We’re getting closer. Can you feel it? The whitetail rut is getting into gear, and with it comes the best chance of the season for a buck of a lifetime for deer hunters.
This is Week 2 of the 2023 Game & Fish Regional Rut Update, a series of seven exclusive weekly rut reports from the field by whitetail contributors Doug Howlett (East), Darron McDougal (Midwest) and Josh Honeycutt (South). Click here for last week’s report. This week’s report includes:
- In the East, Howlett reports food sources are getting most of the attention from bucks right now, but he believes “big things” are about to happen.
- In the Midwest, McDougal reports mature bucks have been primarily active at night, but that’s about to change, too, and perhaps by this weekend.
- In the South, Honeycutt reports rut activity has been on the rise in some states, though your hunting focus should be on food. Cool weather ahead should lead to increased deer movement.
Rut Activity Spotty; Food Is Still King for Bigger Bucks
- Despite a slow week, the East seems to be on the cusp of major rutting activity.
By Doug Howlett
Persistent warm weather continues to plague the region, though a short cold snap last week did kickstart some activity.
Hunters in New Jersey, according to David Sichik of Triple B Outfitters, began experiencing increased movement with a number of smaller bucks harassing some of the first does. Sichik’s trail cams began picking up bucks chasing early last week, and by the end of the week he had clients steadily scoring on bucks as well as the meat deer they came to fill their freezers with. Tiffany Jade, a New York hunter who made the drive over to the Garden State, scored with a nice 7-pointer (see Tagged Out below). Sichik loves this time of year. The week of Halloween is when his hunters traditionally do very well. So far, things are living up to his expectations.
In Virginia, deer sign is becoming more prominent in the eastern half of the state, as evidenced by the number of rubs and scrapes beginning to pop up. Cut corn and still-standing soybeans are serving as afternoon buffets for legions of deer, making those the places to target wall-hangers, which have not yet been harassed by too many hunters. Meanwhile, in the mountainous half of the Old Dominion, deer movement is still sluggish until after dark and there remains little sign even among the flats and shallow ridge passes.
West Virginia’s Larry Case says there’s been very little rut activity in the southeastern part of his state, stretching down into the southwestern part of Virginia. But that is all about to change. The very first reports of big bucks chasing does started to come in about the middle of last week.
In New England, hunter Michael Wheeler reports, “In the last five days, I’m finally seeing bucks on cameras in the mountains of Vermont, northern New York and New Hampshire. They’re using terrain features like funnels and saddles and beaver dams along swamps. They are cruising at night in locations that normally don’t see bucks cruising except when the rut is close or coming on. I haven’t seen daytime cruising in transition areas yet, but that should start by this week.”
Wheeler is, however, beginning to find more rubs and scrapes opening up on ridges and down low near river bottoms. He notes a number of youth hunters had luck last weekend in farm country down in the valleys, hunting edges of cut corn in the morning and evening. “A few youth hunters I know were successful hunting the edges of clear-cuts and old logging roads in the evening, catching bucks browsing,” he says. There’s been little chasing going on, but by next week sightings should begin picking up rapidly.
Also in New England, Ken Fecteau Jr., says there aren’t a lot of acorns this year, and much of the activity is occurring at night. He notes there still aren’t a lot of rubs and scrapes.
Pennsylvania has seen some dandies fall in the early part of the season, with deer activity just starting to kick in. With the moon at full blast this coming week, look for activity to go into high gear from early afternoon until dark. However, if more heat shows up as predicted, early chasing activity could push back until the sun is about to dip.
We are right on the edge of big things happening, and I fully expect by the next report to hear that chasing is kicking into high gear and more tags are being filled.
Garden State Success
- Hunter: Tiffany Bezel
- Date: Oct. 20, 2023
- Location: New Jersey
- Method: Crossbow
- Stats: 7 points
Tiffany Bezel killed this 7-point buck Oct. 20 while hunting in New Jersey with Triple B Outfitters. She was in a treestand using a new TenPoint crossbow her parents had bought her as a gift. She had seen the buck on camera, along with a spike and another decent buck, the night before when the trio appeared after 4 p.m. On the afternoon of her hunt, however, the 7-point buck came in alone along a runway cut in the forest and well ahead of 4 p.m. In fact, Bezel had only been in her stand about a half hour when he appeared. “It was the earliest I’ve ever harvested a buck in the evening,” she says.
