Early December is a tough time to be a deer hunter, particularly in the Mid-South, and especially this year. With the exception of some late rut activity in southwest Tennessee, the big show is about over. And yet, the memories of outstanding hunting are still fresh. Most hunters who put in their time this season saw a very pronounced rut that ended not long ago. We had cold, calm weather throughout November that put big numbers of deer on their feet during daylight hours. Although my personal luck this season was terrible, I probably had a better year in terms of deer sightings than any other in memory.

And yet, for the past week or so, it’s been gloomy and rainy, with periods of above-average temperatures (it’s 60 degrees and raining as I write this). Daylight deer activity has slowed to a crawl, partially because of the weather, and partially because we’re now settling into a late-season routine that means deer just aren’t moving as much right now as they were.

Does are yarding up—gathering into large groups—for the winter here in Kentucky. They’re focusing on easy food, and often only moving in the dark (like the two does in the trail cam photo above). On my way home last night, I saw a group of a dozen or more does gathered under a large white oak on a front lawn on the outskirts of town.

Chris Ryan with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources says things are winding down fast there, too. “They’re really starting to wrap up. Younger bucks are still cruising a little, but the mature deer seem to be settling back into their home ranges and concentrating on food,” he says. “That said, I did see some fresh scrapes when I hunted last week.”

Food is the most important piece of the puzzle for successful hunting right now. I mentioned the importance of green food sources during the late season in my previous post, and that’s especially true during warm spells like the one we’re having now. But Ryan says the deer in West Virginia are still feeding on the abundant acorns left over from this fall, too. “You won’t see many deer in fields while driving around right now because they’re still in the woods,” he says. “The good thing is, this year’s mast crop has them in excellent shape for the winter.”