November 17, 2023
Like most whitetail hunters, I look forward to the first two weeks of November more than any other time of year. Generally, that’s when the action is best in the whitetail woods; however, in recent seasons, I’ve had hot weather and other poor conditions plague my early-November hunts. When you burn vacation time and build a hunt strategy around your knowledge of the area’s deer herd during this much-anticipated period, it’s disheartening when poor weather (or something else) spoils your hunt. It can leave you wondering, what should I do now?
Fear not, because there is plenty of quality hunting to be had in the back half of November. Now I’m not saying that I prefer to hunt the final two weeks of November over the first half of the month, but I have had enough success during the less-looked-forward-to portion of November to know that if I don’t fill my tag prior to Nov. 15, I’ve still got a chance.
THE LATE CRUISER
When the rest of the North American Whitetail TV crew and I were planning our fall hunts during the spring of 2022, I was trying to determine when I wanted to hunt our Kansas lease. With a hunt in my home state of Pennsylvania and a trip to Nebraska for rifle season filling up the first two weeks of my “November Tour,” it only made since to try and fill my Kansas archery tag between Nov. 17-23. After seeing I was a little bummed to miss early November in Kansas, my one colleague reassured me, “Dr. Kroll always says Kansas is good late!”
When I arrived at the lease on Nov. 17, my strategy was simple: get boots on the ground and hunt the freshest, hottest sign I could find. It didn’t take me long to find a location!
After some speed scouting, I decided to hunt a pre-hung set between an inside corner and a timbered draw that I knew bucks cruised. As I was climbing into the stand, I watched a mature buck pass through the draw 60 yards to the south. So, I decided to investigate. I quickly noticed the trail the buck had used was beaten down, and multiple scrapes had been made along it. To sweeten the deal, a timbered finger came to a point nearby, pinching deer movement down to a 40-yard section of the draw.
I sawed some cedar limbs and quickly built a brush blind. That evening I unfortunately missed a buck, but rather than moving on I patiently hunted the pinch for three days. On the evening of Nov. 19, a fully mature buck with a broken rack passed by at just 26 yards while cruising for does, and I arrowed him on camera for NAW TV. The lesson? Bucks continue seeking does well into the back half of the month, making travel corridors a good place to “park it” on late-November hunts where you have limited time and intel. Doc was right, Kansas is great late!
THE LATE FOOD SOURCE CHASE
Don’t hunt food sources in the morning, right? Well, not exactly. Although that general rule for whitetail hunting is mostly a safe strategy, it shouldn’t always be followed. A hunt during late November on my family’s farm in Virginia is a great example why.
It was Nov. 21, and I had finally made it down to my family’s land to do some rifle hunting. The interesting thing about the specific spot that I was hunting that morning is it’s a 20-acre apple orchard. I was positioned in an elevated blind armed with my .270 Win. and watching for movement between the rows of apple trees.
Prior to my hunt, my brother said to me, “Make sure to have your gun ready and watch that row to the south.” The long, narrow space between the mature apple trees he was referencing extended for about 125 yards, so I had to be prepared for fast-moving bucks crosscutting the row. I knew if I were to shoot a buck up that row, I’d have to act quickly.
Around 8:30 that morning, I happened to be looking south as a big doe trotted into the narrow row. She only stopped for a second before running through, and I was raising my rifle as a mature 8-point ran into view and stopped where the doe did. Fortunately, I squeezed off a lethal shot before he slipped by me.
That buck was obviously chasing the doe, and other than the fact that bucks are still vulnerable to rutting behavior late in the month, there is another lesson to learn here. The best tip I’ve ever heard regarding whether or not to hunt food in the morning came from NAW’s own Gordon Whittington. As someone who has actually hunted whitetails all over the globe, Gordon has seen nearly all reliable whitetail tactics succeed and fail. However, in an article for NAW magazine, Gordon said that he has found consistent success in various habitats hunting food sources during mid-morning rut sits. Essentially, he says that after the sun has risen and the does that spent the night hours on the food sources have gone to bed, mature bucks will cruise the edges of the food source for receptive does. I have no doubt that’s exactly what my buck was doing when he found his final doe.
So, if you still have a tag in your pocket and know where the local does are feeding, get the rifle ready and wait for a mid-morning buck!
THE PUBLIC-LAND BACK DOOR
Since the previous two examples I’ve provided of successful late-November whitetail hunts have dealt somewhat with rutting activity, it’s important to include one that has nothing to do with rut behavior. After all, in late November, rutting bucks are not guaranteed.
On Nov. 28, just one week after the successful Virginia hunt I detailed above, I headed back home to Pennsylvania for the opening day of the state’s firearms season. My plan was to head deep into my favorite spot on public land and hunt from the ground. I’d been trying all season to fill my one buck tag on a nice public-land buck, but I hadn’t had any luck.
The beauty of this spot during the post-rut firearms season is that it is an escape route. Essentially, I enter the parcel from the furthest and hardest to access entry point, and I’m in position well before the other hunters enter the most popular access. The strategy? The increased hunting pressure will push deer into the more secluded portion of the mountain, and they’ll get there by way of my favorite spot. Spoiler alert: my plan worked perfectly!
At exactly noon, I caught movement in the thick brush to my left. By the time I could tell it was a buck I wanted to shoot, he was already at 25 yards. When I finally had a clear shot, he was just 18 yards away and walking quickly toward the bedding area between my truck and me. When he tipped over after my shot, he’d gone over 100 yards in the direction I didn’t want him to. That began one of the longest drags of my life – right at a mile!
I have seen hunting the “back door” on public or pressured land work in various locations. But in high hunting pressure states like Pennsylvania with post-rut gun seasons, I believe the tactic is most effective. This is simply because you can always bank on finding areas with plenty of hunters using the same access point. You then need to scout hard to find where the bucks escape to and how to properly access said area.
If you didn’t fill your tag in early November, keep your head up and focus your efforts on finding out what the deer will be doing during the back half of the month. If you’re in a state where gun season opens during this time, focus on finding the escape routes and security cover bucks use to evade the influx of hunters. In other areas, focus heavily on monitoring local doe groups and the most frequented food sources; you never know when a trophy buck will come looking for some last-minute love!
One final note: annual intel has helped me find late-November success more than anything else. Through running trail cameras, time spent on-stand, and boots-on-the-ground scouting, I’ve successfully predicted what mature bucks in these areas will be doing in late November based solely on their prior years’ patterns. Whitetails are creatures of habit, and knowing those habits is a powerful tool!