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Regional Rut Update: Pre-Rut Activity on the Increase in Whitetail Country

Expert reports from the woods to help you kill the buck of a lifetime.

Regional Rut Update: Pre-Rut Activity on the Increase in Whitetail Country

Pre-rut activity is being reported in the East and Midwest, but it’s still a bit early in many places in the South. (Shutterstock image)

The peak of hunting in whitetail country is nearly upon us. Here comes the rut!

Welcome to our annual Regional Rut Update, our weekly reports on whitetail activity from experts in the field. From pre-rut to post-rut, we’ll help you harvest the buck of a lifetime. This is the first of seven weekly reports from whitetail contributors Doug Howlett (East), Darron McDougal (Midwest) and Josh Honeycutt (South). This week's report includes:

  • In the East, Howlett reports pre-rut activity is being seen as deer begin to transition from their predictable feeding patterns.
  • In the Midwest, McDougal says scrapes, rubs and fighting activity have been reported as deer movement increases.
  • In the South, Honeycutt says it’s early with little pre-rut activity, but upcoming cool weather could get things going.
Whitetail deer rut
Expect scrapes and rubs to be on the increase in the coming week in the East. (Shutterstock image)

EAST REPORT

Calm Before the Storm; Scrapes and Rubs are Starting to Appear
  • Eastern deer are beginning to transition from predictable feeding patterns to pre-rut activity.

By Doug Howlett

Lazy, early-season feeding patterns of whitetails across the region are finally starting to give way to increased activity, with more scrapes and rubs popping up along paths, field edges, swamp and creek banks and in open mountain oak flats. In the northern reaches of the East region, hunter Michael Wheeler has been in the woods nearly every day since the season opened and reports that buck movement in public-land big woods has been virtually nonexistent, "unless you are on a hot food source like fresh beech nuts or acorns dropping near bedding areas." He expects that to start to change in the next week, particularly if the area gets some cool weather to move in from Canada.

"I’m guessing in the next week, scrapes and rub lines are going to start popping up, but I don’t expect to see much cruising in daylight up here until the end of October and beginning of November."

But Wheeler stresses that's the case in the mountains. In farm country, where deer densities are higher, he notes his contacts are seeing does and bucks moving in the early morning and from early to late afternoon to sundown.

Farther down the coast in New Jersey, Triple B Outfitters’ David Sichik has been in the deer woods and expects activity to pick up sharply from October 19 to Halloween, his favorite time to get clients in the woods and be there himself. He says deer activity really began picking up last week.

In Virginia, Chase Windley reports warm weather has kept the deer fairly nocturnal at one property he hunts in the south-central part of the state near the North Carolina border. Farther east, where deer herd numbers are higher, deer are hitting bean fields like clockwork every evening, though he’s still seeing mostly does. The best activity seems to be right before dark when does will occasionally pour into the open, followed by a buck sporting headgear.

If you’re one of those hunters who holds off until the hunting action picks up, now is the time to gear up and prepare to hit the woods. We're coming into the final full week of October and with a full moon set for October 28, evening deer movement should pick up noticeably from around 2 p.m. to dark.

TAGGED OUT

hunter with whitetail buck
Virginia hunter Chase Windley tagged this 8-pointer on Oct. 15, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Chase Windley)
Early-Season Victory in Virginia
  • Hunter: Chase Windley
  • Date: Oct. 15, 2023
  • Location: Virginia
  • Method: Bow
  • Stats: 8 points

Despite not seeing a ton of daylight buck movement, Virginia hunter Chase Windley has been hitting the deer woods with his bow every chance he’s not busy working. On Sunday, October 15, he hit early-season paydirt. Here’s his hunt in his own words:

"I shot the deer around 6:45 p.m. Sunday evening. I had pictures of him from the year before, knowing he was only a 3-year-old during the 2022 season. I also knew he only shows up in October once he returns to his fall range. I expected he was lying in this one grassy bottom in a cutover because I would always catch him on my cameras or spot him when scouting going to bed in the morning in that direction. Then, in the evenings, he would come out of the same bottom. The deer would typically get out of his bed early if the wind was pushing the scent into the bottom from the west. Knowing all this, I figured if he was using the same trails that kept him alive last year, he was more than likely to do the same thing this year.

