Don’t lose concentration; December bucks are there for the taking.
Deer hunters in the Carolinas have got it good — at least they have it good when it comes to the length of the hunting season.
Unlike hunters in many others states that have short seasons, hunters in the Carolinas rarely take advantage of every week when it’s open. By December, they are quite often discouraged and come up with a list of excuses why the big one got away and will not come out during the daylight hours. But it’s not over until Jan. 1.
This is a fantastic time to set up a meeting with the big boy that has been eluding hunters. Since the season is so long, deer go through a lot of changes, from a change in seasons to food availability, hunting pressure and, of course, the undulations of hormonal activity during the mating season. Each change affects deer and their movements. Mature bucks have been around the block for several years and know how to adapt to outside forces.
The one aspect many hunters fail to recognize is that mature bucks are homebodies and will not stray too far away from their home territory. Even during the peak of the rut, mature bucks remain close to home, unlike younger, immature bucks that may venture far beyond their normal stomping grounds in search of a potential mate. Mature bucks understand their home territory well. They know where to be this time of year and what is important.
Priorities change throughout the year for deer, especially those big, educated, mature bucks that have survived many seasons. Priorities in December are food, safety and breeding if the opportunity presents itself. Breeding can be a bonus for December bucks since many does have already been bred.
Deer expend countless calories during the rut. And bucks begin to refuel in December when energy reserves are depleted. That makes food a high priority in the late season. With the exception of woody browse and limited red oak acorns scattered around hardwood flats and ridges, most natural food sources are depleted. Green fields, corn piles, sweet potato piles and late-season food plots can be hot spots.
Hunt smart for December bucks
These food sources can be high-priority areas. But hunters must be smart about the way they hunt them. Extended hunting pressure can make these places nocturnal feeding zones.
Food plots and agriculture fields planted in winter wheat are ideal places to find mature bucks this month. But bait piles are also excellent places to draw in deer during the daylight. Deer surely expect to encounter human scent around these food sources. And deer have no problem coming to these food sources during daytime hours when they feel secure. But hunters must use extreme care when you watch these areas in the morning or afternoon. Stands should never be hunted during non-preferred winds.
For best results, hunters should rotate spots and only hunt food sources occasionally to reduce possibly spooking deer.
Avoid home range
Don’t scout this time of year. Even deer accustomed to human scent around man-altered or man-made food sources aren’t accustomed to scent in their home territories. Anything that possibly spooks deer should be avoided. Especially if a mature buck is lurking.
Lastly, these food sources will not only offer food to big bucks, but any high-quality food source will also concentrate does. Typically, cooler weather has arrived. And deer instinctively gravitate to food sources to fatten up for the rest of the winter.
Most does are bred by December. But some young fawns come into estrus in December after they reach 75 to 80 pounds. These are a bonus for mature bucks, which will surely not let any fresh, young fawns-in-heat frolic around in the woods without experiencing their first breeding experience.
The availability of does on food sources is a great benefit for hunters, because mature bucks have been around the block before and know the possibility exists for a breeding opportunity. And when does show up on a corn pile at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, mature bucks in the area may make a visit to check.
Food sources are always good places to hunt, but there is no better time to sit over a rich food source than December. That one mature buck that has eluded hunters for several seasons may just make a final mistake at a food plot or corn pile in the last few weeks of the season. December is unique and can play into a hunter’s playbook if there is enough gas left in the tank.
Monitor the weather, brassica plots
Many new food-plotters often complain about deer not coming in and destroying their crops of brassicas, even when the fields are full and rich with large, tender leaves everywhere. But most brassicas aren’t very appealing to deer until they get exposed to freezing temperatures a few times. And it’s not until later that deer start digging up the root veggie where the real treat is hiding.
Brassicas are members of the mustard family, cruciferous vegetables with large, leafy greens on the surface and carbohydrate-rich tubers down below. Kale, rape, turnips and radishes typically make up the brassica varieties for food plots. Most are planted in the fall and don’t fully mature until December. And while they grow, most deer and other wildlife generally leave them alone. It’s not until cold temperatures zap these plants and make the leafy greens palatable that they’re attractive to deer.
Hunters should closely watch food plots covered in knee-high brassicas, because as soon as Mother Nature does her thing, deer will show up and pounce on these plots, making them an excellent late-season hotspot.
Don’t forget about the large tubers down below, either. They’re usually the last things deer eat in these plots, and sometimes, they need a little instruction to get with the program. Dig up a few radishes and turnips and expose them on the ground. Once deer realize where they came from, the entire field will turn into a feeding spot, making it a perfect place to set up and take down that last haul of the season.
JOIN THE CLUB, get unlimited access for $2.99/month
Become the most informed Sportsman you know, with a membership to the Carolina Sportsman Magazine and CarolinaSportsman.com.