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Regional Rut Update: Whitetail Activity Getting Hot; Near-Peak Reports from Each Region

The best deer-hunting days of the season are expected this weekend in the East, Midwest and parts of the South.

Regional Rut Update: Whitetail Activity Getting Hot; Near-Peak Reports from Each Region

Regional Rut Update report for Nov. 9, 2023. (Shutterstock image)

This is the time to be deer hunting. Signs of the annual rut are being seen all across the whitetail woods. The peak is only days away in many places. An all-day sit in a well-placed stand is a good play right now.

This is Week 4 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 lots of young bucks are chasing does throughout the region. This weekend could see the big boys join the fray as does begin to come into entrus. 
  • In the Midwest, McDougal says it’s time to grunt, rattle and sit—as in all day. Rut activity is hot in many places, with bucks chasing does, sparring with young bucks and responding to grunts and rattles.
  • In the South, Honeycutt delivers a mixed report, with some areas hot, some not. The most activity has been seen in Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
big deer
Georgia hunter Brandon Barfield saw this 245-pound buck on trail cam, then tagged it on Nov. 3. It was the "largest-bodied buck I have ever harvested," he said. Read more about Barfield’s hunt in "Tagged Out" in the South report below. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Barfield)

EAST REPORT

Lots of Chasing, Mostly by Young Bucks; Some Giants Beginning to Fall
  • There’s no shortage of activity in the East’s deer woods now, though over-eager, immature bucks are responsible for most of it

By Doug Howlett

There’s a scene in 1988’s Colors, a cop movie starring Robert Duvall as a veteran police officer and Sean Penn as his rookie partner, in which Duvall is trying to teach Penn how to be more patient and take in the big picture. He does so with a joke about two bulls on a hill overlooking a herd of cows. Now, this joke isn’t exactly family friendly, so I’m going to paraphrase.

The young bull says to the older bull, "Hey, Pop, let’s run down there and [hang out] with one of those cows." The older bull replies, "No, son, let’s walk down there and [hang out] with all of them."

Every report I’m getting from up and down the East Coast follows a similar refrain: The older, wiser bucks are taking their time and walking, knowing most of the does still aren’t ready. The younger, inexperienced bucks are being impatient and chasing every doe they see. But the does, for the most part, aren’t having it—at least not yet.

Finally making it to the woods for four wonderful, unbroken days last week, I got to see this firsthand. In those four days, I saw a number of small bucks, everything from a basket 8-pointer to spikes, all worrying the heck out of does. I saw four bucks that we consider "shooters" on our Virginia farm. My son Cade saw at least five and friend Chase Windley, who was featured in "Tagged Out" in the Oct. 19 Regional Rut Update, hit paydirt with a 156-inch 16-point. Not a single one those bucks was chasing or harassing does. All four of the ones I saw were simply feeding and loafing by themselves, even as younger bucks would run a doe right through the same food plot.

"There’s not a whole lot [of action] around our way," says fellow Virginian Philip Hassler. "Bucks are still by themselves on my cameras. I’ve been hearing other people talking about seeing a lot of activity. I just haven’t seen it."

Across the border in West Virginia, hunter Brian Dowler was going after squirrels with a .22, but what he was seeing with the deer had him rethinking his game.




"I’m squirrel hunting in West Virginia and there has been a lot of chasing activity from deer," he reports. "Three bucks were dead on I-77 within a quarter mile of one another, and I was nearly run over twice in an hour by bucks chasing does. I could have killed both bucks on the ground with my recurve at under 20 yards if I had been carrying it instead of a .22."

"I’m seeing three-year-old and younger deer cruising all day," says Tristan Taylor in Maryland. "There’s plenty of activity between 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. I heard and saw grunting and chasing all morning. On camera, I've got new, previously unseen bucks finally popping up. They are definitely up and checking for those first does to come into estrus."

