BY Joseph Albanese October 22, 2020
In many parts of the Northeast, deer season has been open for weeks now. Hunters taking advantage of early bow seasons have already punched plenty of tags, but the best of the season is yet to come.
You’d be hard pressed to find a buck in velvet anywhere from Maryland to Maine, but many are still hanging out in bachelor groups. By the time the blue moon rises at the end of the month, those groups should all be broken up and the chase should be on in full force.
Unpredictable weather has kept the herd on its toes, with unseasonable highs often followed by frosts more typical of this time of the year. If temperatures drop, as predicted over much of the Northeast, we could see a spike in buck activity this weekend.
“I walked about 62 miles chasing down bulls last week,” says Dustin Parent of Northern New England Outfitters. “Moose activity has been intense near the Maine-New Hampshire border, but the whitetails are less active. Bucks are still bachelored up, but they’re starting to put down scrapes. I expect activity to bust open next week.”
Big woods mean big bucks, but they can be tough to find. Until the ground is covered in a good tracking snow, it can be even tougher. Before rut activity kicks off hard, look for natural food sources. Selective cuts, clear-cuts, and logging roads are all worth some attention.
“They seem to be less active in Vermont,” says Parent, who also recently donated 30 miles’ worth of shoe leather to the cause of successfully pursuing moose in the Green Mountain State. “It could be a couple more weeks before deer activity takes off there.”
When Nick Petrou isn’t managing ponds and properties or competing in bass tournaments, he’s in the treestand. He’s put in some serious seat time so far this fall but hasn’t seen a lot of buck movement yet.
“I have some stands in areas where baiting is legal. My cameras have about 1,500 pictures over those piles, but not a lot of buck sightings,” says Petrou. “There’s been plenty of does around, but nothing is chasing them yet.”
While he hasn’t seen many bucks during legal shooting hours, it’s obvious that there’s a lot of activity in the woods.
“I’ve been seeing plenty of well-worn trails. There was definitely an increase in activity during the last cold front. I think that the next temperature dip will get bucks cruising even more.”
“I’ve got new bucks showing up on camera,” says bowhunter and whitetail freak Bob Vellucci, who maintains a large network of trail cams on a variety of properties ranging from agricultural to suburban in northwestern New Jersey. “They’re starting to move. I haven’t seen any real fighting yet, but they’ve started to spar.”
“There’s not a ton of acorns this year,” says Vellucci, mentioning that deer in the Garden State have turned to agricultural sources. Hunters looking for hungry bucks should target farms whenever possible, or look for ornamental plants getting browsed in more suburban areas. “The farmers have started to harvest, and the deer have transitioned to crops. But they’ve been hitting the hostas pretty good too.”
“I’ve been seeing a lot of rubs, but not much in the way of scrapes,” says Vellucci, who has spent 15 of the last 30 days in the stand. “I’m expecting to see a lot of activity over the weekend. I wouldn’t be too surprised if some fights start breaking out, with bigger bucks claiming their territories.”
Northeast reporter Joseph Albanese hails from New York. He began his career in wildlife management and has worked for multiple state and federal agencies. These days, he writes full-time about fins, feathers, and fur.
(Want to see cool deer hunts from the Northeast? Check out Sea Bucks on Realtree365)