Overall activity status: In South Carolina, Georgia, and Arkansas, the rut is starting to wane and rampant chasing and cruising is slowing down, but there are still reports of rut activity. Jeff Atkinson hunts in Dooly County, Georgia and saw significant chasing and rut activity throughout November. “I saw more chasing this year than ever before,” Jeff said. “And they’re still chasing down there.” Activity is on the increase in pre-rut states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana as bucks are laying down more rut sign.
Most of the acorns are gone now and the open leafless hardwoods are deer deserts. I hunted a hardwood ridge last week that was thick with deer and deer sign in October but saw neither. Except for sporadic rooting for remaining nuts, most deer have left the oaks and are feeding in food plots and agricultural fields and on browse. If you can find a late-dropping oak such as a water oak, it may be a deer magnet now.
Fighting: I have not heard of any fighting lately. Bucks in Arkansas, Georgia, and South Carolina are still looking for the few remaining does that are yet to come into estrus, so some fighting may occur when two bucks find the same hot doe. Bucks are easing closer to pre-rut in Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, so expect some sparring to increase.
Rub making: In South Carolina, Georgia, and Arkansas, where the rut is waning, there seems to be minimal rubbing. However, while hunting a new area along a creek in middle Georgia last Saturday, I found a large freshly rubbed wrist-sized tree. (I plan to return soon and set up a trail camera on it.) Bucks are rubbing less and searching for remaining estrous does. Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi bucks are starting to rub more as their rut approaches.
Scrape making: Late-rutting bucks make scrapes less frequently, but there is still some going on. I scouted a government property where we were drawn for a late archery quota hunt, and found numerous fresh scrapes. Most were under beech trees and in an area that has not been hunted, so it might not be representative. But scraping can be localized depending on the buck population on your hunting property. Expect scraping to increase in pre-rut states.
Chasing: As mentioned, there is still some chasing going on in Georgia, South Carolina, and Arkansas. Expect it to slow down in these states, but take off in Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama.
Eric Andrews was hunting in Barbour County, Alabama with his cousins on a warm afternoon when some chasing action exploded from the woods. “Out of nowhere, I caught movement and see two deer piling out of the woods right at me,” Andrews describes. “I throw up my rifle to see a doe and a nice buck booking it my way. I take aim and fire, the deer turn broadside to my left and head for the other side of the field. I fire again with no luck. I have to wait until the deer clear my cousin atop an old catch pen across the field. The deer pass, I take aim again and squeeze off the trigger. It appears as if the buck skips a step, but he’s still moving fast. I know I’m down to my last shot and everything slows down around me. I tell myself (out loud), “Slow down Eric. Take your time. Slow down…” then slowly squeeze off the last round in my rifle. The buck nose-dives into the eight-inch tall hay and slides face first about fifteen yards.” That’s Andrews above with his buck which is a 225-pound 10-pointer.
Daytime movement: See above.
Estrous signs: There are still some does in estrus in Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, and parts of Louisiana, but it is on the decrease. Most does in Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama will come into estrus in the coming weeks, unless you catch an early one like Eric Andrews did in Alabama. “We usually don’t see signs of rut until mid-December, and the rut doesn’t really heat up until the end of January in this area. I was surprised at how thick this deer’s neck was, although I doubt he was in full rut,” Andrews said.
X Factor: An important factor to be aware of is the absence of leaves. With most leaves having already fallen off the trees, the woods are more open. Deer, especially mature bucks, will stick closer to thick cover and will not be seen in open coverless areas. Hunters in tree stands will also be more conspicuous in the open woods, so consider adding cover around your setup or put your stand around multiple branches or evergreen trees.