In New York, Ernie Calandrelli with Quaker Boy Game Calls is also trying to be patient. "As usual, the young bucks are running around, but the big ones know it's not time yet," he says. "My favorite days are always Nov. 8-16. I am sure this year will be no different."

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Calandrelli’s son runs a meat-processing business and some nice bucks are starting to roll in, he says.

Over in Connecticut, "Outdoor Drive" podcaster Trevor Berwick says he’s seeing a "ton of cruising and chasing bucks," and its all-day action. "It’s really ramping up to red hot," he says. "I’m seeing multiple bucks each time I sit going from bedding area to bedding area."

Meanwhile, farther North in New Hampshire, Ken Fecteau, Jr., notes he’s seeing more sign like scrapes and rubs. However, few acorns and other mast this year have the deer huddled in pockets where there is good browse, such as old clearcuts and swamps. He’s optimistic the colder weather that should be hitting just about now and into the weekend will really kickstart the action.

Fellow New Hampshire hunter Michael Wheeler expects the same. He’s been hunting nearly every day the past week and found some beech trees dropping nuts that bucks are feeding on. He’s starting to see new bucks show up on his cameras, too, and cold weather is moving in.

"My cameras had some really good ones for this area of the county roaming [Sunday night] that I haven’t seen in the area yet this year," he says. "So, it’s about to happen up here any day."

I’ve always said, if I only had four days of the year to hunt, it would be Nov. 9-13, with my focus being on the 11th and 12th, particularly if a cold front moves in. This weekend, as we honor our nation’s veterans, should be the best weekend to deer hunt in the East this season. Do whatever you can to be out there.

TAGGED OUT

hunter with large buck
Jantzen Clifton tagged this 188 1/2-inch giant on Oct. 29 with his muzzleloader, a potential New Hampshire record. (Photo courtesy of Jantzen Clifton)
New Hampshire Muzzleloader Hunter Tags Potential Record
  • Hunter: Jantzen Clifton
  • Date: Oct. 29, 2023
  • Location: Seabrook, N.H.
  • Method: Muzzleloader
  • Stats: 188 1/2 inches (green score)

In 17 years of hunting, New Hampshire hunter Jantzen Clifton had never killed what he’d considered a "wall-hanger" buck. On Sunday, Oct. 29, all that changed when the Seabrook resident took what could become the state’s new record muzzleloader buck. The monster, with two ridiculously huge drop tines, boasts 14 points and green scores 188 1/2 inches. The current record, Clifton says, is 182 6/8 inches.

"I wasn’t planning on hunting that morning," Clifton says. "I kind of wanted to finish a movie I’d started the night before and hang out at the house for a little bit."

When he realized he still had an hour and a half to go in the movie, he decided to hit pause and join some friends for some deer drives. On the first drive, on a small tract that had room for only three standers and two drivers, Clifton’s life changed.

"It didn’t take long for them to push the piece. It was so small," Clifton says. "I saw my friend Nate, who was one of the drivers, coming through when all of a sudden I saw movement just to my left. I caught a quick glimpse of antler."

As the hunter leveled his muzzleloader, he saw branches and leaves tangled in the buck’s headgear, then he saw those twin drop tines. The buck then turned and ran right at Clifton.

"He got, like, 15 to 20 yards away and saw me. He stopped immediately and I pulled the trigger. He stumbled and then ran into the swamp," Clifton says. "I heard crashing around and then it was quiet. But I’ve lost a deer like that before, so I wasn’t going to celebrate until I saw it."

Realizing the size of the deer and what had just played out, Clifton was overcome with emotion. "I started shaking like a leaf. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t even reload my gun," he says. "My friends thought I was acting that way because I had missed."

A quick examination of the scene told a different story. There was abundant blood on the ground, and a mere 40 yards away, the buck lay piled up on the ground.

Now the veteran hunter finally has his wall-hanger. After the required drying period and the official score is recorded, he might just have a new state record to go along with it.

