Luck at the End of the Season

Deer seasons are winding down or closing across much of the country, and the breeding peak is largely history in many regions, so this will be the final summary I'll write for the National Roundup, although South Rut Reporter Eric Bruce and the South-Central's Brandon Ray will continue reporting through mid-January on the late ruts in parts of their regions. Many hunters dread this time of year, but it remains one of my favorites of the season to hunt. The secondary rut is one of the main reasons. Bruce's recent post and photos about a 130-class buck mounting a doe in Georgia on December 7, illustrates this perfectly.

Illustration by Andre Malok

Many hunters dismiss the significance of the “secondary rut”—in which bucks service does that go unbred during the main rut, as well as fawns entering their first cycle—but I’m not one of them. I’ve seen enough exciting action in the first weeks of December to know it’s important to be out there, set up as close to a hot food source as possible. Even if you don’t encounter a rutting buck badgering does, it remains, as Mid-South reporter Will Brantley reports, “a fine time to kill a deer.”

As Will points out, at this phase of the season, success again boils down to knowledge of food sources and how to hunt them effectively. Since post-rut bucks bed tighter to their feeding areas now, pussyfooting in and out of food plots, fields, and oak stands is a hunter's best option.

And, as South Central reporter Brandon Ray points out in regions of Texas where peak breeding has passed, post-rut bucks putting on the feed bag can actually be more vulnerable than they were early in the season.

I’ve experienced this very situation here in the Midwest. Hot food sources will suck bucks in from quite a distance, and those hungry bucks will often feed long before dark, and sometimes midday. As Brandon points out, glassing potential food sources from a distance can be an excellent way to set up an evening ambush on a buck that may be in his most vulnerable stage of the season.

Finally, even when the main rutting action dies down, rut-based tactics--calling and rattling--can remain deadly, as Great Plains reporter Steve Hill notes in his post.

It’s surprising how many hunters ask me if calling to deer in non-rutting situations is effective. Whitetails are highly social critters that are constantly communicating with each other, regardless of season. And if the difference between not getting a shot and making a kill is a grunt call (which it often is), why not carry—and use—one on every outing? Of course, not every grunt or bleat is going to suck a buck into bow or gun range, but if the buck is going to walk out of your life anyway, you have nothing to lose by calling to him, regardless of the rut phase.

If there’s still some time left in your season, I wish you the best of luck in tagging that last-minute trophy, and thank you heartily for visiting these reports throughout the fall. It’s been a pleasure reporting deer hunting, and we all look forward to bringing you another round of reports next fall.