Hunting whitetails in December can be incredibly dull. Factor in trying to keep tabs on surviving bucks and their current patterns, and it can be downright exhausting. Hunting pressure has been exerted on deer for months now and their behavior proves it. Most trail cameras are capturing more photos at night than during daylight hours. December hunting is tough for many reasons. First of all, many bucks have already been harvested, leaving fewer deer left to roam. Also, the lingering odors of coffee and muffled voices in the early morning hours, along with the usual activity of evening hunters, has made deer incredibly weary about showing themselves during daylight hours. Lastly, the rut is over and bucks have now resorted to primarily feeding and bedding, both of which will occur at whatever times necessary in order to feel secure. That being said, no deer is completely nocturnal, and the key to getting him in the bed of you truck may be easier than you think.
Some of the best late season hunting can be found in small secluded pockets of cover that are commonly overlooked by hunters. Ironically, many hunters drive right past great late season hunting spots while on the way to their over-pressured hunting land. These areas can vary not only in size but also in habitat. While a large cutover full of briars and dense saplings would be ideal, a small overgrown farm field works just as well. Any place that a deer feels safe and can move about without being disturbed deserves your attention. Some of my best late season sites are around a fallow field, a small woodlot on the edge of town (9 acres to be exact) and a narrow strip of timber behind a poultry farming operation. While I wouldn’t think much about hunting them during the early parts of the season, they have produced great results in December.
Of course, just because deer sightings are low doesn’t mean that you have to jump ship and find a new property. You can stick with the same land you have been hunting, but you need to shift your way of thinking. What worked earlier in the year, or even last year, may not work now. Once again, finding unmolested areas and places that offer plenty of food and cover is a great start. The swamp on the backside of your property, and similar areas, are a great place to start. You can also manipulate your hunting times. We as humans are easily patterned by whitetails, so a midday hunt or early afternoon sit in your treestand may produce the results you want.
Suppose you haven’t set up any late season stands, or maybe you just gained permission to hunt a tract of land before the season ends, it is too late to set up a stand and still hunt it? No! The key is to be careful not to make any more disturbances than necessary when getting set up. Remember, the reason the deer are using that area is because they are avoiding human intrusions. Slip in quietly and figure out where you need to be set up at. After getting your stand up, leave and don’t return until the conditions are right to hunt the stand. Another tip: asking permission to hunt a property for the later part of the season is a great way to get your foot in the door about gaining permission to hunt the property the following season. Landowners are more likely to grant permission for a couple of weeks as opposed to a whole season, especially if they aren’t familiar with you. Showing them that you are appreciative and hunt legally is a great way to gain new hunting spots
When it comes to dealing with post-rut deer, careless bucks die and cautious bucks survive. Most deer have seen every play in the book by now, therefore this is not the time to take a lackadaisical approach. By taking the information above you can set yourself up to harvest any buck before season’s end, but in order to do so you must be ready to go toe-to-toe with them. Plan out your approach and hunt smart, there is plenty of time left to punch your deer tag.
Check out my article, Late Season Success, in the December issue of Wildlife In NC for a more in-depth look at hunting post-rut bucks.