By Jeff Stirland
As the whitetail rut begins to wind down, the endless chasing, cruising and scent-checking between doe bedding areas by bucks of all age classes is now just a fading memory. In most states, gun hunters now riddle the woods and the deer are starting to avoid open areas during daylight. For hunters in high pressured areas, the deer sightings are starting to drastically decrease. Food sources are becoming more difficult to pinpoint, as most agricultural fields have been harvested and the majority of the acorns have been gorged by deer in September and October. The dropping of the leaves has also left deer feeling extra visible and vulnerable, which changes the way they move through an area. In order to still have productive sits with consistent deer sightings during late November into December, it is important to understand what the bucks and does are both focusing on at this time of year.
During this transitional phase, the does are still going to be focusing on moving from bedding areas to feeding areas, but some fawns may possibly come into estrous at this time. If this happens, you will know. Mature bucks and young bucks alike will be all over this fawn, and this will cause a surge of buck sightings in your area until this fawn is bred. Even if all the doe in the area have been already bred, young bucks may still be chasing does until the middle of December. The mature bucks are now focused on refueling their bodies in order to survive the winter, as they lost a significant amount of mass during the rut.
If you are yet to tag out on a buck, do not fret. Adapting to your surroundings and knowing the current food source or even browse source is the key to unlocking the secrets involved with post-rut and late-season success.
In order to take full advantage of the post rut, you must understand what the bucks are going to be doing at this time. After the bucks get out of the lockdown phase, they are going to search for another estrous doe, and if they cannot find one they will focus their efforts on fueling their bodies. Hunting between buck beds and food sources can be great during this time, and setting up in an area that also takes advantage of being on the downwind fringes of a doe bedding area can provide prouctive. Bucks will be more likely to move in daylight to feed if they are moving in areas that are near cover, especially if that cover is riddled with possible breeding partners. Take advantage of the vulnerability of these bucks by hunting in these areas all day for a week or two after peak breeding activity ceases.
Another post-rut stand option is a thick funnel between two doe bedding areas. Sit in this stand for the morning and afternoon period, as mature bucks will already be up on their feet moving and will be scent-checking these areas. Primary scrapes in these travel corridors are particularly hot at this time, as the bucks in the area that are waiting for pick-up breeding will be checking their scrapes frequently. These scrape areas will be productive enough for an all day sit, as long as the wind is blowing away from the bucks’ direction of travel and the doe bedding.
As observed from trail camera pictures on my property in Pennsylvania, there is more young and mature buck movement during daylight at this time than during both the pre-rut and peak rut periods. Many of these bucks are covering a lot of ground still searching for does, but their focal points are now related to food sources rather than only primary scrape areas.
Get Out There
A large number of hunters tend to get discouraged if they don’t fill their buck tag by the rut, as in their mind the odds of them connecting with a solid buck have dropped to near zero. Many hunters are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, and they try to justify to themselves that their time is better spent watching TV or waiting for late season to come around. This misconception will make you miss some of the best hunting action of the season, and could possibly become the main ingredient in your buck tag soup.
The most important factor to successfully hunting the post-rut is simply to put the time in. Sit in the stand, brave the falling temperatures, and do not be discouraged. A tired, weary buck could stroll by at any time looking for his next meal or his next date, so be ready to strike at any time. No matter how hard you hunted the rut, no matter how beat you are, put the work in and finish out November strong.