern hunting game. Having the right binocular tucked away into a hunting pack or hanging from a hook in a treestand is vital to success during the whitetail rut.
Click to Read More
Some Areas Seeing Lockdown; Others Will Soon
- Rut activity is heating up across the South, though some mature bucks are still mostly nocturnal.
By Josh Honeycutt
Another week of deer hunting brings another rut update for the South. In South Carolina, whitetail expert Travis Sumner says things have been wide open the latter part of October and moving into early November.
"Chasing and cruising are being done by more mature bucks," he mentions. "Warm weather slowed things down in the past week, though. Starting to see more of the lockdown stage of the rut here. Bucks are still responsive to grunt calls."
Backwoods Life’s Michael Lee is in Georgia. He says that in his area, bucks are locked down with does. "We shot three bucks in the last week all following does closely," he adds. "And all three bucks were 4- to 5-year-olds. The little guys are running around like crazy."
Outdoor television veteran Tim Andrus has been hunting in the Texas Panhandle. He says that "small bucks are feeling the itch, scraping, et cetera." However, recently, increased temperatures have stymied daytime movement.
HuntStand’s Will Cooper is also in Texas. He's seeing evidence of serious rut activity, too. "The rut is in full swing, and bucks are beginning to disappear as they are in lockdown," he says. "Bucks are chasing and are frisky."
Outdoor writer Clifford Neames hunts in south-central Tennessee. He states that while younger bucks are cruising, most of the older bucks are still nocturnal.
All Things Hunting's Kyle Barefield is in Oklahoma, and things seem to be heating up there as well. "Our mature bucks have disappeared from the cameras set over corn feeders," he says. "I feel like this activity is a week earlier than years past. I think a lot of the big bucks are cruising right now looking for does about to come in heat. They are thinking about the rut, and not food, now."
Personally, I hunted with my father for the opening weekend of the Kentucky rifle season. We witnessed numerous bucks chasing does. On Sunday afternoon, he shot a great buck as it followed does into a cut soybean field. And on Monday afternoon, I had a cell-cam video of a yearling buck breeding a doe. So, I'd say the rut is on.
Muzzleloader Hunters Bag Two Volunteer State Studs
- Hunter: Marc Larese
- Date: Nov. 12, 2023
- Location: Tennessee
- Method: .50-caliber CVA Muzzleloader
- Stats: 145 inches
Marc Larese has been chasing a main-frame 10-pointer all season. He still hasn’t crossed paths with it, but on Nov. 6, a new face turned up on camera. "It was a new deer that I have zero history with," Larese says. "It showed up for two consecutive days. Then, it disappeared. I hunted it all weekend."
Eventually, it reappeared. On Nov. 12, he hunted the buck again. His stand was in a small, narrow field in the middle of a couple hills with big timber that runs into a cedar thicket. The deer use the area as a travel corridor, and this big buck followed that script.
"I heard a deer coming in from behind me down the hill," Larese says. "I could see one coming through cedar branches. He ran down the path, locked up to my right, threw his nose in the air, and I thought I was busted."
The big buck stomped, looked around and took a couple steps forward. That put him in the open, and Larese took the 18-yard shot. It connected, the deer mule-kicked and fell after a short, 20-yard dash.
"I really played the wind on this deer," Larese says. "I based my sets on wind direction and only hunted when the wind was right. Pay attention to the wind—that's my biggest tip for whitetails. They will bust you every time if you don't. They don't get big by being dumb and careless. He is a perfect example of a beautiful, mature, 4 1/2-year-old buck. It makes the work all worth it."
- Hunter: Chris Smith
- Date: Nov. 9, 2023
- Location: Tennessee
- Method: Muzzleloader
- Stats: 145 inches
Chris Smith has been getting trail-camera photos of this Volunteer State buck since August. Ever since, he's been planning how to capitalize and connect on this magnificent deer.
On Nov. 9, that plan came together. He decided to hunt a white oak ridge that drops off into agricultural bottomland. That was the stage for this big-buck showdown.
Soon after settling in, a doe walked into view and began slowly feeding around the food plot. Two minutes later, this big buck stepped out and immediately locked onto the doe.
Smith prepared to wait patiently for a broadside shot opportunity. Within seconds, he got one, and the muzzleloader barked. The buck went down, and Smith got his deer.
Looking back on it, Smith partially credits some of his land management practices for his success. Of particular importance, he feels, are food plots.
"Provide well-maintained clover plots for the off-season," Smith says. "Plant combinations of fall green plots (my favorite is winter rye), radishes, et cetera."
This deer is very special to Smith. It's the first deer harvest from a new farm he bought this year. A buck like this is certainly a heck of a way to kick off the property's legacy.
WHEN TO HUNT DURING THE RUT
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