Rut Reporter Will Brantley of Murray, Kentucky, knows the region well. He spends 40 to 50 days each season in the Mid-South whitetail woods. Brantley shot his first deer at age 10 with a sidelock muzzleloader. States covered: KY, TN, WV, VA, NC.

Nov. 29: Thanksgiving is family time, of course, and spending some of that family time in the woods makes for an especially enjoyable holiday. This year, my brother, Matt, drove in from South Carolina, where he’s working on his Master’s degree at Clemson University. A few weeks ago, Matt had told Dad and me that he wanted to do some deer hunting while he was in at Thanksgiving. It was the last weekend of Kentucky’s modern firearms season.


Thanksgiving Day wasn’t a fit one to be in the woods, as it was warm, raining, and windy ahead of a major cold front. Friday morning was different. When we woke up, the front had passed. The temperature was in the 20s, and a light snow covered the ground. Matt and I accidentally locked my keys in my truck in the predawn first thing, but other than a pouch of chewing tobacco, we’d fortunately gotten all of our critical gear out from behind the truck seat ahead of time.

We set up on a white oak ridge overlooking a food plot. We sipped hot coffee and ate turkey sandwiches, courtesy of Mom’s leftovers from the night before. It was the first time Matt had hunted in more than five years. His goal was to simply shoot a deer for his freezer. It turned out to be a pretty good morning for that.

Rutting activity was slim–we’re pretty much in post-rut mode around here now. We saw a small buck on his feet a couple hours into the morning, but he seemed to be as interested in picking at clover and looking for scattered acorns as he was in looking for does. Later, at around 9 o’clock, two does–a mature one rolling in fat and a yearling–popped into view. Matt and I froze as they trotted past us at no more than 15 yards. When they stopped at 40 yards, Matt tucked the stock of the .308 into his shoulder and shot both deer through the heart with two careful shots. Ten minutes later, we were dragging the does to the edge of the field for pictures and field dressing. We then had to walk to the top of a hillside so we could get cell phone reception to call Dad to come rescue us with a spare truck key. We waited in the field for him to meet us, enjoying the sunshine and drinking the rest of our coffee.

Matt drove to South Carolina with a cooler full of venison Saturday afternoon. He called me that night and said he’d sliced up one of the tenderloins, rolled the pieces in seasoned flour and crushed Ritz crackers, and skillet-fried it for his supper. It was without a doubt one of the best hunts I’ve had all season.