BY Joseph Albanese November 20, 2020
My wife forwarded me a concerned text message from one of her coworkers. The picture showed a young fork tine that had taken refuge right alongside her house. His brow line and cape showed traces of crimson, a sure sign of battles lost.
“Tell her he’ll be fine,” I said. “He just got too big for his britches and someone let him know.”
The Northeast shows all the hallmarks of peak rut activity. Trees are bearing the brunt of the increased testosterone load, with rubs popping up just about everywhere. Bucks are active during the day, tending does and chasing anything that tries to get in the way. And the local buck poles are all showing signs of bad decision making, with monsters being taken from Maryland to Maine.
“We don’t usually see a ton of deer up here. But mature bucks are definitely cruising,” says big-woods guru Brett Joy. Joy explains that the peak rut is still about a week away up in the North Woods, but buck activity is reaching a crescendo. “I’ll get a buck on three cameras inside of 20 minutes. Bucks are doing a loop about once a week.”
Unlike a lot of big-woods hunters, Joy prefers to spend most of his time on stand instead of still-hunting to limit the spread of his scent. But in his forays into the woods on the way to his stands, he has noted that scrape activity has seemed to taper off a bit while rubs are becoming more frequent. And bucks are expanding their territories.
“Some new bucks are starting to show.” While he says this level of activity is pretty predictable for this time of year, some new faces are starting to make themselves known on Joy’s network of trail cameras. “This is the best time to get out there.”
“I’ve got a farm right in my backyard; I’ve been watching a big buck there for a while,” says New Jersey native Eric Felter. “He’s had a doe pinned down for the last three days. He’ll only get up to chase smaller bucks away, then goes right back to her.”
He’s not the only buck that’s found himself a receptive doe, as Felter notes that most of the 3 1/2-year-olds are locked down right now. Most of the activity he’s seen during the day has been with younger bucks, but enough larger bucks are still moving to get the blood pumping.
“The big guys are starting to get real aggressive, especially if they’re tending a hot doe. Any sign of another buck trying to weasel their way in and they’re after them,” Felter says. “And there’s been a bunch of new bucks making their presence known, especially at dawn and dusk.”
“The third week of November is peak for us,” says Andy Labonte, deer biologist with Connecticut’s DEEP program who spends more time in the treestand with a tranquilizer rifle than he does with a bow or shotgun these days. “We did a big study years ago on when the fawns drop, and we were able to track conception back to now.”
Labonte and DEEP assisted a graduate student with her project, darting pregnant does during the winter and inserting tracking devices. When the fawns drop, so does the tracker, and biologists can pinpoint the exact birthdate. Though the study is still undergoing peer review, the initial findings show that the bulk of breeding takes place right now.
If there ever was a time to burn your sick days, it’s now. Daytime buck activity has just about peaked but will hit a bit of a lull shortly as does are being bred. Get out there now and capitalize while you can.
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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.