Brad Harvey: Late-season deer hunts can be rewarding

December 15, 2012 

As we’ve slipped into the last month of the year, a few deer hunters in our area have started to shut down their efforts for the 2012 season that closes on New Year’s Day.

Many feel waking up in the wee hours of the morning to go out into the cold and climb a tree is a wasted effort, now that the rut is well behind us.

The reality is, as long as you know the proper way to go about it, a late-season deer hunt can be rewarding.

First off, our part of the country is a bit different in that we don’t have a well-defined rut. Sure, all of the hunting magazines and deer hunting television shows talk of concentrating their efforts in November, but that doesn’t necessarily apply to us.

Here, some doe enter the estrous period in mid-October while others won’t until closer to Thanksgiving. What this means is, although it is late, there are still a number of doe that have yet to breed.

Around 28 days after the primary rut, older, mature doe that weren’t successfully bred the first time around will re-enter the estrous period and the younger yearlings will actually just begin to enter it for the first time. There’s no doubt the number of hot doe running around the woods is fewer than a month ago, but there’s still enough of them around to make things interesting for those bucks.

The best way to take advantage of this is to curtail bold tactics, like aggressive grunt calling, and utilize more subdued attraction methods such as scents and simple doe bleats.

Are you one of those hunters who has been hunting the same stand locations year after year through every month of the season? If so, it’s probably time to start thinking outside of the box.

By this time, every deer in the forest has become acclimated to having hunters around. They’ve heard enough truck doors slam, smelled and seen enough humans, had their ears blasted by rifle shots and witnessed enough deer go down to know it’s in their best interest to avoid these locations until the action has cooled down.

Your best bet is to put forth the extra effort to hunt deeper than normal. Search out remote spots that have seen the least amount of hunting pressure and start thinking about approaching this game in the same manner you did back when the season first came in. Once again, it’s all about the food.

With the majority of breeding done, those old bucks are worn down and have lost a considerable amount of weight. To get through the winter, they’ll need to bulk up so eating is quickly becoming their No. 1 priority. In wooded areas, look for any oaks that may still have a few acorns. They’re sure to hit these spots first, and that will almost guarantee you a shot opportunity as long as you’re willing to put in the time and effort to wait them out.

Back in September and October, there were plenty of items on the menu for the deer. Acorns were in abundance on every oak, the fields were green, and persimmons and other types of soft mast were weighing down the branches of many a tree. In December, however, the situation has changed dramatically and the choices are few.

Be mindful of everything you see that might serve as a meal for these critters. For as unappetizing and unpalatable as it may look, green briar is actually a staple of their diet and can be found in abundance around here. It’s frequently seen in some thickets thus serving double duty to the tired, late season buck since he can both eat and bed right there without exerting too much energy.

A strategically placed stand along the edge of such a thicket is as good a “honey hole” as an early season oak.

The last tip I’ll throw at you is really a simple one but often overlooked. Every hunter knows the farther along we get into a hunting season and the more pressure the deer have faced, the more they begin to limit their movements to the hours of the night. This is why we all hate to see a full moon coming up on the calendar since this makes their nocturnal activities that much easier for them. December weather, on the other hand, can offer a few advantages for us here.

With winter weather patterns beginning to come into play, it’s common to see a few more overcast days and nights. No matter what phase the moon is in, this frequent cloud cover can go a long way toward blocking out moonlight and making the woods a dark and creepy place to be. This, in turn, helps to curb all of that late-hour deer movement and force them to spend more time moving during the day.

On evenings the weatherman says it’s going to be cloudy, you can bet the next morning will be a great time to be out there.

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.

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