For most hunters, November is the month where the magic happens in the deer woods. However, if you drive far enough south, you’ll find a land where the finest days for deer hunting are in December. That’s right! Hunters in the Deep South will not cash in their vacation days for extra time spent in the tree stand in the month of November. December, and even January, is when those sacred days fall if you drive far enough south in states like Mississippi and Alabama. Therefore, if you are looking to chase the rut throughout the months of December and January in the Deep South, here are five tactics to make it happen.
Keep Your Does Close and Comfortable
I reached out to my friend Josh Thrash for some input on his strategy for hunting the rut in the Deep South. Thrash is an avid hunter in Mississippi who has wrapped his fair share of deer tags on mature bucks in the South. His rut routine begins with a mission to keep the local does close and comfortable on the property he hunts.
“We try to take the pressure off the does, especially on and around food plots,” said Thrash. “More does around our plots translates into more and more bucks in the area. Keeping the does comfortable on our property is important for greater encounters with buck activity during the rut.”
Hunting seasons have been open for several months by the time December rolls around. The result can often be excessive pressure on the properties you hunt. However, by minimizing pressure on the doe groups on your property, and creating a sanctuary atmosphere in portions of your land, you’ll be able to keep your does close and ready for seeking bucks.
Jordan Blissett of Primos has seen this theory play out time and time again as well. On one hunt in particular, trail cams showed a great buck showing up in one of his food plots to visit the local does.
“It’s a buck we’d never seen before,” said Blissett. “He just showed up in the food plot letting us know he was in the area working does. We got stands in place for a changing wind direction and got the drop on the buck on our next sit.”
Hunt Edges of Thick Cover and Transitions
Deer are edge creatures. They live and die around the edges of cover. They travel edges for their daily commute, but you’ll also find them cruising the edges of thick cover during the rut.
“I love to hunt thicker edges with the wind blowing out of the thicket,” said Thrash. “This is where you’ll find your buck cruising during the rut. They will cruise the downwind side of these thickets and bedding cover to scent-check the area for does. It’s a simple tactic that allows them to cover lots of ground in their endless search for a doe that’s ready to breed.”
This approach plays back into the step mentioned above, talking about lowering the pressure placed on the does on your property. While some hunters may go busting right into the middle of a bedding area or thicket during the rut, the better option is to hang a stand on the downwind side of these bedding areas and intercept a buck as he checks these areas with his nose.
Hunt Saddles and Terrain Features
Not only do deer love to travel along the edges of thick cover, they’ll also make a habit of cruising saddles and terrain features that allow for the easiest route from point A to B. Pay attention to how they travel, and you’ll often see that deer are much like us hunters. They want to take the easy route, or the shortest distance from one location to the next.
“I’ve noticed that one of the most prominent trails on our property follows the lower terrain features like saddles and hollows,” said Thrash. “The biggest bucks on our property use these saddle crossings, particularly when cruising for does during the rut.”
Pay attention to the finger ridges that drop off into a creek bottom for how deer travel. You’ll find that deer likely favor one of these finger ridges more than another. It may not be obvious, or even visible, but there will be subtle terrain features that deer will favor over others. A couple sits in the stand will help you determine which travel routes deer prefer most.
Turkey hunters know mid-day can be the most productive time to kill a gobbler looking for love. However, the same can be true for the deer hunter. There’s a world of whitetail action that goes unnoticed by hunters at mid-day. Bucks will be on the move looking for a receptive doe at this time. When he finishes his time with one doe, he’ll be on the move looking for the next one. It’s a relentless pursuit during the rut.
So while you’re back in town eating a chicken biscuit and swapping stories, just know, deer activity is happening in the whitetail woods. Pack a lunch, and plan to sit all day. Or, knock out your chores around the house early and head to the woods around 10 a.m. The 10-2 time frame can be an incredible time to get the drop on a buck that’s been flying under the radar.
Hunt Far Enough South
It sounds basic, but it’s important to note that you must drive far enough south to take advantage of the December rut. Not all ground in the South is created equal. Northern Mississippi hunters will typically experience a November rut, while hunters a few hours further down the road will see the action spike a month later in December.
The locals will know the routine for rutting buck activity, but if you’re traveling to these southern states, the key is to know before you go. Make sure you’re traveling far enough south to take advantage of the late season opportunity before you cash in your vacation days to hunt the rut in the Deep South.
So if you did not get your fill of the rut hunting action in November, consider chasing the rut into the Deep South. Follow the steps mentioned above, and you’ll be on your way to punching a tag on a rutting buck in the months of December and January.