Rut Report Nov. 12: Big Bucks Tending

Day No. 12 of a 13-day rut hunt is in the books. Discover what North American Hunter Senior Managing Editor Dave Maas learned during his day in South Dakota.

Good news: Last night before dark, my father-in-law and I drove the 15 miles to the hunting property, and while road conditions were brutal due to snow and ice, especially on the unplowed gravel section roads, we were able to smash through bumper-deep snow drifts and access the land. So this morning (November 11), I was able to repeat the trek and be in a treestand just prior to shooting light.

As the photo above shows, this treestand overlooks a creek crossing, and during previous years the deer prefer to cross right below the stand in a shallow riffle area; it’s about 6 inches deep. When the rest of the creek begins to freeze, and deer have trouble with their footing in those areas that are half frozen, and this riffle remains open for much of the winter. My wife and I have killed a few mature bucks during late-season from this treestand, and while I wouldn’t normally consider November 11 “late season,” the current weather conditions have sped up the calendar.

With northwest winds of 29 mph and air temps of 12 degrees this morning, I bit the bullet and carried my Heater Body Suit into the field. Because of the suit I was able to remain comfortable on stand from 6:30 to 10 a.m. I spotted somewhere between 12-15 deer, but only three small bucks (1.5-year-olds). I guess the big bucks are hanging with does in some other part of the river-bottom.

Speaking of big bucks: I spotted two of them in picked cornfields on my drive home for lunch. The bucks (130-class deer) were each tending a doe-in-heat, and the buck/doe pairs were within a few jumps of thick bedding cover (strips of pines, shelterbelts, etc.) And when I pulled my truck into my in-law’s yard, my father-in-law showed me several large deer tracks in his backyard (5-acre lot outside of town) from last night. Chances are very good that another mature buck is tending a doe-in-heat within 100 yards of my location in my in-law’s kitchen this very moment. Sure, I could mimic a bird dog and bust through the backyard shelterbelt/pines and flush the bedded buck/doe pair and at least catch a glimpse of him, but I wouldn’t get a bow shot, so really, what’s the point?

Afternoon report: I hiked to a quarter-acre brassica plot near the creek and was happy to see massive amounts of deer sign from last night. They are hammering the green field! Because of the wind direction, I sat in a log ground blind on the edge of the field. I saw a lot of deer, well over a dozen, including two 120-class 4x4s I’ve seen previously, as well as a newcomer, a 130-class tall-tined 4x4 that I’d love to tag. The two smaller bucks were harassing various does and fawns, but the bigger buck was tending a doe. In fact, for 1.5 hours he shadowed her, never allowing her to move more than 15 yards away from him. Whenever a rival buck would get too close, he’d aggressively push the other buck away.

Right at last light I rolled the dice and tried to call in the big buck, and it worked . . . to a point. I thrashed some nearby brush with my hand and waved the top of my compound to mimic a buck’s antlers, and the buck walked toward me, closing the distance from 60 yards to 35, but I couldn’t get him any closer. And then it was dark.

Tomorrow morning, the final day of my vacation, I plan to sit in a ladder stand on the west side of this same brassica field. Hopefully Mr. Big will pay me a visit.

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