December rings in the holiday spirit, and you can see it everywhere from the decorations along your neighborhood street to the smiles on store clerks. For whitetail hunters, the spirit may not be as festive. Depending on the state you hunt, whitetails could be going on 90 or more days of hunting pressure. Add in to the equation that many of them have taken up residency in freezers across the whitetail range. Finally, the advantage of the rut has fizzled to a barely-visible spark. It’s tough hunting, but you can bump your success in December with some simple steps.
Begin by becoming a weather watcher and plan your hunting time based on the forecast. Although we all like to sit in a treestand when the weather is seasonally nice, you need to look ahead for the worst of the worst regardless of your zip code.
Plummeting temperatures, moisture and extremes bordering on blizzards force deer to feed, especially rut-weary bucks. During the course of the rut, bucks may lose up to 25 percent of their body weight. If they don’t add or at the very least maintain weight, death could occur. When their personal barometers predict bad weather ahead, it forces them to feed. In normal December conditions, they can postpone feeding until after dark, but when a bad-weather event ramps up, they consider feeding heavily prior to, during and after an extreme storm. This opens up the opportunity for you to meet up with a previously tired and nocturnal buck.
To plan ahead, stay informed on10-day forecasts. This gives you the possibility to plan your hunting schedule around family and work for a better-than-average window of success. Hunting programs like ScoutLook Weather provide long-range forecasts and applications to ensure you’re hunting in the best weather window. Incoming low-pressure systems, descending masses of cold air, blustery wind chills and other factors all prompt whitetails to feed with ferocity for survival.
Whether you’re dressing for a day out in the frigid humidity of an Arkansas hunt or the subzero snowfields of North Dakota, having a system that keeps you warm is imperative to success. Think layering as a way to stay out longer.
Your layering system should include a base layer, an insulation layer and a waterproof wrap. Begin by wearing a polyester base layer and dress light on the drive to your hunting property. Sweating not only increases the chance for added human sweat; it also can make you shiver later in the hunt.
Hike to your stand in the same light clothing and stow your extra layers in your pack to dress when you reach your stand. Moving on, your insulation layer or layers should be relatively loose fitting, including your footwear. The reason for the baggy-pants look is to create air space and that space becomes added insulation. Once the air warms, the loose fit allows it to circulate.
or the best in insulation, look to names such as Thinsulate, Primaloft, Microloft and other manmade materials. Most are rated twice as warm as the same thickness of down, but if you have a down vest by all means use it. A bonus for manmade materials is they also provide wind resistance, are compressible, breathable and most dry faster than down if you do get caught without raingear.
A final insulation consideration is covering all exposed skin, especially your head. Approximately 30 percent of your body heat can be lost through your head, so wear a face mask and insulated cap.
To guarantee a dry day, wrap your entire layering system in a waterproof and breathable garment. This keeps your other layers from getting wet, but it also deflects wind to avoid wind chill, plus it traps additional body heat. Gore-Tex is namesake of outwear, but others like Cabela’s Dry-Plus provide similar protection.
Whether you utilize a permanent, molded blind or a pop-up style, the protection simple walls provide over an exposed treestand perch should be considered for December success. After a few days or weeks of being in place, most whitetails won’t give a blind a second look. Stay away from windows and back in the shadows for a comfortable wait that also provides you with shot options on relaxed game. You can even bring along a portable heater to boost the comfort. A warm setting and the ability to move occasionally to grab a sandwich have benefits for long sits in the post-rut.
In addition to comfort, molded blinds built with sealed windows help contain your scent. Even pop-up models increase scent containment and when you combine that with scent elimination products, it can virtually erase your presence in the whitetail woods.
Window edges and ledges offer a steady place to steady your firearm aim, and many models have added space to utilize portable shooting rest in the blind. A closing consideration for a blind is safety. When you’re bundled up like an Everest climber, your mobility is limited and that could create a concern with ascending through a maze of limbs to your stand. Blind access simply means opening a door and sitting down.
Food, Real or Supplemental
Whether there’s a storm bearing down or not, food will be your main target to find a willing candidate. You may be able to set up directly on a food source or back up and watch a trail leading to it. Regardless, food is foremost in the post-rut.
Whitetails feed and browse on as many as 20 different forage species a day. This continues throughout the year, but after the rut they put an emphasis on food that energizes. Crops to watch include obvious favorites such as corn and soybeans, plus mast leftovers like acorns and beech nuts. Standing corn should always be a top attention-getter, as it not only fuels deer but also provides refuge with the tall stalks to thwart high winds. Even if the harvest is complete, don’t overlook harvested corn and soybean fields. As long as snow doesn’t hinder browsing, whitetails will still visit them to nibble for nutrition.
With the explosion of whitetail property management, you likely are targeting a food plot or two as well. Those that still have ample crops and nutritional benefit should stay on the radar. If your food plots are already ravaged, make a note for next year. Plan to have food plots that provide in every season. Brassicas, in the form of turnips and chicory, plus winter wheat, are all-time favorites. But even in regions that don’t receive snow cover, you can still utilize various species of clover to get the job done.
Food plots provide a great meeting place for you and deer during the core hunting season, but in the post-rut their value could really shine as other food sources dry up. Not only could they provide success in December, they are a boon to the year-round health of your herd.
There is one last spark of hope for success. You could get lucky and be front row to an estrus doe luring bucks from hiding. A fleeting estrus event could produce a buck sighting and possibly a successful buck encounter.
Many variables come into play on whether you see an estrus show. It may not appear in balanced buck-to-doe ratio herds where breeding is fast and furious and there is a buck for most does. In low-density areas sporting high hunting pressure, a few does could get missed. Fortunately, biologists have studied the breeding season and with some degree of certainty, most believe nearly 90 percent of does are bred in the traditional rut window.
Nevertheless, a 10-percent chance of an estrus doe sparking some additional rut craziness is better than no percentage at all. If a doe goes unbred, she will cycle again in approximately 28 days. Mark the peak rut on your calendar and if you have a tag left in December, you may see a flicker of activity 28 days after the main rut. Bring your calls, scents and decoys for one last attempt at an amorous buck.
Whether hiding out with my bow or my muzzleloader, December hunts are challenging. Despite the odds, you still may want to join me. It’s the last chance for success and with some tactical help, you still may enjoy a backstrap this winter.