Cold Weather Keeping Deer on the Move

Overall Activity Status: The weather has been a headline-maker across the country for the past week, and the Mid-South is no exception. The high temperature isn't supposed to break freezing today, and Michelle had a snow day from school yesterday. We normally don't see weather like that until January.

But it's been a good thing for deer hunting. Peak breeding is taking place right now, and that typically equates to bucks being locked down with does. But the cold weather seems to be keeping deer on their feet and feeding. I pulled a trail camera this morning that's been sitting over an active (but unhunted) bait site for a week. Deer activity there has been high at all hours of the day, including by big bucks like the one in the photo here. The clock on that camera is an hour ahead, so that buck was standing there chowing down on corn at 1:15 in the afternoon on Sunday.

I've done some hunting, too. My buddy Ryan and I headed to northern Tennessee over the weekend. We both had plenty of action both mornings, and we both managed to kill a deer. But one of the weekend's highlights was on Sunday at midday, when we came out of the woods and jumped a giant buck and a doe from a tiny thicket on the slope of a pond dam, right next to the barn where I'd parked my truck. That thicket was maybe a quarter acre in size. Such a spot is where you can expect to find a mature buck locked down with a hot doe right now.

Fighting: Bucks don't go out of their way to fight (or interact with other bucks, period) once the actual breeding begins. That's a big reason why a mature deer will "lock down" with a doe in an out-of-the-way spot like the one described above. Still, fights that occur right now are meaningful, as bucks are battling it out for breeding rights. I had several images of bucks with broken tines over that same bait site this week.

Rub making: Holding steady. Ryan and I had turkey-hunted this particular farm back in the spring, but neither of us had ever hunted deer there. Ultimately, we both set up in timbered pinch points that were full of fresh rubs (and scrapes), and we both saw plenty of deer.

Scrape making: I'd typically expect a decline in scraping activity right now, but I saw numerous fresh scrapes over the weekend—more than I've seen since Halloween. That was down in Tennessee. On my farm a few miles north in Kentucky, scrapes that were hot a couple weeks ago were covered in leaves.

Chasing: Things had gotten a little slow by mid-Morning on Sunday. I'd planned to climb down at 10 a.m., but instead started my descent at 9:45. If I'd only waited 10 minutes, I would've had a shot at the 8-pointer that came crashing through the timber after a doe and yearling, right behind my stand. The frenzied chasing of just a few days ago seems to have slowed a bit as more does are actually receptive right now, but it's still going on. Don't get impatient like I did and call it quits when you have time to hunt.

Daytime movement: Overall, it's been outstanding. Combined with the rut, this cold weather has gotten numbers of deer on their feet to feed, and I saw deer on their feet at nearly all hours of the day over the weekend. Acorns are still abundant, and deer are still hammering anything that's green. I'm seeing a lot of activity in harvested crop fields sown over with winter wheat.

Estrous signs: Not that proof is needed, but here's some evidence that does are in estrus now: Brandon Gavrock, my game warden buddy down in Central Tennessee, gets numerous calls in the spring from people reporting "abandoned" fawns. "You can tell when the fawns are being born because those calls suddenly pour in," he says. "Last year, I got three in one day. When I did the research, every single one of those fawns had been conceived within 48 hours of November 15."

X Factor: Human pressure. I do most of my hunting in Kentucky, but I live right on the Tennessee line. Kentucky's gun season has been open two weekends now, as has Tennessee's muzzleloader season. It's rare to drive a country road around here right now without seeing multiple orange caps on pickup truck dashboards.

I personally heard several hunters report painfully slow hunting over the weekend—both in Kentucky and Tennessee. That initially struck me as unusual, given all the deer Ryan and I had seen over the weekend. But the farm Ryan and I were hunting has seen very little pressure this season. My farm in Kentucky, even though it's just 70 acres, has been alive with deer movement, judging by my trail cameras. Nobody has hunted it since gun season opened.

This is a shining—if not frustrating—example of just how much human activity, despite the peak of the rut and prime weather, can affect your hunting. I think sometimes there's a tendency for hunters to get a little sloppier this time of year, when deer are distracted. But little mistakes—a jumped deer here, a snort there—add up over time. It never hurts to remember the fundamentals of watching the wind and remaining undetected.