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.
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.
As deer shift to late-season patterns, it can seem fruitless to hunt in the morning. Sure, morning hunts tend to be tougher as deer usually leave food sources at shooting light in search of a bed, but that doesn’t mean you should stay in bed. Use your December mornings to scout if nothing sets up well for morning movement.
You can often find bucks entering and exiting fields in the same spots, which might give you the intel you need for an afternoon kill. That method is how in 2018 I killed my third-biggest buck ever. After seeing how he used a picked field in the morning, I dropped an onX pin and came back to greet him at sunset.
Here’s how each region breaks down for the coming week.
East Bursts of cold weather are in the forecast for much of the East and Northeast over the next few weeks, with slightly above average temps sprinkled in between. 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 anything green.
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 for much of the region over these next few weeks. 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.
Midwest Like the East, if you find the most obvious food source with quality bedding, you’ll be on deer. Thermal cover is super important this time of year, especially if the mercury sinks. When windchill takes the reading to single digits or snow hits, deer aren’t going to settle for mediocre shelter.
As far as secondary rutting goes, this year you may see more December breeding than last year. According to the USDA’s crop harvest report, much of the region was 10% to 20% behind last year in corn harvest for November. That means during many states’ gun seasons and peak breeding dates there was more standing corn present than in 2020. With more bucks surviving firearms seasons and fewer does bred due to a lack of visibility, I’m betting you’ll see more frisky bucks on food sources in evenings.
West Seasons are closed or about to close for much of the West. If you’re still at it, this can be the easiest 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.
Feature image via Matt Hansen