MyOutdoorTV: ‘Drury’s Thirteen’ Monsters of the Pre-Lock
The pre-rut can be one of the most thrilling times to hunt whitetails, and thanks to our friends at MyOutdoorTV, we’re excited to bring you big-buck footage that captures the essence of hunting during late October. In this episode of “Drury’s Thirteen,” Mark Drury has his sights set on what could be the largest Missouri buck of his life, while brother Terry is in hot pursuit of an Illinois brute he calls the “Decoy Buck.”
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Scrapes, Rubs and Sparring Increase; Hunt Scrapes Downwind of Beds
- Although mature bucks are still primarily moving at night, expect daylight activity to begin increasing by this weekend.
By Darron McDougal
Despite numerous recent social-media posts in which hunters say they’re seeing bucks with does, most mature Midwestern bucks are still homebodies and hitting scrapes at night. According to HuntStand Pro Whitetail’s Whitetail Activity Forecast, daylight movement should be on the rise by Saturday and Sunday. For now, here are some observations from the past week.
Kansas has traditionally treated Nate Hosie of HeadHunters TV well during mid-October, but he didn’t kill a buck during his hunt there last week. He says an abundance of food has bucks spread out this year. “I had some close calls,” he says, “but the big fellas were mostly nocturnal.”
Whitetail expert Bill Winke shares that things have also been slow for the past few days in Iowa. “There was a good flurry of daylight activity around the middle of October but not much since,” he says. “Trail cameras are showing that bucks are covering a lot of ground, but it is all at night … at least here anyway.”
Josh Honeycutt, the South correspondent for Regional Rut Update, killed a monster Kentucky buck in September, but he has tags for Ohio and Indiana as well. While he’s been keeping tabs on cameras in those states, he says daylight movement has been minimal. However, he’s starting to see more action during legal light, including evidence that rubbing and scraping are ramping up, too. Still, for the next week or so, he says the action should be centered near white oaks. [Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out Honeycutt’s report on the Southern rut below.]
Michigan’s Nick Vander Schuur took a dandy buck and observed some promising activity on Sunday. “I watched two mature bucks chase a doe,” he says. “Most young bucks are looking. I know of some bigger bucks that aren’t chasing yet, but they’re marking their territory with lots of rubs and scrapes. I’ve heard some sparring in the distance. The rut should be going good by this weekend.”
READ: Best Days to Hunt the Deer Rut in Each Region
Hoosier Hunter Bags Brute with Hand-Me-Down Bow
- Hunter: Logan Splater
- Date: Oct. 15, 2023
- Location: Hancock County, Ind.
- Method: Compound Bow
- Stats: 157 5/8 inches
Logan Splater had been seeing only young deer in the first few weeks of the season. Then, on Oct. 15, he finally had an encounter with a massive, mature buck he’d been chasing for four years. In fact, the deer had only shown up on his trail camera a few days prior.
“I knew where he was bedding,” Splater says, “and on the 15th, the wind was perfect during the peak of a cold front. When I arrived at the property, the landowner told me he had been brush-hogging paths throughout the woods all morning, which crushed my excitement, but I went hunting anyway.
“Around 6 p.m., some does appeared, so I was ready with my bow when the buck silently stepped out,” Splater continues. “He spotted me in the tree, and we had a staredown for about 10 minutes. Finally, he took a few steps. I drew and made a quick 25-yard shot. I was shooting my dad’s hand-me-down bow from the early 2000s, which made the hunt even more memorable.”
Gear Essentials for Hunting the Early Rut
As the rut continues toward its Novemeber peak, old- and new-school gear and tactics can help you score big. Here’s a look at gear trends and strategies for rut hunting, including hot items from Moultrie Mobile, Dryshod and Bushnell.
Click to Read More
Deer Movement and Buck Sign on the Rise; Still Focus on Food
- Cooler weather should lead to more deer activity in the week ahead.
