Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Bed and breakfast: September strategies for December bucks

Contributing Editor

With the early bow, two T-zone, firearm and muzzleloader seasons
behind them, many Wisconsin hunters have had enough of whitetails
for the year. A handful of hardy hunters think that’s just fine
because now they have the woods to themselves for the last hurrah,
the tail-end of the late bow season.

Some who do not hunt the late bow season say there are not
enough deer left. Others don’t like cold weather or say it’s no fun
hunting after the rut. Some even say they’d rather watch football
or go Christmas shopping.

I can’t help you with those last four excuses, which are a
matter of personal preference. The first, however, is hogwash.

As a result of the firearm harvest totals, and perhaps because
of some pressure from hunters who didn’t believe their numbers, DNR
biologists have revised the pre-season deer population estimate
down a few percentage points to 1.53 million. Preliminary counts
put the harvest at about 420,000 deer in all the gun and bow
seasons this year to date. Add in 30,000 or so roadkills and that
still leaves over a million deer. That’s more than we had prior to
the fall hunting seasons in all but the last decade or so.

Further consider that, overall, hunters took a higher percentage
of antlerless deer than bucks, and it doesn’t take an Einstein to
figure that there’s a greater proportion of bucks available now
than during the earlier seasons. They’re not moving like they were
six weeks ago, but there still are plenty of them out there.

What are bucks doing now? Some are still nosing around for hot
does. The few mature does that were not bred last month will come
into estrus again this month, and some doe fawns will be in estrus
for the first time. Any buck will certainly accommodate a doe in
heat, but hunting the so-called “late rut” is a low-percentage
proposition. One hunting partner of mine has found some fresh
scrapes and rubs in the woodlot we hunt and has seen a whopper
buck. He’s hoping to fool that guy with scent and a grunt call, but
he’s increasing his odds by hunting near food.

Most of the surviving mature bucks are resting up and eating to
rebuild strength, weight and fat reserves lost during the rut. So
it stands to reason that to have a chance at a buck now, a hunter’s
best bet might be to revert to September strategies: hunt near bed
and food.

In September, bucks are often still traveling together. Now,
however, you’re more likely to see bucks alone or with does. The
bigger the bucks, the more solitary and reclusive they’re likely to
be. In December, bucks tend to stay in heavy cover such as
conifers, swamps and dense hardwoods during daylight hours and head
for food as dusk approaches. As long as they feel secure, they
often get up and move around every few hours, rather than remain
bedded all day long.

Hunt near bedding areas any time of day. You may intercept a
buck coming or going or you may catch one that was bedded
stretching his legs. In either case, a grunt or two might arouse
his curiosity and bring him close enough for a shot.

Food sources now depend a lot on snow cover and corn harvest.
The mild fall has kept alfalfa fields green and growing, so these
still are worth checking for deer activity. Trails leading to and
from fields should be very evident now, with grass cover and leaves
down. Deer will dig through even a foot of light snow to graze on
alfalfa, but deep, heavy or crusted snow will turn them to other
foods.

Hunters with the land and foresight to plant a few acres of one
of those clover mixes designed for deer are chuckling now because
those plots hold up well and should attract deer through the end of
the season.

Most of the corn has been harvested, but some farmers leave a
few rows as food plots. There’s corn still standing in some public
hunting areas, too. Deer will feed on corn as long as it’s
available.

Deer also will feed on acorns as long as they can find them, so
oak woodlots are a good bet. Kick through the leaves in a few
places, or just look for evidence that deer or turkeys have been
feeding.

If there’s heavy snow where you hunt before the season ends,
look for deer to switch to woody browse, such as cedar and aspen
twigs. They’ll also browse hardwood seedlings right down to the
ground, but it’s hard to set up on such scattered a food
source.

Dress warmly and take a few practice shots with all your clothes
on to make sure nothing interferes with your draw. Be sure your
stands are secure and safe. Check all bolts and hardware, scrape
away ice and snow before you hunt, and wear a safety harness in
case you slip.

Take a page from September’s hunt book this month and you might
arrow a December buck.

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