Every week this fall, I’ll be providing updates on whitetail buck movement for the entire country. These reports are based on intel from whitetailers in each region and my own observations as a traveling deer hunter. For more info like this, subscribe to the Rut Fresh Radio Podcast and Whitetail Weekly Newsletter. Rut Fresh Reports are powered by onX.
For a lot of whitetail hunters, the secondary rut is one of those things you often hear about, but rarely actually witness.
If you’re not familiar, it’s when the does who didn’t get bred in November come into estrus a second time. This takes place exactly one month after peak breeding, which is in early to mid-December for most of the whitetail’s range. This is also when young-of-the-year fawns will enter their first cycle. The bucks know this is happening and act accordingly.
Now the secondary rut doesn’t get the same fanfare as the OG rut, but that’s to be expected. The December rut is often a bit subdued, with buck movement behaving more like pre-rut than peak rut. Rather than bucks traveling open areas at midday (like the best days of peak rut), you’ll find them staying on food a bit later in the morning and getting out of their beds a bit earlier in the afternoon (like the best days of pre-rut).
Secondary ruts are most intense in neighborhoods where there’s an unbalanced buck-to-doe ratio. If there are significantly more does than bucks in an area, the bucks simply won’t be able to breed all of the does the first time around. I’ve also heard wise whitetailers say that if an area had a lot of standing corn present during peak rut, that more does go unbred because of the lack of visibility. I haven’t personally witnessed that, but it makes sense in theory.
Here’s how each region breaks down for the coming week.
East The majority of gun seasons in the East are open by now. I consider gun hunting pressure the single greatest factor affecting deer movement, far outweighing weather, moon phase, or anything else whitetail hunters typically take notice of.
If you’re trying to find a big buck in the middle of gun season, you’ll need to look where others aren’t. Sometimes it’s as simple as using onX to find an overlooked slough or shelterbelt adjacent to good habitat that others have already hunted. Similarly, you’ll want to avoid the most obvious spots that whitetail hunters are attracted to. For example, if a piece of public property has a manicured food plot just a quarter mile from the parking lot, it’s likely seen multiple hunters a day since gun season opened. Ditch those traditional December setups in favor of somewhere less trafficked.
South Whether the herd in your part of the South has a November rut or December rut, the buck movement should largely be the same right now. Expect to see mature bucks moving in crepuscular periods, with an emphasis on being around does.
As Kyler Moppert told me on this week’s episode of Rut Fresh Radio, 100% of the white oak crop has hit the ground by now. That means a shift will happen with whitetails where they’ll turn their attention to red oaks, pin oaks, and whatever else is in season right now. (Use Clay Newcomb’s video as a guide to tell the difference between white and red oaks.) To kill a pre-rut or post-rut buck in the South this weekend, find a hot oak flat with sign in the area. Even if the rubs and scrapes aren’t active, there’s likely a buck nearby that will be drawn in by delicious acorns.
Midwest Similar to the East, gun hunting pressure should heavily factor into your decision-making right now. As for the weather, it’ll be a tale of two Decembers between now and our next Rut Report. Although much of the region will see temps in the 60s and 70s over the next couple of days, by midweek some areas will hit single digits.
If you’re hunting in warm weather this weekend, consider getting off the field edges to focus your attention in spots that look like what you’d hunt in late October. It’s not that whitetails will ignore corn and bean fields when it’s warm, but you have the next four weeks to hunt those areas after more typical December weather rolls in. Use the mild temps to hike somewhere you ordinarily wouldn’t when it’s below freezing or there’s snow on the ground—save those comfortable field edge setups for the rest of the month.
West Rifle seasons are largely over for whitetails across the West now, but a handful of muzzleloader and bow seasons are still rolling. December hunts have a pretty low participation rate in this region, whether you’re archery hunting in North Dakota, rifle hunting in Colorado, or muzzleloader hunting in Nebraska. That’s good news for those who still have a tag in their pocket.
Similar to the rest of the country, warm weather will give way to a cold front that should hit on Sunday or Monday. If you’re in the field these next couple of days, don’t put a ton of stock into what you witness. If your favorite hay fields to hunt in December don’t get much traffic on Saturday afternoon, it’s most likely a product of the 60-degree temps. By next weekend or the weekend after, those historical food sources will blow up with whitetail activity.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.