As One Rut Winds Down, Hunters Look Toward Another in the Northwest

Image by John Hafner

The elk action is winding down, but the deer hunting will soon take off

’Tis the season of bugles across the Northwest. Many Western hunters spend September chasing rutting elk, and mid-September is prime time to pursue wapiti, especially with a bow. From Sept. 9 through 22, on and off, I chased elk during Montana’s archery season. Despite uncomfortably high temperatures, I saw lots of daylight rut action during the second week. Bulls were chasing cows hard as they rounded up their herds. By the third week, it seemed that herds were established, and satellite bulls were coming to calls to try to steal cows.

Because most hunting pressure into early October revolves around elk, hunters have interesting opportunities to target deer. In areas without significant elk populations, there’s often minimal hunting pressure during this period. Whitetails appear to still be in pre-rut patterns, so they can be easier to figure out. This past week, I spent some time in a treestand in search of a whitetail buck. The weather conditions weren’t great. Temperatures were in the 90s, and the wind was pretty swirly. I saw minimal daylight activity. I spotted a couple of young bucks moving, but mature bucks stayed hidden. 

Although drought conditions across the Northwest appear to be better overall than in 2021, some areas are experiencing extreme drought. Southeastern Wyoming’s drought conditions are as severe if not worse than in 2021, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Many other areas across the Northwest are unusually dry. Conditions might be better overall, but this past year’s drought affected deer populations in some areas. 

Diseases, especially those related to drought, took a toll on some deer populations. Northwestern Wyoming saw mortalities from epizootic hemorrhagic disease and bluetongue virus, according to the WGFD. Idaho saw a significant EHD outbreak that killed about 6,000 to 10,000 whitetails, mostly in portions of the Clearwater Region, according to Idaho Fish and Game. Despite the decline, biologists say white-tailed deer populations in Idaho are more stable than some struggling mule deer populations. Drought also led to EHD outbreaks in parts of southeastern Montana. 

Chronic wasting disease is an increasing concern this year in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Biologists detected CWD for the first time in Idaho in 2021, in Unit 14. Five animals — including elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer — tested positive. With more confirmed cases every year in those states, biologists are encouraging hunters to get deer tested. CWD has not yet been found in Oregon or Washington, but with confirmed cases in bordering states, officials are on the lookout. 

As the bugles on the horizon begin to wane, hunters can look forward to deer activity picking up in the coming weeks.

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Day Activity

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Rubbing

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Scraping

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Fighting

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Seeking

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Chasing

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Breeding

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