"So, I waited for a cold snap, but he didn’t show. The next opportunity was a day with a quartering wind. I knew if I had the quartering wind, my scent would only miss him by 20 to 30 yards, but if it was consistent, he wouldn’t smell me and still feel comfortable to get on his feet early with the lack of pressure.

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"Sure enough, he came in that evening following a smaller buck. He came out of the grassy cutover and stopped, sniffing the wind and looking around. Once he thought it was clear, he continued on, stepping out in front of me at about 10 to 13 yards. My arrow struck perfectly, double-lunging him, but on the exit it lodged in the opposite shoulder bone. He took off for a few yards, hit the edge of the woods, stopped and turned around like he was wondering what hit him. That’s when he toppled over in his tracks."

VIDEO

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MIDWEST REPORT

Scrapes, Rubs and Sparring Increase; Hunt Scrapes Downwind of Beds
  • Hunters are seeing increased buck movement, along with a boost in scraping and fighting activity.

By Darron McDougal

All throughout the Midwest, change was in the air over the past week in the whitetail woods. Warm weather gave way to a cold front that brought rain and high winds followed by cool and calm conditions. And it seemed to spike deer movement—especially scraping activity. I had a nice Wisconsin buck hit a mock scrape about 28 hours after I made it, although he did so after dark.

Gary Hintz, owner of Bucks & Bulls Archery in Stevens Point, Wis., is hunting in Illinois where he says bachelor groups appear to be dispersing and the bucks are becoming territorial. "I made about 15 mock scrapes," he says. "Bucks are hitting all of them, but mostly at night. There are also a lot of does on the scrapes right now."

On his property in Indiana, Bowhunter magazine founder M.R. James says he’s seen more fresh rubs and a few scrapes. It’s mostly been hot and dry there, but he thinks the recent cooler temps have made deer more active.

"Recently, I watched a young 9-pointer and a bigger buck spar for about 10 minutes while a spike buck watched from the sidelines," he says. "They’re not too serious yet, but I expect things to heat up considerably in the latter part of October."

Out in Nebraska, Joel Burham of Whitetail Fit says bucks are starting to feel each other out. He’s seen some sparring both on trail cameras and while hunting.

"Bucks are checking scrapes, and a few rubs are popping up," Burham says. "All in all, with the last couple of cold fronts passing through, it seems like things are starting to kick into gear a little bit."

My good friend and the founder of Kicking Bear Foundation, Ray Howell, says that things are on the cusp of getting really good on the properties he hunts in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He’s seeing good activity, but he anticipates that buck hunting will be phenomenal beginning about October 23 on scrape lines downwind of bedding areas.

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

TAGGED OUT

Nicole Weller Larson
Nicole Weller Larson took this 160-class buck while on a hunt with her 7-year-old son. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Weller Larson)
Bowhunter Bags Gopher State Gagger
  • Hunter: Nicole Weller Larson
  • Date: Oct. 14, 2023
  • Location: Otter Tail County, Minn.
  • Method: Compound Bow
  • Stats: 163 6/8 inches

Wildlife artist Nicole Weller Larson of Minnesota hunted the afternoon of October 14 accompanied by her 7-year-old son. She said that acorns were everywhere and that deer movement had been minimal on the local bean fields, though decent on green food sources. Given the weather, she and her son hunted from a box blind overlooking a green food plot located down in a bottom where deer usually seek shelter from the wind.

A 160-class 8-pointer—her target buck—and a dandy 140s buck were fighting, snort-wheezing and posturing in the plot. When the 8-pointer gave her an opportunity, she capitalized with her Mathews bow.

