Tactics for Tagging a Buck in December

By Josh BoydDecember 12, 2019

The month of December is an intriguing and unique time to be afield in pursuit of whitetails. As fall transitions into winter, the patterns of whitetail deer are transitioning as well. The month of December is often highly overlooked in its propensity for being one of the most noteworthy portions of the season to put your tag on a true brute of a whitetail buck.

Although many changes are taking place in the deer woods during the month of December, those among us who are willing to adapt to these changes are well poised to overcome winter’s challenges and take full advantage of all the season has to offer. The key to this success often boils down to understanding each individual nuance of deer behavior during this period of time and formulating a strategy to capitalize accordingly.

hunter scouting

Do your homework, scout hard, find the food, and you just might tag a buck in the month December.

Food Is Key

During the month of December, bitter cold has begun to overcome the majority of whitetail country, leading to a relative scarcity in food. Frequent frosts and heavy freezes take their toll on the lush green vegetation that deer have become accustomed to gorging themselves on during the spring, summer, and fall. This minimization of available food sources makes deer slaves to their stomachs, leading to heavy reliance on remaining food sources for subsistence.

During the month of December, if you can find the food, you will find deer in solid numbers as well. This is where late-season food plots tend to shine. Deer will travel from wide and far in order to take full advantage of a quality late-season food plot, as in some areas, this will be one of the few quality food sources that remain.

Alternatively, if any standing grain from agricultural operations remains, do not overlook these key hot spots, as deer will yard in significant numbers during the winter months in such locations in order to sustain themselves. High carbohydrate food sources such as corn can make for an absolutely phenomenal food source during this time of the year, as deer readily seek such standing crops to replenish depleted energy reserves.

To effectively hunt these deer rich agricultural fields, a hunter is wise to scout in advance of heading afield. If glassing can be conducted from a distance, do so in advance of a hunt to pin down entrance and exit points that deer are using to access these often expansive open grounds. If glassing is not a viable option, scouting remotely with the use of a trail camera can be a worthwhile alternative.

corn field

Do you know where to hunt during your late season efforts? Glassing large grain fields are an excellent way of gaining much needed intel.

Hunt The Secondary Rut

Another key point of hunting the month of December, that is not to be overlooked, is the onset of the secondary rut. Approximately one month after the peak dates of the primary rut, unbred and young does will again cycle into estrous. This leads to the prevalence of a second seeking and chasing phase. While often not as pronounced as the primary rut, the secondary rut can offer hunters with an extensive opportunity to catch a love-struck buck cruising for does during daylight hours.

During this period of time, it is also not uncommon to see previously made scrapes be reopened and freshened. Does will also once again be on edge. If a doe that is feeding suddenly begins to display nervous tendencies or stare in a particular direction as if in observation, ready yourself for the moments ahead. A buck is likely present and his appearance for a brief estrous check is imminent.

When hunting the secondary rut, much of the same tactics that were used during the month of November still apply. Bucks will cruise many of the same pinch points, travel corridors, and funnels as they did during the primary rut. Therefore, when seeking and chasing is observed, it is wise to revert back to hunting the rut stands that you previously utilized. Setting up over thick cover along transition zones between feeding destinations and doe bedding areas, can be a quick ticket to punching your tag on a preoccupied buck.

Tactics for Tagging a Buck in December - doe looking

As unbred does begin to cycle for a second time, it is common to experience a frenzy of secondary rut activity.

Get Into A Buck’s Safe Zone

As the month of December carries on and the secondary rut activity has dwindled, bucks are facing a point of near physical exhaustion. Two solid months of chasing, fighting, and marking their territory have taken an extreme physical toll on the majority of bucks in a given area. It is not uncommon for bucks to lose significant percentages in overall body weight in a relatively short period of time due to the rigors of the rut.

Because of the significant hardships imparted on a whitetail buck and the onset of unforgiving winter weather, it is common for a buck’s daily movements to be significantly reduced. Bucks instinctively move less during the post-rut as they seek to preserve remaining energy reserves by moving no more than is required to feed and water. For this reason, a hunter with an unfilled late-season buck tag must often seek out a buck’s location and push deeper into his core area in order to be presented with a shot opportunity.

To do this, a hunter must first discern where it is that a particular buck is likely to be bedding. In the case of the late season, many bucks can be found bedding on southern facing hillsides. A southern facing slope receives the maximum amount of direct sunlight in relation to other locations. This assists in warding off this frigid weather that an already energy-depleted buck is faced with during this time of the year.

Once a likely buck bedding area is determined, it is of value to coordinate the closest quality food sources and watering holes in relation to this bed. During the post rut period, a buck is unlikely to move much further than what is absolutely necessary to sustain survival. In knowing this, a hunter can hang a stand or pack in a climber to position themselves in line with a buck’s travel corridor between their bedding cover and favored feeding locations. As a rule of thumb, the closer that you can safely position yourself to a buck’s bed without alerting them to your presence, the better your chance of catching him on his feet during daylight becomes.

Tactics for Tagging a Buck in December - buck feeding

If you want to tag a late season buck, you have to hunt where he is. Ambush bucks as they head to feed along heavily wooded transition zones.

A December To Remember

If you find yourself with an unfilled tag in your pocket during December, do not be fooled into thinking that your chance to bag a buck has passed. By recognizing the stark changes in deer behavior during the last month of the year, and adjusting your hunting strategy accordingly, you will be well on your way to ending your year on a high note.

Josh Boyd
Josh is a die-hard hunter, free-lance writer, and a dedicated proponent of all areas of conservation. His main species of outdoor pursuit are whitetail deer, eastern wild turkeys, and waterfowl. Above all other outdoor pursuits, he relishes his time 20 feet in a tree with bow in hand, chasing Kentucky whitetails every fall. He is the president of the Barren River Branch of QDMA and a committee member for the KY Three Rivers Chapter of Whitetails Unlimited. He resides in Bowling Green, Kentucky with his wife and two children.
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