Dec 22, 2011, 10:36 AM EDT
The Rut has migrated south much like the warm weather that we enjoyed just days and weeks ago. Fortunately though, the big bucks do not migrate, though at times they seem to. Most of the country is in state of post rut, or a less noticeable second rut. No matter what stage of Post Rut your deer are in food is your major key right now. For those of you who like to sleep in, this is your time of the year to hunt as well. Deer need to maintain their body fat and warmth, that means to move when it’s warm, even 2 degrees warmer. Hunt later in the day, over known travel corridors heading to late season food and you should score. Let’s see what our whitetail experts have to share on scoring in the late season.
Mali Vujanic, Tecomate Associate Consultant– Maryland and Delaware
We wait for 11 months and 3 weeks for the Big Show and it was here and gone in the North East before we knew it. In case you blinked, that was it! Some reported non-stop chaos in the field while others were left scratching their heads wondering when the rut was going to hit? Reports came in that the rut was early; some said it was late while others claim they never saw a thing. Regardless, it came and it is gone. But do we have a shot at a second rut?
On paper, a second rut looks great and I admit to seeing rutting activity in that 28 to 32 day period after the initial mid November phase. But keep in mind that a mature buck is back to thinking with his stomach first! He simply does not have the strength or stamina to get on his feet and travel great distances to look for does to breed like he did the first time around. Here we are the middle of December and a close friend of mine witnessed a buck breed a doe 3 days ago. Field edge scrapes have opened up once again and does are back on a feeding pattern. When you pull all of this information together, something tells me its time to get back in there!
Don’t expect to see chaos in the Timber like the first rut. But this can be a great time to catch a mature buck on his feet during cold temperatures. As the cold sets in, deer will group up and many times you can catch a few good ones running with a gang of does. Afternoon hunts can yield higher deer movements and a very important ingredient is your entrance and departure from stand. Hunt as close to the bedding area as you can. If you are going to setup close to food sources (like standing corn or beans) you need to get out of there without blowing them off those sources. Remember, the woods are naked; the ground is frozen and sound echoes in the timber. note: My best late season luck has been hunting the warm-up following a blistering cold spell! Get some Reconyx trail cameras out there to help monitor well used trails leading to and from the food. Walk slowly, hunt smart and be safe!
Jason Snavely, Tecomate Associate Consultant-Pennsylvania:
Late December across the Northeast and Mid Atlantic is a great time to kill a buck. If you didn’t overdo it to this point and you’re not burned out get in the stand! This stage of the season is often overlooked (and certainly underrated) as an excellent opportunity to kill a mature buck that hung tight while most of the hunters pounded the woods late November and early December. Let’s delve into the “why” as well as the strategy you should employ to score a late Christmas gift or start the New Year off on a great note.
The mature bucks we’re after, the ones that survived the thick of the hunting season, are now starting to pop out of the woodwork. Why? The answer lies in one word: survival! You can only “hole up” and sacrifice body maintenance for so long while temperatures are dropping, food availability is plummeting and you’ve been chasing does for two months! Simply put, these bucks are in severe need of a nutritional replenishment. Much of the hunting pressure has dwindled…many hunters are focused on the shopping malls in order to keep their significant other happy. I’m even more focused, as I know more mature bucks make it through the gun season than most realize. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still seeing bucks sparring and chasing but the mature bucks are hammering existing high-energy food sources. Reconyx trail cameras are revealing this as well as the significant body weight decline in many of the older bucks. While body mass declines during this phase of the season antler size remains the same (unless broken) so get in the stand and focus on the limited food sources that are still available. You can pin point these areas by glassing if the topography and habitat allows long distance scouting. If timber makes this difficult put your Reconyx cameras to work!
Unfortunately, in my home state of Pennsylvania we are in between seasons and our final opportunity to kill deer starts the day after Christmas until the middle of January. I’m chomping at the bit but one thing is for sure…I’ll be in the Stand before Santa gets back to the North Pole! I’ll be hunting transition areas between bedding and feeding destinations and many evening hunts will be focused on bucks en route to major feeding destinations…i.e. agricultural cover crops like cereal grains (rye, wheat and oats). These areas are also packed with does…a win-win situation.
Brett Miller, Online Hunting Editor at NBCSports.com
Much like Jason, I’m a Pennsylvania hunter and I can’t wait for our flintlock season. My Traditions Deerhunter is ready to go, and so is my knowledge of the local herd. Unfortunately snow is not in the forecast, so that makes finding the main trails the deer are using. This is when I rely on knowledge and luck. I know the bucks are still there, and I know they need to feed. I also know that if the weather doesn’t become too frigid a buck might still be interested in a hot doe. Finding a hot doe right now isn’t easy, so I will be relying on scents.
This is the time of year that in my opinion separates the wheat from the chaff when it comes to whitetail hunting. Late season, hard hunted deer make for some tough hunting. This is when you need to pull on your big boy or girl pants and hunt smart and hard or eat tag soup. Good luck, and let us know how you make out!
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