Sadly, the best deer hunting is over for most of the country. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to tag a mature buck in mid-December though. As Mark Kenyon said on the Wired to Hunt Podcast, “The late season is the great season.”
Like we often preach when hunting the rut, you just need to keep it simple this time of year. But, instead of focusing on doe bedding and pinch points, look for thermal cover and obvious food. Bucks and does alike are worn down from the rut, and now they’ll be thinking with their stomachs.
Here’s how each region breaks down for the coming week.
A warm stretch is on the way for the East and Northeast, but that’ll break after this weekend when a big cold front and snowstorm move in. While you can certainly kill a buck during mild temps this time of year, you’ll want to wait for those exceptionally cold and snowy days to strike.
When bad weather hits an area, it forces deer to go into survival mode. If you can find a safe space that deer have been bedding since gun season, look for the nearest food source and plan on waiting there. The colder the weather, the earlier in the evening the deer should arrive. In that part of the country, the best protein available could be acorns, corn, beans, or food plots.
Cold weather is about a week away in the South. If you have a season that runs through the end of the month, maybe consider treating this weekend as a final scouting push to help you fill a tag later on. Scout from a distance in the evenings and try to pattern a buck working a specific food source. As long as no other hunters bump a deer, its patterns shouldn’t change much through Christmas.
There’s a chance for rain pretty much all of next week. If you are out in the field when precipitation rolls in, there’s a few things to consider. This article from Mark Kenyon offers good insight on hunting before, during, and after rain.
Much of the Midwest is going to be an ice box this weekend. Like in the East, find the most obvious food source with quality bedding and you’ll be on deer. Thermal cover is super important this time of year. When windchills get to single digits, deer aren’t going to settle for mediocre shelter.
As far as secondary rutting goes, this is probably as good a year as any to see bucks nosing does in December. I think there’s the possibility of a strong second rut because more deer likely survived Midwestern gun seasons thanks to poor weather and standing crops. There’s going to be a surplus of mature bucks going into late season for many parts of the region, and I’m betting that hunters will see bucks pestering does around food in the evenings.
Seasons are closed or about to close for much of the West. If you’re still at it, this can be the easiest time of year or hardest time of year to find deer. Herds of whitetails will congregate on ag fields for the rest of winter, giving private land hunters an edge. If you’re forced to hunt public, look for private land areas open to public hunting, like WIAs and BMAs. They often have quality food that can’t be found on BLM, Forest Service, or school land.
Look for tracks in the snow and set up with the wind in your face. Deer won’t change their patterns much for the next month, so you can confidently hunt the same areas for the next few weeks. Arrive early in the evenings to avoid blowing out does and fawns before your hunt even begins.
Want more rut reports like this? Make sure you subscribe to the Wired to Hunt Podcast, where each Wednesday in the fall we release a Rut Fresh episode breaking down buck movement across the country.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.