Final Report: What I learned from the 2013 Deer Season

So here we are at the end of another deer season and another year of rut reporting. Thirty reports. Man do they ever go by fast. The Rut Report has become one of my favorite gigs as an outdoor writer because I've learned so much from it. It's like keeping a journal on the season, full of photos and added input from other hunters across the region. At the end of every season, it seems I learn several new things, too. Here's what tops the list from this year.

Spotty Mast Equals Later Rut: With the exception of some localized areas, the mast crop was spotty across the Mid-South this year, and virtually non-existent in some places. Chris Ryan with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources has been telling me for years that a good mast crop puts does in prime condition prior to the rut, and often means earlier rut activity. This year, it seemed the seeking and chasing really didn't crank up until the second week of November, which is about a week late in my experience. But we didn't have many acorns. It's definitely something I'll be on the lookout for in the coming years.

Small Farms can Produce Big: Our best hunting spot this year was on a 30-acre farm that my wife and I saved up to buy two years ago. We didn't realize at the time how good the place could be, but we planted a food plot, set stands in the right areas, and managed our hunting pressure. We put three deer in the freezer from that place, including Michelle's biggest buck ever.

Chicory is One Hell of a Food Plot Plant: I mixed chicory into my spring food plots this year under the advice of some local guides. Holy hell, that is one good food plot plant. It grows easy and fast, mixes well with ladino clover (the overall best food plot plant in my opinion), and the deer simply demolish it.

Mornings can Produce in the Early Season: I've never been a morning hunter during the early season. I've always believed it does far more harm than good, since the odds of bumping deer off food sources in the predawn is so high. But this year, my trail cameras showed me that good bucks were hitting the food in the mid-morning hours. So I risked several daylight sits. I had bucks in bow range every time. While I still think morning hunts need to be approached carefully in September, they can definitely pay off.

There's a Reason For Compound Bows: I hunted with a recurve for a few days this year. That was enough.

Persistence Kills Deer Above All Else: We enjoyed some prime weather throughout the 2013 deer season. The early season wasn't too hot, and we had plenty of rain. The rut days were nice and cold, often as not. But some of those seemingly "perfect" days resulted in pretty slow hunting. I shot my buck several hours in to a morning sit in mid-October. Michelle killed her buck on a windy, 60-degree afternoon. And speaking of Michelle, despite 40-plus sits in a stand, she didn't fill a deer tag of any sort until the end of October, when she finally got the young doe in the photo above. I guess the lesson is, you can't kill them if you're not out there.

For those of you in the Mid-South (and everywhere else) still holding a deer tag, there's still time to fill it. Hang in there, and enjoy the rest of the season.