By Josh Honeycutt
As we enter the final weekend of October, some areas in the South are experiencing a sharp increase in deer movement and buck sign. This is mostly limited to the northern stretches of the region and a few areas farther south. Small parts of Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee are seeing the beginnings of pre-rut movement.
Outdoor writer John Radzwilla is in southeastern Oklahoma where he’s starting to see more sparring on camera. Some younger bucks are even pushing does, he says. “My favorite days to hunt are cold and overcast days with rain in the forecast,” he says. “I really don’t pay much attention to the moon as much as I do the cold. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to line everything up. Just get out there. You have to put in the time.”
BuckVentures Outdoors’ Jeff Danker is in northwestern Oklahoma, and he says the bucks are spread out and unpredictable. This is mostly due to a lot of rainfall earlier in the year. “The crops are thriving and everything is still green,” he says. “Deer are not hitting corn or feeders. Big bucks are starting to hit scrapes somewhat. There’s some movement in the evening but mostly at night. Milo is being cut now and should move deer and have new ones show up. I think it will be a great year for big deer, but so far, with all the rainfall, everything is grown up and deer can hide and eat everywhere.”
In Arkansas, Phillip Vanderpool of Legends of the Outdoors reports a massive mast crop—the best he’s seen in the Ozarks in a very long time. The Huntin Grounds’ Steven Fuller is also in Arkansas. He says it’s about time to start hunting harder. A big front that’s on its way is going to push even the big old bucks to start moving better. “In the last four days, new bucks are starting to show up in new areas,” he says. “The 2 1/2-year-old and younger bucks have been consistent on scrapes, but the older bucks should start hammering scrapes consistently this week. Does are on edge and already have their head on a swivel, so you know they are feeling some pressure.”
That said, continue to focus on food. Interestingly, Fuller is seeing very few acorns on the ground, which goes to show just how localized mast crops can be. “White oak and red oak acorns are few and far between,” he says. “I’m seeing deer even hit on what pin oaks and smaller acorns we have, and that’s not usually the case until much later into fall or early winter. Food plots and good native browse are going to be key. With cold temps and rain coming back to the forest later this week, it’s time to key on scrapes.”
South Carolina Muzzleloader Monster
- Hunter: Jamie Holler
- Date: Oct. 19, 2023
- Location: South Carolina
- Method: Muzzleloader
- Stats: 14 points
On Oct. 19, after working a 12-hour shift and a short nap, South Carolina’s Jamie Holler gathered his gear and eased into position at his hunting grounds. He located a scrape that piqued his interest and settled in for the morning hunt, setting up camp in a small brush blind. A nice buck cruised through at first light, but it was out of range for Holler’s muzzleloader. Then, two does appeared and walked through. He thought about shooting one of them but didn’t. Seconds later, a spike ran down off the ridge.
About 15 minutes after that, a doe and two fawns ran into view. A nice buck was behind them, and they all worked toward Jamie’s position. Eventually, though, the doe spotted Holler and they all moved off. Around 9:10 a.m., he heard a stick break and looked up to see a huge deer walking down the ridge toward him. Holler slowly raised up into position, readied his muzzleloader and waited for an opportunity. The buck disappeared, reappeared and stopped in an opening 22 yards away.
“I bleated and began working the trigger,” Holler says. “I could feel the sear in that 12-pound trigger. I took the creep out and the hammer fell. My post was centered in the rear sight and positioned right behind his shoulder when the cap and powder ignited.”
The buck turned and ran back up the hill. After an hour, Holler followed blood up the incline about 150 yards before the blood trail got tough to follow. On hands and knees, he pressed on.
“I remembered how much I enjoy hand-tracking deer,” he says. “I love being forced to slow down and pay attention to every little detail, like how every third step he was landing hard, and how the smallest blood splatter gave away his direction of travel.”
After a while, Holler heard a deer crash through a nearby creek on the other side of a hill. He decided to take a peek, but told himself that if his buck wasn’t there, he’d back out. Fortunately, the deer was floating belly-up in the creek below. Holler had centered the lungs with the shot, and the buck went about 250 yards total. The deer weighed 202 pounds and sported 14 points.
“I couldn’t have dreamed it up any better,” Holler says.
WHEN TO HUNT DURING THE RUT
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