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Hunter's dream season is here

| November 11, 2021 12:00 AM

Do you have some fresh deer meat in the freezer? If not, don’t worry, the dream season is here.

The best half of our five-week deer rifle season is ahead. Mule deer and whitetail deer are the two most popular big game species in Montana.

Hunters love to chase elk, but when it comes to putting meat in the freezer or getting a trophy set of antlers to hang on the wall, our abundant deer populations are the critters providing most big game hunting success in Montana.

What makes this part of hunting season so special? It is the rut! It is the time when normally cautious and wary mature bucks become more concerned with mating a doe than staying hidden in their day beds.

Recently, I’ve been hunting in Eastern Montana’s Region 6. Last year, during this same time period, of the general five-week deer season, it was cold and very snowy. The snow was so deep and drifted, that it prevented me from getting to most of my favorite hunting areas.

What a difference a year makes! This year hunting is tough because it is too warm. Last week at my farm near Malta, it was sunny and 65-70 degrees. Unbelievable! I recently talked with a professional outfitter whose client success rate is down because the elk are feeding during the warm nights, then moving up into their bedding areas in the morning before daylight.

Digging them out of their forested bedding grounds is tough. He is praying for cold weather and snow.

But colder weather is coming and most importantly, the deer rut is kicking in.

It doesn’t matter if you are hunting mule deer bucks on the plains of Eastern Montana or whitetail bucks west of the divide, hunting success will really pick up for the remainder of the deer season.

With the rut kicking in, you may want to think about where to hunt. Simply put, you want to be hunting doe country. Find the does and you will likely find bucks.

During the first half of this deer season, I’ve noticed only young bucks hanging with doe and fawn groups. With the rut kicking in, mature bucks will leave the security of their remote bedding grounds earlier in the

day and hang around open country later in the morning looking for does ready to mate.

As we get to the peak of the rut, many bucks will move all day, looking for does. This will make them vulnerable to hunters.

We generally think that it is only bucks that lose their good sense during the rut. But does are also interested in mating.

Here is an example.

A few years ago, I was hunting with a young out-of-state hunter. It was during the peak of the rut. We were hunting some deep coulees, looking for mule deer bucks.

We topped a ridge and saw two bucks messing with one doe in the bottom of the next coulee. My young partner dropped to his knee, aimed and shot one of the bucks.

The doe and other buck ran off about 100 yards, then stopped. Then the doe did a very stupid thing, she came running back to the dead buck. That buck must have been her boy friend and she was ready to be bred. She stopped by the dead buck, with the second buck right behind her, sniffing her butt. Bang, the second buck was shot.

So, many of the normally smart and wary older bucks and does seem to lose all common sense during the rut. So many end-up in our freezers.

So, the odds of getting a nice buck will greatly improve during the next two weeks. But not all bucks and does are as careless as in my example indicated.

Most bucks will be moving much more during daylight hours, making them vulnerable to hunters. But most will move with great stealth, using their eyes, ears and noses to detect danger, you the hunter.

Most of my rut hunting success has come by being patient and sitting. I find a spot where I can sit comfortably, watching good deer habitat, waiting for buck to come through, looking for a doe.

In the forested hills of Western Montana, I like to hunt small clear cuts. I especially like clear cuts with north and east facing slopes. The logging of all the mature trees has opened the forest floor to more sunlight and moisture when small bushes, forbs and other ground level plants have produced a wealth of deer food.

Clear cutting mature timber is great for improving deer habitat.

Several years ago, I intended to hunt such a small clear cut. As I was hiking to my vantage point over-looking the clear cut, I was getting over-heated.

So, I picked a handy stump to sit and cool down. As I sat, I heard brush breaking in a small ravine that ran down through the clear cut.

I walked to the edge of the ravine and saw a doe working her way uphill with a huge whitetail buck following. My shot dropped the buck. Since I also had a doe tag, the next shot filled the doe tag.

So, hunters, get out this weekend, enjoy time in the mountains of Western Montana or prairies of Eastern Montana and put some good healthy wild meat in the freezer.

The rut is on, so success is likely.