BY Josh Honeycutt October 22, 2020
Leaves crunch with each step. Sun glistens off frost-covered ground. And red-haired deer are finally brown. These are but a few signs that fall has arrived in the Midwest. But don’t get those hopes up just yet. The festivities are still several weeks out, and who likes showing up early to a party?
So far, October has been on the warm side, but we’ve had several cold fronts and rain events bring much-needed cooldowns. Even places like Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas (among others) have already received snowfall. Still, the action has been better (or worse), location depending.
Mike Stroff, host of Grigsby on Realtree 365, has been hunting in Illinois, and the action started off subpar. “Oct. 7 to 12, the movement was extremely slow,” Stroff says. “But we are seeing a lot of the mature bucks starting to show up on cameras again. [It’s] still a lot at night, but they are showing up.”
He’s also seeing some on-and-off daylight action, especially when temperature swings provoke it. Plus, a lot of rubs and scrapes are appearing on the landscape.
Slade Priest, co-host of Hunt United on Realtree 365, and Bone Collector’s Travis “T-Bone” Turner, have been experiencing better action in Kansas. Both recently tagged giants, but not because of does, or anything else rut-related.
“They are still on summer feeding patterns,” Priest says. “They move when weather permits. Scrapes and rubs are showing up and they are getting testy with each other. All in all, very little rut activity.”
The key to their recent success was twofold: cold fronts and bed-to-feed patterns. Be like Priest and T-Bone: Those who’ve done the legwork, scouted deer, and patterned bucks should capitalize before the rut carries those rascals elsewhere.
Up to Wisconsin, Own the Season’s Art Helin is seeing some pretty cool stuff during sits, too. “It’s been really good,” Helin says. “We’re seeing some new bucks. They’re working scrapes hard right now. Does are working scrapes, too. Most 1 1/2- to 3 1/2-year-old bucks are starting to chase. So, I’m thinking we are about 10 to 15 days away from things starting to break loose.”
Personally, I do most of my deer hunting in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri. On Sunday, I filled my Kentucky buck tag on a stud 4 1/2-year-old. He wasn’t chasing does like the 3 1/2-year-old deer that came out 30 minutes earlier, but he did bristle up and walk all stiff-legged toward several young bucks. That’s all it took, and I let him have it.
That hunt aside, I’m starting to see an increase in rubs and scrapes. Soybeans have all but finished maturing, cornfields are nearly all harvested, and deer are receding into fall bedding areas. Of course, food sources vary from location to location, but many hunters are seeing massive pockets of acorn crops (where they exist, that is). Although Kentucky is part of the Southeast, and not part of the Midwest, it’s very similar to its northern neighbors, if only a few days behind them in historical peak breeding dates.
Regardless, in Ohio, where I also spend a lot of time each season, bucks are swelling up like UFC fighters, and deer are starting to spar more often. With a couple of cold fronts in the 10-day forecast, there’s some really good hunting ahead.
The rut isn’t here yet. But just because does are giving bucks the cold shoulder doesn’t mean there isn’t any good deer hunting to be had. It’s quite the opposite, actually, and for those who’ve done their homework (patterned a buck), be glad the rut is still several weeks out. Get it done before the does ruin everything.
Longtime Realtree.com contributor Josh Honeycutt is a guy who knows big deer, and makes a full-time living writing about them. He hails from Kentucky but hunts all over the Midwest.
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