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Deer hunters in best kind of rut to be in

Hunters have much to be thankful for, especially if they were able to be out whitetail hunting during the past week.

I’ve been following the progression of the rut throughout the West this season, and while regional differences have been evident, virtually all of my deer-hunting contacts from Oregon to Wyoming have reported the heat turned about a week ago and hasn’t let up.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a hunting story quoting Montana whitetail researcher Gary Dusek who currently lives in Liberty Lake. Dusek said that in his years of professional and hunting experience, his best buck hunting in the Inland Northwest has been within a day or two either side of Nov. 17.

I can report that a whole bunch of hunters wholeheartedly agree.

John Eliason of Spokane rattled in a regal buck to within 25 yards before adding it to his wall collection on Nov. 17. He’d been monitoring active scrapes and the buck came in to the clacking of a pair of shed antlers as though he were a sportswriter getting wind of a free buffet.

For the record, Eliason said luck played a big part in his success, but having the rut on your side is like having a couple of wild cards in your hand.

It’s obvious from the reports I’ve been receiving that bigger-than-average bucks are the payoff for patience and the tenacity to tough out the less-hospitable late-season weather.

Friday was the last day of the late general rifle season in Eastern Washington. The closing date is designed to avoid putting too much pressure on bucks during the annual breeding season when they tend to lose much of their wariness.

Bucks that have spent the last two months in hiding are moving. They’re either tending does or searching for another estrous doe. Within a day or two after Washington’s late buck season ended, I was getting reports from people who were seeing big bucks standing out in the open, in the middle of roads.

It’s not a slam dunk to bag a buck in the rut, since the does still have some common sense, noted Hal Meenach, a Fairfield area landowner and wildlife habitat consultant. But when a doe has been spotted the last few days, there’s been a good chance a buck would follow immediately.

“Without an alert doe, many more bucks would not make the cut,” Meenach said. A long-time deer observer, Meenach believes the height of the rut kicked in a little earlier than normal this year. Possible explanations include lower numbers of deer (from past winterkill).

Also, much-improved feeding conditions owing to the wet spring and great summer and fall growing conditions left the females in better condition to breed, he said.

Deer numbers are still down from two of the past three winters. But if this winter isn’t too rough, the deer are poised for good survival – and twins are likely to be the norm next spring.

Idaho hunters aren’t thinking about next spring yet, since they still have some season left for stalking bucks.

This is prime time, and those of us who didn’t fill our tags in Washington are jealous as hell.

Contact Rich Landers at 459-5508 or e-mail

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