November 02, 2023
The waiting might be the hardest part when anticipating the annual deer rut, especially when the calendar hits November. But trust us, the whitetail woods are about to be full on with bucks chasing does.
This is Week 3 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). This week's report includes:
- In the East, Howlett reports cooler weather should set things right in the region: "The next couple of weeks are going to be phenomenal."
- In the Midwest, McDougal says mature bucks are still mostly nocturnal, but signs say they'll be roaming soon.
- In the South, Honeycutt says some areas are reporting good rutting activity; colder weather moving in should intensify things.
Weather Trends Improving; Daytime Movement Increasing
- Last weekend's heat wave brought mixed results, but now it's time to get serious.
By Doug Howlett
Just last week we were optimistic. Most of the variables necessary for the rut to kick into gear were aligned. All we needed was some cooler weather. What happened? Temps hit the 80s as far north as Massachusetts and were in the 70s all the way up to Maine.
Ordinarily, that would kill the activity hunters associate with the pre-rut and push the chasing and movement well into the night hours, when only trail cameras can clue us into what is going on. For a number of hunters, that's exactly what played out.
"It’s gotten pretty quiet on all of my cameras, and I’m hearing a lot of the same," says Virginia deer hunter Philip Hassler. Hassler runs the Facebook page "Virginia Whitetails," which features photos of bucks—including some real gaggers—that fall each day during Virginia’s deer season. In fact, even as temps soared into the 80s in the Old Dominion and things slowed down in the deer woods, hunters who braved the mosquitoes and heat were richly rewarded.
"I went and checked all my stands [Saturday]. This heat has stopped them from moving," says Maryland hunter Tristan Taylor. "I have four cellular cameras on corn, and they had been dead the previous four days when normally I'd have 100 pictures on each one each day. The scrapes have leaves in them and look abandoned. I expect for things to kick on overnight Tuesday."
Tuesday, of course, was Halloween, but it’s also when the cold front that had brought snow to much of the Midwest over last weekend finally arrived in the East. Temps dropped faster than a fat man in a dunking booth—a good 30 to 40 degrees in many areas. And just like that it was game on.
All of the other pieces were already in place. Reports from New Jersey up to New England were seeing spotty daytime deer movement because of the heat, but movement nevertheless, especially in the afternoons, courtesy of the full moon.
A friend of Hassler’s sent him a video of a decent buck getting busy with a doe right off Skyline Drive in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. A video from Pennsylvania hunter Jeff Oberdorf posted on the "PA Deer Hunting" Facebook page shows a wide-racked 8-point chasing two does down a stream edge. And in New Hampshire, a hunter killed what could potentially be the new state muzzleloader record (more to come on that), proving you can’t kill them if you aren’t out there, no matter what the weather—or the deer—are doing.
The moon is waning but still bright and the temps will climb back up to normal ranges this weekend and into the coming week, but the die is cast and the biological rut clock is set. Deer are on the move and the next couple of weeks are going to be phenomenal. If you are sitting at home reading this, grab your gear and call in sick if you have to. If you’re in your stand reading this on your phone, be sure to look up from time to time. That big boy may be right out in front of you.
Virginia Hunter Goes Full Battle Rattle
- Hunter: Caleb Craig
- Date: Oct. 23, 2023
- Location: Bedford County, Va.
- Method: Compound bow
- Stats: 11 points; 20 3/4-inch outside spread
On the morning of Oct. 23, Caleb Craig settled into a stand he had hung a month ago to target a buck he’d seen both in trail-camera pictures and from a tractor while he was working. Just before daylight, a big-bodied deer walked under him, but it was still too dark to tell what it was. Then, at 7:30 a.m., the deer he was after stepped to the edge of the field 100 yards away.
The buck was feeding away from him, so Craig, hunting with a bow, tickled rattling antlers together to try to get the deer to come his way. Craig admits he had never had any luck with rattling antlers, but his grunt tube had fallen out of his bag in his truck, so it was his only option. To his surprise, the buck spun around and marched in. But so did a doe, which had Craig pinned and unable to move. Begrudgingly, he sat still as the buck and the doe both walked away.
