If all goes as usual over the next couple of weeks, there will be a period when whitetail deer hunting will reach its peak here on the northern Cumberland Plateau.
A few trophy whitetails have already been trucked to taxidermy shops, and that flow will continue through Thanksgiving and beyond. But the absolute best opportunity to harvest a mature whitetail buck will come at some point in the next few days.
That period won't last more than a few days, and nailing down exactly when those days will fall is far from an exact science. But seasoned whitetail chasers know that those days are better spent in a tree stand than anywhere else.
It is the peak of the "chase phase" of the rut. Bucks are feeling their oats, but does aren't yet receptive. It isn't unusual for a feisty buck to cover miles of territory in a single day in search of does. It isn't unusual for does to lead those pesky bucks on hot pursuits.
The result is wily, old bucks — normally untouchable — letting down their guard. Bucks that are largely nocturnal move more during the day during this short period than at any other point during the fall or winter bucks. Woodlots that were seemingly devoid of deer activity just last week are apt to see a trophy buck cruising through at any given time.
This time period — which is likely to last no more than a week; 10 days at the outside — is when bucks are most aggressive. Rattling works well in areas where the buck-to-doe ratio isn't so out of whack that it renders rattling useless, as does the use of scent lures and calls that mimic the tending grunts of young bucks. Since the time they shed their velvet in late summer, bucks have been subconsciously anticipating this time, and now it has arrived with few does available.
Ordinarily, that short period of chasing occurs during the first week of November here in these parts. Whether this fall's unusually warm weather — which has kept leaves clinging to branches much later than usual — has pushed back the rut a bit is anyone's guess, though hunters are reporting seeing active scrape lines in buck territory, which is usually as good a sign as any that the chase phase of the rut is not far away.
Ironically, the absolute best time to find a trophy buck on the prowl this fall might be missed by most whitetail hunters. Due to the calendar layout this year, Tennessee's muzzleloader season does not start until Nov. 9. Only archery hunters — which are few and far between — will be in the woods between now and then. And if the first week of November proves to be the peak of the pre-rut again this year, gun-only hunters will miss it entirely.
It isn't as though the rut hinges entirely on what happens in that short window when the chase begins, of course. As the calendar moves deeper into November, does become receptive and the rut begins in earnest. Whitetail bucks tend to move a bit less then, but their minds are nonetheless preoccupied by romance and caution is thrown to the wind as they spend their days following scents of estrous and fulfilling their duties as patriarchs of the deer woods.
Any way you look at it, this is the magical time for whitetail deer hunters.