VIDEO

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MIDWEST REPORT

Rut Activity Heats Up in Many Places; Grunt, Rattle and Sit All Day
  • While some states are reporting excellent rutting activity, things have yet to cut loose in others.

By Darron McDougal

All indications are that the rut is on in several states, including Michigan, where Dale Techel runs the "Michigan Deer Hunters" Facebook page.

"Most regions are reporting that the switch was flipped this past weekend," he says. "Bucks that were nocturnal before the weekend are now on their feet looking for does or fighting with younger bucks."

While hunting Lapeer County, Mich., with two friends, Techel says they saw several mature bucks, some young bucks and multiple does. And some rut behavior was certainly taking place.

"A 12-pointer was being very aggressive with a younger buck, pushing him into a river," he says. "Hunters are having good results with grunting and rattling. This is the week to do all-day sits."

Bowhunter Magazine founder M.R. James thinks things are cooking in Indiana. "The bucks on our farm have been chasing does for the past week," he says. "I’m seeing both old and younger bucks dogging does daily. The rut is hot here in southern Indiana."

Bryan Dawes of Brushy Fork Outfitters says that east-central Ohio had a recent cold snap that got deer moving. He mentions that does were on their feet, and a number of young bucks were starting to nudge them.

"The weather warmed back up, which has decreased daylight deer movement," he says. "The young bucks are pushing does around, but the big boys just haven’t cut loose yet. Still, our clients killed two hammers within the last week."

He suggests that the big bucks are still following the early-morning and late-evening movement patterns. "The rut is delayed this year," he says. "I’ve had clients film some [incredible] buck fights. I usually see those in late October, so I know that things are running behind. It’ll be in full swing any day, though."

I hunted western South Dakota over the past several days and saw numerous whitetail and mule deer bucks. However, I observed zero rut behavior. Deer were on their normal feeding patterns and mature bucks were tolerating one another—for now.

READ: Best Days to Hunt the Deer Rut in Each Region

TAGGED OUT

hunter with large white-tailed deer
Justin Zarr killed this large Illinois buck on Nov. 2, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Justin Zarr)
Illinois Bowhunter Rattles in Stud Buck
  • Hunter: Justin Zarr
  • Date: Nov. 2, 2023
  • Location: Fulton County, Ill.
  • Method: Compound bow
  • Stats: 135 inches

Justin Zarr, co-host of bowhunting.com's "Bowhunt or Die" YouTube show, was out on a new farm that he had recently gotten permission to hunt. He had briefly scouted the farm back in September. That scouting trip, combined with some HuntStand Pro Whitetail e-scouting, helped him choose a ridge to hunt during the rut.

"On Nov. 2," Zarr says, "I had a southwest wind, which allowed me to sneak up the north side of the ridge. I got positioned in an oak tree overlooking a few pinch points at the top of a few washouts. I rattled, and a few minutes later, a nice buck appeared. I made the shot as he passed behind my saddle setup."

Over the course of his four-day hunt (Nov. 1-4) Zarr says he noticed that the bigger bucks were moving slowly and not chasing does. However, he believes that things are transitioning right now and that the mature bucks are becoming more interested in does.

RUT GEAR

man in the woods
Moultrie Mobile's Edge Pro cellular trail camera incorporates Articifical Intelligence technology. (Photo courtesy of Moultrie Mobile)
Gear Essentials for Peak Rut Hunting

Trail cams, boots, optics and more gear for November's peak hunting from Moultrie Mobile, Bushnell, Dryshod and other top brands. Don't let an unexpect gear problem hamper your rut hunting.

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SOUTH REPORT

Peak Rut Still Distant in Some Areas; Others Are Getting Right
  • The rut is heating up in states like Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

By Josh Honeycutt

Another week of rut info again produces wildly mixed observations across the South. Some areas are about to rock, while others are weeks or months away from true rut activity.

