BY Patrick Meitin November 20, 2020
Washington bowhunters are hitting the rut just right this season. Northeastern Washington bowhunters are reporting seeing mature bucks beginning to chase aggressively, with trail cameras picking up many new arrivals from outside their regular territories. Cold, snowy weather has encouraged does to visit bait stations more frequently, oftentimes at all hours of the day, and with rut activities in full swing they are often towing bucks. All-day sits are recommended.
Bowhunters plying public areas, like the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge, where baiting is not legal, are nonetheless enjoying all-day movement, including sightings of mature bucks in obvious cruise mode. Bowhunters have been seeing some decent bucks this season, but I have heard no reports of Boone & Crockett-class behemoths.
Friends hunting locked-gate private properties in northern Idaho tell me they are still seeing a lot of bucks hanging out with other bucks and does without showing the slightest hints of rutting interest. Close to home I’m seeing younger bucks pestering does, but without any reciprocal interest from the females being pursued.
This parallels what I am seeing on public lands, with trail cameras capturing images of mature bucks feeding in close association with one another. There have been a couple instances of younger-mature bucks pushing and shoving, but no real battles and no broken antler tines have yet been witnessed. I’m beginning to pick up many stray bucks I’ve never seen before — mostly 3 1/2-year-olds — so bucks are certainly beginning to wander more widely.
My target bucks, all 5 1/2-plus years old, have been appearing only at night for the most part. Occasionally I am seeing one of those bucks edging into legal shooting hours, but that movement remains quite sporadic. Overall daytime movement of bucks up to 3 1/2 years old has increased somewhat since last week. The rut is maybe a week from really getting underway, at least in terms of the biggest, oldest bucks venturing out at all hours. The weather has been wet, including mixed snow and rain, but not altogether cold for this time of year. No brutally cold weather — which really gets older bucks moving during daylight hours — is forecast until after next week. All bucks appearing on camera still wear snow-white tarsals.
A couple of the biggest bucks on my radar early in the season have not reappeared since velvet was rubbed off in September. Scrapes continue to be hit regularly and random rubs are appearing with more frequency. Many northern Idaho deer units will be closing in the coming week, with the potential of shifting unexpected pressure into adjoining units that will remain open. I have not been seeing the same number of high-scoring bucks as in past years, following a very wet spring that quickly turned into an unseasonably dry summer. I cannot say with any degree of confidence if this is strictly localized, or a regional phenomenon.
Western Montana friends in the Hamilton region are seeing wide-open rutting with area mule deer. Bucks’ necks are now fully swollen and they are aggressively pursuing does, with harems growing daily. Younger bucks that have been pushed out of harem groups are wandering widely, making themselves vulnerable. Many deer seasons in that portion of western Montana will be closing by week’s end, so now is the time to strike. Other units are open through Thanksgiving, though.
Western Montana’s lower-elevation river bottoms, particularly the Bitterroot River Valley, are also seeing a lot of whitetail movement, with mature bucks actively seeking does, cruising widely and tarsals beginning to darken. Farther east, in areas surrounding the Yellowstone and Bighorn rivers, the whitetail rut is now wide open. If the unit where you hunt is still open, this weekend promises some of the hottest action of the entire season. Montana bucks grew some impressive antlers this season, so there should be some serious bombers taken during the coming week.
Cowboy State friends are seeing increased activity in northern and central Wyoming, with bucks being observed throughout the day and does just beginning to stand for bucks. Wyoming whitetail populations seem to be extremely healthy this season, and success rates should reflect that. Unlike many parts of the whitetail’s habitat, many Wyoming whitetail habitats consist of prairie and narrow riparian strips, so the lock-down phase so detrimental to deer sightings in other places is not as large of a factor in Wyoming. Diligent glassing will still turn up deer in these open habitats. Some high-scoring bucks have been taken during the week and this trend should continue into the weekend.
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