Photo by Lance Krueger

The rut may be waning, but do your best to fight any letdown, because your chances for filling an end-of-season tag with a giant are excellent. Does are still being bred, bucks are hungry from the rigors of rutting, and conditions are ideal for a bruiser. The first cold snap of December is guaranteed to put deer on their feet, and a moon rising in the afternoon sky makes today your best last shot.

Default plan: Be Passive
Deer have been through three months of hunting, plus the rut, and now it’s the onset of winter. So let them come to you. Ideally, you’ve worked out the day’s game plan months before. If you have food plots, you planted a late-season mix of brassicas or turnips, or left some soybeans standing. And you situated each plot for effective hunting during the prevailing winter wind. If you hunt big woods, you’ve identified the hottest oak stands or clear-cuts. Get to those food-rich spots as early as possible and layer on extra cold-weather clothes. Then just wait. The does will show up; the bucks will follow.

Optional Plan: Get Aggressive
If you’re dealing with a buck that’s not likely to make it to a food source before dark, make him think he’s missing the action. March toward his bedding area in early afternoon and set a ground blind on the downwind side of the best trail leading from the bedding area. Make three mock scrapes and douse them with estrous scent. Back into your hide and give the woods time to settle down. An hour before dusk, start hitting the grunt call, building in volume and intensity. Then stage a mock battle with your antlers, keeping the volume moderate (after all, you’re tight to his bed). If he doesn’t come immediately to your calls, you’ve given him motivation to get on his feet early, and a direction to go when he does so.

X-Factor: Poor Food
December hunting can seem so easy when deer flock to obvious food sources like waste grain, acorns, and clear-cuts. But what if those sources have failed? Find a south-facing slope. Whitetails can dine well on the grasses, forbs, and shrubs that grow there, and the ambient temps—thanks to more hours of sunshine and shelter from northwest winds—will draw deer.