When the rut comes to a screeching stop, a lot of deer hunters make a bad choice -they stop hunting.

In all fairness, if they stop because they're turning their attention to other outdoor pursuits in South Carolina, there's nothing wrong with that decision. But if it's because they think post-rut deer hunting is a low-percentage option for success, they've made the wrong choice.

According to two of the best-known hunting guides in South Carolina, Joe Kelly and Sammy Schrimsher, late-season deer hunting, specifically in cutover areas, is among the best of the entire year.

"As far as I'm concerned, late-season deer hunting in cutovers is one of the most solid big-buck patterns we have in South Carolina," Kelly said. "While there is no sure thing in deer hunting, I know that I see a tremendous number of trophy bucks during the late season, and cutover areas rate among my top choices as places to hunt."

Schrimsher agreed, saying that it's not just numbers of deer, but trophy bucks as well, that get into a cutover pattern.

"The bucks begin to get into predictable patterns because the rut is on the wane or over and the cold weather has set in," Schrimsher said. "Essentially, the wintertime food patterns have been established. Plus, because the number of deer hunters usually takes a dramatic drop right about this time, fewer hunters in the woods allow deer to return to more normal patterns."

Schrimsher said that if you can understand the food patterns and movement tendencies of deer during cold weather and employ good hunting and scouting skills, you can enjoy some of the most productive hunting of the entire season.

"As the rut ends, the bucks are not ranging nearly as far as they did earlier in the season," he said. "Hunters must do a better job of figuring out deer patterns and going to the deer instead of waiting on them to wander by your stand as they move, looking for a doe. With the peak of the rut past, food once again can be very important to movement patterns now as well."

Kelly said there is a transition period when the rut is still a key to success, but hunting cutover areas is still a great tactic as well.

"As the rut begins to wane, clearcuts and cutover areas are prime targets," he said.

"Regardless of when I hunt them, I'll find a tree where I can climb very high.

"To most effectively hunt a cutover, I believe it's best to use a climbing stand. First, it allows me to get real high, higher than a normal permanent stand. But I can also change my location based on the wind direction and where I am seeing the most recent deer sign when I scout the area. Plus, a buck that has been hunted ... for several seasons, if he's an old trophy buck, (he) gets real sensitive to permanent stands at times. That's why hanging a climber on a tree and being in a place they have never seen a hunter can pay off for those big, late-season bucks."

Schrimsher said other keys are important to cutover hunting as well.

"Clearcuts provide great habitat for deer, offering lots of cover, and they are ideal for deer to bed in," he said. "Plus, during November and December, there are food sources for them to feed on.

"There are certain keys to hunting deer in cutover areas," he said. "One is to get high in the tree and watch intently for any deer movement. I play a game to keep myself focused on spotting deer. My goal is to see a deer the very first instant I can possibly see him. If I don't, then the deer wins. If I do, then obviously I have an edge, especially if it's a big buck. I may not have but a few moments to see him, check the antlers and take the shot if he's a trophy.

"It also pays to start early and stay late when hunting cutovers," he said. "Often, hunting right through the middle of the day can be a real key to success. Mid-morning and mid-day deer activity can sometimes be great. During the late season, deer often move at mid-day, when hunters are back at the pickup eating beanie weenies and crackers. Skip your lunch on occasion, and you may get a real special treat at lunchtime."

Kelly said there's another scenario when cutover areas are dynamite.

"The later in the year and the colder it gets, the better the cutovers can be," Kelly said. "My ideal morning to hunt a clearcut is a very cold, clear morning after a strong front blasts though the area. We'll have a hard freeze, and the temperature will be in the mid-20s or colder.

"I'll still get in the stand early, climb high and wait. I'll have the stand positioned over a cutover that faces south, to get the southerly exposure of the sun. When the sun gets up and starts beating down on that exposed cutover, it draws deer like crazy. I've seen frozen brush and thickets come alive with deer moments after the sun gets on it - and not only just numbers of deer, but big bucks will be drawn to that area as well."

Kelly said that there are other things a hunter can do to enhance their odds of taking big bucks in cutovers.

As long as you don't cut any replanted young pines, clear out some visibility and shooting lanes though the area. If the area has three or four years of natural re-growth, it will be ideal for big bucks, but even when you are high in a climber, they can be difficult to see. If you have even some small lanes bush-hogged or cut with a hand-held brush cutter before the season opens, you can often spot and identify deer as they moves through and then take them when they cross the next opening or steps into an area you can see.

"If it's your property, you can even do better than that; you can build a food plot on the logging deck where the timber was harvested," Kelly said. "That's a cleared area that is usually perfect for a food plot, which will certainly enhance the deer-attracting qualities of the cutover area. And the later in the season it is, the more attractive it will be."

The key to the entire late-season hunting process is to understand that deer have simply changed where they travel and what they're doing. Consider your hunting land and think in terms of cover, food and water.

This season, don't put your rifle away after the rut begins to wane. Granted, there are other enjoyable species of game to hunt and fish to catch, but you can have the best of both worlds. You can still be very productive on deer if you plan your hunt properly and take advantage of the opportunities available.

Most areas in South Carolina will have either clearcuts in some stage of re-growth. You still need to scout properly and use the wind to your advantage when you hunt, but you may just take the deer of a season, or your lifetime, by extending your season to include cutover areas that may be infested with deer.