Not to be deterred, an hour later he rattled the antlers again. He had no sooner put them down when he saw an even bigger buck thrashing a tree 25 yards away. The buck turned and came right to him. This time, there was no doe to risk spooking, and Craig planted his arrow perfectly. The 11-pointer with split brows measured a solid 20 3/4 inches wide on the outside.
MyOutdoorTV: 'Realtree Outdoors' Rattles Texas Rut
When big bucks are seeking hot does, rattling can lead to unforgettable moments. David Blanton heads to Texas early in the rut to rattle up a monster and makes a key discovery that pays off in this episode of Realtree Outdoors.
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College Senior Scores First Bow Buck
- Hunter: Sawyer Shankle
- Date: Oct. 26, 2023
- Location: Campbell County, Va.
- Method: Compound bow
- Stats: 14 points
Growing up in Arkansas, Liberty University senior Sawyer Shankle had only ever hunted with a firearm. When he arrived at college in the mountains of Virginia, he wanted a new thrill, so he picked up a bow. He and his buddy, Dylan Gibble, also a Liberty University senior, hunt a property not far from campus, where their trail cameras had picked up photos of a buck they wanted to target. Shankle wasn’t planning on hunting on Thursday, Oct. 26, but Gibble said they should get out there and give it a shot. Shankle set up on his stand, while Gibble sat a stand about 150 yards away. Shortly after sunrise, a 6-point strolled past Shankle, followed by a much more massive buck.
"He came out at 35 yards, following a nice 6-point, and then walked to a gap 20 yards from me. I drew, but after seeing my sight picture, I knew I could get a better shot," Shankle says. "Sure enough, it walked to within 10 yards and I finally took the shot."
The buck ran 50 yards before collapsing. It was Shankle’s first deer with a bow and his biggest to date. Including kickers, the buck rocked 14 points.
Calm Before the Storm; Look for Mature Bucks to Begin Roaming Soon
- Young bucks are moving in daylight, but the big ones are still primarily night-walkers.
By Darron McDougal
I expected that the huge cold front would be the paradigm shift this fall, but we’re not quite there in my neck of Wisconsin. I hit a very unpressured public parcel once conditions stabilized, and I counted 30-odd scrapes as I moved and rattled. At six different setups, only a spike responded. He obviously hadn’t made all those scrapes.
On another public parcel, I watched two 1 1/2-year-old bucks exit a bedding area in the afternoon heading for food. No running. No nose to the ground. Nothing.
In Nebraska, Adam Stohs, who took the state’s No. 3 archery nontypical buck in 2015, reported slightly more promising observations.
"Scraping activity is increasing, and younger bucks are putting on miles looking for hot does," he says. "The mature bucks are still hanging back, but they’re positioned to intercept the first hot doe of the season."
It’s more of the same in Kentucky, where outfitter and Realtree.com editor Will Brantley says they received a big, much-needed rain over the weekend and saw the temperature drop 30 degrees.
"Weather conditions look ideal this week," he says. "Lots of little bucks are cruising and pushing does, but daylight mature buck sightings have been slim. I expect that to change this week. Scrapes are starting to ‘go cold,’ which is a sure sign bucks are beginning to cruise."
Winchester Deadly Passion’s Melissa Bachman says she’s seen 2- and 3-year-old bucks chasing does in South Dakota. However, she adds that the mature bucks haven’t been visible in daylight either in person or on trail cameras.
"We’ve witnessed several pretty good young-buck fights," she says. "The young ones have been moving throughout the day for the last three days. We also have cameras in Illinois. They haven’t been showing any midday activity. Lots of younger deer are using scrapes in both states."
READ: Best Days to Hunt the Deer Rut in Each Region
Wisco Public-Land Double-Drop Stud
- Hunter: Corey Quella
- Date: Oct. 25, 2023
- Location: Adams County, Wis.
- Method: Compound bow
- Stats: 133 7/8 inches
Wisconsin hunter Corey Quella has been watching a parcel of public land since shed season. More than a week and a half ago at that spot, he grunted in a small 6-pointer. On Oct. 23, Quella and a friend hunted the area again. His friend observed a decent 8-pointer following a doe and making scrapes.
