Overall Activity: It might seem odd to include a trail cam pic of a velvet buck in a December, but hear me out. This dandy 8-pointer was photographed in the corner of this corn field about two weeks before our mid-September archery opener. My neighbor (who owns the farm) obviously wanted a crack at this deer, but you can't kill a deer you can't see; the buck was a total no-show all season, despite careful hunts and further camera checks…. That is, until this week. When extreme cold hit the region this week, the big buck showed up again, standing less than 30 yards from where this photo was taken. My buddy didn't get him (long story), but the encounter reveals something critically important as winter sets in: Even the most elusive bucks get active when the temperature plummets. The region's current cold front is only a few days old, but I expect to start hearing success stories from hunters across the region.
Fighting: I don't expect much serious fighting right now, as bucks are focused on eating. However, as deer concentrate on prime food sources in the days ahead, there will be inevitable, minor clashes, especially as strange bucks meet each other and the odd doe comes into estrous.
Rub Making: I've been tip-toeing along only the edges of food sources lately (largely because post-rut whitetails typically bed pretty close to feed), so I haven't spotted many fresh rubs. However, as bucks start to congregate near winter food, new rubs will start to pop up.
Scrape Making: Nothing to report, but expect similar activity as the rub report above.
Chasing: This will be interesting to watch. We're about a month off of peak rut, and some late-cycling does will soon enter estrous. While I haven't heard about any significant chasing yet, I expect it to start happening soon, particularly around—you guessed it—food sources.
Daytime Movement: Good to excellent. The huge winter front that pushed in this week has dropped temps into the single digits (lower in northern reaches of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan), forcing deer to feed early. One muzzleloader hunter I talked to said he had eight bucks feeding in corn stubble a full hour before dusk the other day.
Estrous Signs: See "Chasing" above.
X-Factor: Again, the thermometer. The severe drop in temperature has been a boon to December deer hunting in the region. But this dramatic shift may come with a price: Temps right now are well below normal, and if they moderate even slightly, it could shut down deer activity. Once whitetails experience single-digit temps, twenty degrees will feel like a heat wave to them. It might not be conducive to other outdoor activity, but nasty cold is what hunters should be praying for right now. If the thermometer climbs to anywhere near "normal", hunting could be difficult indeed. So get out there now—and hope it stays cold.