To tag a deer during the December Muzzleloader Season you must first find the deer. Sounds easy enough, right? But remember this is not November, when the peak of the rut puts deer activity in high gear and helps move deer around the landscape. The good news for hunters willing to do a little work is that when the weather turns colder, deer begin to get back into more pattern-able routines and can make for some of the hottest hunting of the season. Here are some thoughts that might help punch your deer tag this Month…
Find the Food – This is something all good deer hunters should do, but it’s even more important now. By this time of year deer are in need of finding reliable, high energy foods that can help them recover from the rut – especially bucks – and remain healthy through the colder weather. A good food source can draw deer from a distance and from several different bedding areas. Meaning that if you find the right spot you should see a lot of deer traffic and increase your opportunities at the kind of deer you want. One trick I have learned is to look for a food source that also provides shelter. Shelter from the weather (especially cold winds) & the prying eyes of predators (especially humans). Never-ever overlook a standing cornfield that is near a decent bedding area or has connecting cover to bedding areas – especially on cold, snowy years.
Secondary Rut – If a doe is not bred during her first cycle (usually late October/November in Nebraska) she will come back into “heat” 20-30 days later. Additionally, there is some evidence of doe fawns coming into their first-cycle during December. This means that some bucks are still interested in love, but they have to cover more ground to find the few does that are available. The action won’t be as frenzied as it was a month ago, so to capitalize you will want to keep track of where the does are feeding and/or bedding and hunt from a safe distance as not to disturb them. Roaming bucks will often check for does-in-heat by circling downwind of a group of does to catch their scent; if he smells something good he will investigate – if he doesn’t he will move on to the next group.
Watch the Weather – We live in Nebraska and that means we need to be ready for just about any type of weather in December, so do the deer. Major weather changes can, and usually do, effect deer activity. My favorite is a good on-coming winter storm. Deer will often feed rather heavily in the hours prior to it’s arrival and then again once the storm has passed and the weather calms. I found evening hunts ahead of the storm to be very productive and either a morning or evening stand to be just about as good when hunting the calm-after-the-storm.
Cold Temps/Hot Hunting – A deer’s need for food increases as the mercury decreases, this can cause deer to become more active during daylight hours and more visible to the hunter. This is especially true as the night time temperatures dip into the single digits (and below) or strong winds are present. The opposite is true, too. I hate deer hunting on days when the full moon comes on a stretch of calm, snow-covered nights allowing deer to move around after dark – that’s when I go bird hunting.
Let it Snow! – Hunt enough in December, or beyond, and you will quickly find the pleasures of hunting in the snow. Not only can it make fresh sign more visible and help concentrate deer, it also allows you to employ techniques beyond the sit-and-wait – if it’s fluffy enough. Crunchy snow on the other hand can still help, just be sure to get to your chosen spot earlier.
Extra Eyes in the Field (Cameras) – Placing a trail camera along some likely travel corridors is a good way to help focus your efforts in the right areas. Yes, there may be plenty of deer tracks on the trail near your hunting spot, but when were they made? Once I spent two evenings and a morning watching a snow-covered trail that was a solid pattern of fresh sign without seeing a single deer. Frustrated I placed a trail camera nearby and left it there for several days. When I checked it, all the photos showed deer using the trail in the middle of the night and not a single photo was taken during the day – I started hunting a different spot.
Sleep In – I will be the first to tell you that the best time to hunt, is anytime you can during the open season. However, in my opinion and experience December (and later) deer hunts lend themselves to evening hunts, as the deer leave their bedding areas and head to feed. But you must remember that light fades fast in December and you don’t want to get to your spot to find the deer are already feeding, so start your evening hunts early.
If your appetite for venison and adventure hasn’t yet been quenched – do not overlook December as the Muzzleloader Season has lots to offer. I know I won’t – I am still hungry!