For most people, the worst month to hunt just might be December.
I know I’m supposed to paint a rosy picture of rut-worn bucks sprinting into food sources during cold afternoons, but that’s mostly BS. If you hunt where there’s any real pressure at all, the twelfth month of the year is often an exercise in futility. This is true regardless (and often in spite) of weather conditions.
It’s not a lost cause, of course. If we view hunting solely with tunnel vision and grip-and-grins as the only measure of success, it might not be worth it to layer up and head out. If we look at the bigger picture, December actually does offer deer hunters a few advantages.
If you want the woods to yourself, here you go. Throughout many whitetail states, the bulk of the archery season, and the entirety of the general firearm season, is over. This takes with it most of the hunters. If there’s a silver lining here, it’s the lack of pressure.
This often means it’s you against the deer. That’s better than you against 17 other hunters (and the deer), right? This mass exodus of hunters from the woods offers another advantage as well. This is the time to get permission for new ground.
Farmers are largely wrapped up on the fall harvest, and plenty of landowners are done hunting for the season. You might have to promise to shoot only does, but gaining access now might be easier than any other time of the season. If you get the green light and treat it with the respect it deserves, it might turn into something bigger in the future.
If you’re keeping score, that’s two-to-zero in favor of hunting in December.
There is a constant drumbeat from mainstream outdoor media that preaches a cautious approach. Don’t hunt the timber until Halloween, don’t hunt mornings until the rut, don’t, don’t, don’t. The general consensus is that preserving hunting spots until the timing is perfect is the only move.
It is a good one if you have access to land that others don’t hunt. If you don’t, playing it super cautious is just a great way to stay out of the woods while other folks kill the deer that you could have shot.
This cautious but not generally applicable advice is the opposite of what many of us should consider for December. This is last-quarter stuff, and I say, go for broke. If you want to slip into a bedding area for a morning hunt, try it. If you still want to hunt a promising ridgeline at noon during a blizzard, do it.
Now, I’m not advocating wholesale recklessness because you’ll probably be the only hunter out. Calculated risks are the spice of deer hunting life, and if you have the urge to hunt a previously off-limits area or try out a new tactic, why not give it a shot right before the final buzzer?
December whitetails are cagey. They are intolerant. But they are also highly predictable. The upside to hunting deer that will bolt from the tiniest mistake is that if you don’t make a mistake, they’ll show you what they want to do and when they want to do it.
From the trails they travel to the timing of their arrival on food, late-season whitetails fall hard into specific habits. They’re also often grouped up and somewhat visible. These traits provide some welcome ballast against their heightened sense of survival.
What does this mean for the December hunter? It’s time to watch. Pay attention to tracks in the mud and trails in the snow. Every sighting is a clue. When you leave your stand and see some dark shapes in the neighbor’s cornfield, there’s a lesson there.
When you still-hunt that ridge and find a whole slew of doe and fawn beds on a bench, take note. The woods are laid bare, the deer aren’t into wasting calories, and the opportunity to put the whole thing together is real. It’s just not easy.
The whole thing about December hunting is that it’s not easy, but that’s okay. It’s worth it, you just have to focus on the positives to make something happen. And probably, lower your standards.