Ken Peters, with Southeastern Land Group, is in east-central Alabama. "Our deer don’t even think about rutting until after Dec. 1," he says. "Our peak is usually mid-January. That said, I have seen several scrapes being opened up and a few rubs being made. It’s awfully dry here and the guys having success are hunting food sources close to water."

In western Alabama, Chris McCune with Whitetail Properties says the incoming cool-down should have deer moving and recommends continuing to focus on acorns.

Josh Raley with "The Southern Way" hunting podcast is noticing some cruising activity in Georgia. "Mornings spent in areas with high concentrations of does, or in pinch points between doe-bedding areas, are producing for many," he says. "For evenings, food sources are still a good bet. Bucks seem to be coming in early, checking does, then moving on."

Over in North Carolina, Chip Camp with Whitetail Properties is seeing some younger bucks starting to spar. "I’m starting to see quite a few scrapes on properties that I’m walking across the foothills," he says. "Tons of acorns are keeping the deer mostly in the hardwoods. The recent cold front that dropped the temperatures into the 20s has increased the overall activity."

Outdoor writer and editor Brodie Swisher is in Tennessee. He says scrapes have started to open up lately, and he’s seeing a lot of lonely young bucks cruising for does.

In Oklahoma, John Radzwilla reports that bucks are rutting hard. They’re chasing does, rubbing trees and making scrapes. He recently shot one that came in hot and heavy to an estrous scent.

BuckVentures’ Jeff Danker is seeing increased movement, too. "In Oklahoma, the dip in the weather has made deer go to food a little more," he says. "Cameras are lighting up both on feeders and scrapes. Bucks are opening scrapes more and more."

TAGGED OUT

hunter with buck
This huge Georgia whitetail tagged by Brandon Barfield weighed an astounding 245 pounds. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Barfield)
Georgia Hunter Drops Heavyweight Buck
  • Hunter: Brandon Barfield
  • Date: Nov. 3, 2023
  • Location: Georgia
  • Method: Rifle
  • Stats: 245 pounds

Earlier this season, Brandon Barfield scouted and found large buck tracks going in and out of a creek bottom. He knew it was a big deer because the tracks were more than four inches long and sunk down deep into hard dirt.

"I followed his trail to his bed about 170 yards from the creek entrance," Barfield says. "Knowing this, I stayed out of there until the first cold snap."

He hung a cell camera in the area and positioned a climbing treestand along a rub line about 150 yards south of the buck’s bedding area.

On Nov. 3, Barfield had to run several errands, and didn’t get into the deer woods until around 8:25 a.m.

"I had to rush 200 yards and shoot up my climber quickly and quietly," he says. "As my breath settled, I let out a doe bleat, followed by tending grunts. A large buck’s hind quarter appeared in the thicket in front of me off his trail. It was him."

The buck disappeared to the left and Barfield’s heart sank. About 20 minutes passed with no action. Then, he heard a deer walking in the crunchy leaves, working down the rub line.

"He attempted to circle downwind and stopped just 20 yards from my stand," Barfield says. "A young doe popped in under me from the field and he jumped back and faced the other way behind two trees. No shot."

Barfield let out a short grunt and the deer turned to the right just enough to expose its vitals.

"Heart racing, I threw up my rifle and squeezed the trigger," Barfield says. "He ran back down his rub line and circled toward the creek in front of me, vanishing into the thicket."

After about 30 minutes, he climbed down and looked for blood. He couldn’t find any sign of a hit.

"My heart sank, but I quickly pulled myself together and got my head on straight," Barfield says. "I had heard where he ran and remembered that I didn’t hear any splashing in the creek. Following his trail, I found him laying at the edge of the creek. I couldn't believe the 245-pound monster actually lay in front of me.

"Dragging him 300 yards and loading him up was worth it," he says. "Everything came together. This is the oldest and, by far, largest-bodied buck I have ever harvested."

WHEN TO HUNT DURING THE RUT

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