Larson says that bucks are still running together, but that things are changing rapidly, with bucks beginning to get more and more aggressive. She says that a lot of rubs and scrapes are popping up all over right now, too.

RUT GEAR

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Moultrie Mobile’s Edge Pro Cellular Trail Camera. (Photo courtesy of Moultrie Mobile)
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SOUTH REPORT

Pre-Rut Activity is Minimal; Coming Cool Weather Should Jumpstart Things
  • Hunting food sources remains the go-to strategy for most, as acorns drop and fields are harvested.

By Josh Honeycutt

As the 2023 deer season kicks off across the Southern states, we’re hearing that things are largely off to a slow start. In some states, however, the action is a little hotter.

John Kirby, a Kentucky deer hunter, outdoor writer and co-host of SOKY’s Outdoors radio show, is seeing rut sign pop up. Some bucks are beginning to show up in new areas, too. That said, these deer are still very much on bed-to-feed patterns. (Editor’s Note: While many classify Kentucky as a Southern state, it technically falls within Game & Fish’s Midwest region. Check our Midwest report for regular updates on the Bluegrass State.)

Kirby also hunts in Tennessee. He says the white oaks are a big factor there and red oaks will soon be, too. His advice? Find the hot food sources bucks are hitting and make a calculated play.

Down in Georgia, Josh Raley, host of The Southern Way hunting podcast, isn’t seeing much sign. "I’m not seeing much for pre-rut activity," Raley says. "Some rubs and scrapes are popping up, but they seem to be related to food congregation areas and are active for only as long as those food patterns hold."

In northern Alabama, Nick Gibbs of Gibbs Land Company says deer are still on summer patterns.

"If you’ve got out mineral licks, you should be getting a lot of pictures," he said. "But most folks will transition to corn during season. Red oaks, white oaks and chestnut oaks started covering the ground 8 to 10 days ago."

Down in Texas, HuntStand’s Will Cooper says the bucks haven’t been moving out in the open much during daylight, but that’s changing now.

"The live oaks have dropped acorns, but it was a super-small crop and the acorns are tiny," he says. "Cool fronts have had the deer moving, and bucks are beginning to show up in daylight shooting hours now in key hunting areas."

All things considered, deer season is here and cooler weather will be pushing into the region over the next few days. Even though it’s been slow, the week ahead should produce decent opportunities.

TAGGED OUT

Zach Anderson buck
Texas hunter Zach Anderson had been aware of this big buck since 2018 before arrowing it on Oct. 10, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Zach Anderson)
An 8-Point Texas Toad
  • Hunter: Zach Anderson
  • Date: Oct. 10, 2023
  • Location: Texas
  • Method: Compound Bow
  • Stats: 167 inches

Zach Anderson first learned of this deer in 2018, though it disappeared until 2020 when he found a set of its sheds. In 2021, he started getting trail camera photos again, and the buck was massive.

Anderson didn’t see the deer that season, but another hunter did and shot him. The shot proved to be non-lethal, though, and it led to the deer growing a smaller rack in 2022. Anderson had two encounters with the buck last season, but couldn’t get a shot off either time.

This year, the buck’s rack really swelled—even at 8 ½ or 9 ½ years old—and Anderson was ready to get back in the game.

On October 10, Anderson went in after the deer, hunting in a creek bottom full of scrub oaks. Early in the afternoon hunt, a few does passed through the area.

"At about 6:30 p.m., he stepped out on a trail about 75 yards off," Anderson says. "There was a rough road between that area and my stand, and he thankfully took it. He came into 25 yards and turned left, opening for a perfect broadside shot. As he turned, I was able to take the shot, and it met its mark."

The buck ran back up the road it had come down and fell over about 50 yards away.

"I have many feelings about this deer," Anderson says. "It’s very bittersweet to know he won’t be around anymore, but I’m happy it all came together. After such a long history, he’s become a real talking point for family and friends. I think everyone is excited to finally put hands on him."

WHEN TO HUNT DURING THE RUT

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