Did you miss the rut? Will you get your buck?
It’s mid-December, and a buck tag is still burning a hole in your pocket. Most of your buddies have killed their deer, and you’re starting to worry. Maybe even panic. You’ve hunted hard like you always do every year. What are you doing wrong? Did you miss the rut? Will you get your buck?
Take a deep breath and look at your predicament as an opportunity. You still get to roam the deer woods for a few more days, and the buck hunting is a lot better than you might think. Heed these tips to score at the buzzer.
Hunt the Early Post-Rut
Bucks are thin and tired but still running on a last jolt of testosterone. Sometimes an 8-pointer rakes fresh rubs and a few last scrapes, so look for them. Big deer sometimes cruise back through creek bottoms and draws where they scraped and rubbed and hooked up with does three weeks ago.
Find the Food
Your main strategy from, say, Dec. 10 through the end of the season, should center around the limited food sources that remain for deer. Both does and bucks are run down from the primary rut, and they have to eat. The colder (and snowier) it is in December, the harder deer move to and from the feed, and the more visible they will be in daylight. You’ll see the most animals if you have access to corn, soybeans, or alfalfa. A patch of standing corn is especially good, as it provides both eats and cover for deer.
In an interesting study, researchers at Auburn University tracked a herd of GPS-collared deer on a moderately hunted WMA in the South. Once hunters began arriving on Friday, daytime deer movement dropped markedly. Deer continued to lie low on Monday. By Wednesday the woods had settled down. Some does felt comfortable moving again and bucks began to stick their necks back out.
Hunt the Public Rut
Here’s another ray of hope for you public-land hunters. Biologists at Mississippi State’s deer research program say that in December, you can have some great, late rutting action on a typical WMA or national forest where does far outnumber bucks. Even better, the Mississippi State data show that bucks 2 1/2 years and older do most of the late-rut breeding, so you might shoot a big one.
Go to Ground
There are two reasons I love hunting from the ground in winter. On a cold, windy day it’s a heck of a lot warmer down there than it is hanging 20 feet off the side of a bald tree. And in a lock-on or ladder in a bare tree in a forest of leafless trees, you stick out like a sore thumb. You have a lot more cover for concealment down on the dirt. Moving in for a quick-strike ambush in December is a good tactic, but you’ve got to be smart. All you need is a small, low-profile brush blind. Stack just enough cedar trees, logs, or brush and grass to break your outline and cover your moves as you sit against a tree or fence post.