Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, but not because of the turkey, football, or Black Friday deals (speaking of which, First Lite has 20% off almost their entire store right now). Thanksgiving kicks ass because it means a long weekend of good deer hunting.

I know, the rut is basically over for most of the country, but that doesn’t mean big bucks won’t make mistakes at the end of November. One particular study from Mississippi State University showed that immature bucks (2.5- and 3.5-year-olds) took the most risks during peak rut, but that mature bucks (4.5- and 5.5-year-olds) took the most risks during post rut. This bodes well for hunters with a tag in their pocket and a four-day weekend.

If you want to kill one of these buzzer beater rut bucks, I have some reading material for you. In Mark Kenyon’s “How to Kill a Whitetail Buck in Late November,” he talks about why the final days of the month can be the best of the whole season. In Tony Peterson’s “How to Kill a Big Buck at the End of the Rut,” he gives tips on how to tag a Booner during the second half of the rut. Both articles will leave you informed and optimistic for what’s to come.

Here’s how each region breaks down for the coming week.

The forecast for this weekend and beyond in the East looks very mild—slightly above average temps, some wind, and a little rain. That’s not exactly a whitetail hunter’s ideal 10-day outlook, but it does mean deer movement should be fairly consistent.

So, if you catch a buck exiting a field in one particular spot on Thanksgiving morning, he’ll probably use that same route a time or two more before the weekend is over. As we’ve previously discussed, it can just be a numbers game during post rut. Locate a buck’s favorite bed, food source, or watering hole at the end of November and the hard part is over—now all you need to do is wait.

Late November is one of the most exciting times in the South. For bucks on a traditional mid-November rut, deer hunting will be good for all the reasons I talked about above. For herds that experience peak rut in December, pre-rut activity will start ramping up. (Sorry, hunters with a January rut, your time will come soon enough.)

For both groups, much of the focus can be the same. Rubs and scrapes might not be the best places to hunt right now, but they can inform you of where bucks are traveling at night. Whether you’re in some form of post-rut or pre-rut, bedding is key to killing a mature whitetail. Find sign coming off food and follow those trails right to a buck’s bedroom. That’s where your best chance to kill will be.

midwest rut report
My buck from last weekend in Montana.

Most gun seasons are happening right now across the Midwest. I’d consider this to be the single greatest factor affecting deer movement—way ahead of weather, moon phase, crop harvest, or anything else hunters typically care about.

If you have private land to yourself, you’re in damn good shape. If you’re relegated to shared properties or public, then it’s going to be tougher. As we’ve said before, this time of year is more about out-thinking hunters than it is out-thinking deer. Tony Peterson’s article “How to Kill a Pressured Buck During the Rut” is never more relevant than it is right now. Sometimes filling a tag among the orange armies is just as simple as hunting a slough that others wouldn’t think to look in or hitting the woods on a Wednesday instead of Saturday.

While parts of the country are just opening up for gun season, most of the West is winding down. For many states, this weekend marks the last chance to fill a tag before it becomes soup. Ideally we’d get a bout of snow and cold to herd deer up and make them easy to find, but the weather is just as uncooperative here as it is in the East.

Groups of does can still be located on food, and among them will hopefully be a buck or two. Remember how the study referenced above said mature bucks are more likely to take risks right now? On a hunt this last weekend, I watched as a mature whitetail entered a field well before sunset and pestered each doe family within eyesight. Meanwhile, two basket racks stayed bedded in a fencerow and appeared uninterested. That mature 4×4 eventually worked his way to a doe group in front of me and my shot didn’t miss. It was the kind of encounter you’d only get in late November.

Feature image via Matt Hansen.