Hunting > Whitetails

The Last Great Hope (Page 2)

If you play your cards right the rut’s second peak and the bucks’ increased focus on food this time of year can pay dividends.

While the first peak likely will produce the most buck sightings, the second peak may well produce bigger bucks. Not only have I taken a number of fully mature bucks during this time, but many of my friends have encountered the biggest bucks of the year during this same time. The action is not fast and furious, but the next crunching leaf you hear may well be under the hoof of the biggest buck you have ever seen.

Second Hope: The Transition to Food
Your second opportunity during the late-November to early-December time frame comes when the deer make the transition to food. This behavior really starts in earnest about the first week of December. I don’t have any research data to support this, but often the bucks seem to lay low for a week after the breeding is completed to just rest and lick their wounds.

However, by early December they are really starting to get after the food. Last season, our son, Drew, shot a great buck on Dec. 5. We’d been hunting that deer throughout the entire November rut without seeing him. We had dozens of trail-cam photos of him, always taken after dark.
The first time we saw the buck in daylight during the 2011 season was the evening Drew shot him. The buck was mostly interested in feeding. I filmed the hunt for my website: Going back and watching that episode now, I don’t see the buck showing any interest in the does that were already present in the field. He was all about eating soybeans and gaining back some of the weight he lost during the rut.

Just like hunting the rut’s second peak, the situation has to be right for this to work. Starting in early December, you can sometimes catch bucks on their feet in daylight that have been largely nocturnal all season. I have seen it many times—it is definitely a vulnerable time for them. For that to work, you need a good food source and an area where the deer were not hunted hard in November. There are few places where they aren’t hunted at all, but as long as the hunting pressure was moderate in November, they will still react to food in early December in a fairly predictable way.

Strategy You can either hunt these food sources right away and hope the buck you are after comes out, or you can wait until you either see him from a distance or get some daylight photos of him on your trail camera.

Personally, I favor the second approach because it keeps the pressure off until the odds are more in your favor. If you hunt a feeding area much (even from 100 yards away with a muzzleloader) you will eventually educate the deer using the area. So, having a sound scouting plan is the key to keeping the pressure off the deer. Since most of us are too busy to check two or three fields just before dark each day, a camera does the best job of scouting for us.

However, you can’t be shy once you see daylight activity from a shooter. You have to go for it the very next evening if the wind will permit. Such a deer doesn’t stay on patterns for long at any time of the year and is particularly skittish after the firearm season.

If you hunt an area with moderate hunting pressure you have two great opportunities for success after the wild week in early November. You still have the rut’s second peak and the transition to food.

These two events have been responsible for some very nice bucks for my family and friends over the years. Now I don’t worry when Nov. 15 gets here and I still have my buck tag in my pocket. It just means I get to keep hunting. Some years, when the peak of the rut had passed, the best really was yet to come. 

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