On Oct. 25, Quella finished work at 5 p.m. and rushed out to hunt. He got situated on the ground amidst some short pines.
"At 5:45 p.m., I heard deer behind me," he said. "A doe stopped and stared at me but continued forward. I heard grunts behind her. It sounded like there were two bucks, but only one followed the doe. I grunted, snort-wheezed and estrous bleated to stop him, but he kept going.
"At 6 p.m., I hit the doe can three times," Quella continued. "I heard some leaves rustling, so I got positioned. I saw antlers about 20 yards out. The buck came to within six yards and stopped to look around. He took about four more steps, and that’s when I shot him. I didn’t even realize that he had two drop tines until I walked up to him."
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Deer Movement Ramping Up Across the Region
- Some areas are beginning to produce heavier loads of rut sign.
By Josh Honeycutt
November is here, and while that means the rut is near in much of whitetail country, it isn’t true for most of the Southeast. However, a few areas in Dixie are reporting good rutting activity.
Whitetail Properties land agent Scott Hicks is in central and eastern North Carolina. There, he says, the rut is kicking off. "We are seeing rubs and scrapes on the listings we are walking," he says. "As always, the main sign that the rut has begun is all the dead bucks on the shoulder of the road."
Deer Lab’s Jon Livingston is in northeastern Florida. "We have about 1,000 different ruts it seems," he says. "Across the street, it could be different. That being said, I haven’t noticed any changes here."
It’s true. Depending on location, the rut can occur anywhere from July to March in the Sunshine State. Somewhere in Florida, deer are rutting.
Outdoor writer Clifford Neames is in middle Tennessee. "The pre-rut is just beginning," he says. "It will probably intensify with the onset of colder weather this week."
Backwoods Life’s Michael Lee is in Georgia. "Scrapes are everywhere, and the bucks are moving around different areas," he reports. "They are slowly starting to check does. They are still showing on trail cams. I’m seeing feeding and multiple bucks still hanging together."
Michael Pitts is in Georgia, too. "We are starting to see young bucks chasing pretty hard here in the Harris County area, even with the heat we recently experienced," he says. "With a big cold front moving in early this week, I think that will set things off for the mature deer. The next several days should be crazy.
"We have had a great acorn crop this year, and they are raining down all over the woods right now," Pitts continues. "So, a lot of these deer are roaming the hardwoods. A morning sit in the hardwoods in the coming days could be magical."
A Legend at Last Light
- Hunter: Corey Hall
- Date: Oct. 25, 2023
- Location: Mississippi
- Method: Compound bow
- Stats: 156 1/4 inches
The hunt for this buck began in 2021, when Corey Hall first got a picture of the deer. "He was actually a nice, young 10-pointer," Hall said, but given its potential, he opted to pass on it that season.
In 2022, the buck became a 140-inch 8-pointer. "I had to force myself not to hunt him, because I knew I wouldn’t have the willpower to pass him if I saw him," Hall said. "Fast-forward to this year, and it’s been on."
The buck was hard to pattern, though, daylighting on camera just four times in three years on Hall’s 40-acre property. On Oct. 25, Hall worked late and couldn’t make it to church on time.
"So, I decided to just go and sit even though the wind was not the best," he said. "Got in the stand at 6 p.m. and had four does come in at 6:20 p.m. One busted me, blew, and they all took off."
About 6:35 p.m., Hall heard something over his left shoulder. It was a smaller buck that his target deer had been running with.
"I knew he probably wasn’t far behind," Hall said. "A few minutes later, here he comes up the ridge. It was the last couple minutes of daylight. I knew I had to make something happen, so I turned and drew my bow back."
The buck trotted off a few yards. Hall settled the pin and took the 25-yard shot.
"I heart-punched him and he ran down the ridge about 80 yards," he said. "I gave him about an hour and walked right up on him. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life. This is a buck of a lifetime, and for me to take him with my bow means all the more."
Before this buck, a 133-inch 8-pointer was the biggest deer of his life. Now, it’s a 156 1/4-inch giant.
"I thank God for every animal that he allows me to take, and I give Him all the glory for this hunt," Hall said.
WHEN TO HUNT DURING THE RUT
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