Late-evening action has been decent around crop fields, oaks, and browse
Most people were focused on food and family over the Thanksgiving week, and it seems the whitetails followed a similar plan. The intensity of the Northeast's rut and the fervor of associated deer activity continues to wind down. Deer have turned the majority of their attention to food and cover. Bucks of all ages have been reported daylighting on or near food sources, while doe groups, with fawns included, are now back to co-mingling and spending time head-down on food and preparing for the rigors of winter. Those who have access to agricultural fields are reporting activity late in the day on hidden fields or in secluded corners that limit visibility for hunters and other predators.
Timber hunters are seeing good activity in wooded stands densely populated with oaks, where deer are taking advantage of the remaining acorns, or in areas with thick cover and abundant browse. Morning hunts have been productive in or near bedding areas, but the majority of feedback is that the day's first hours have proven better for harvesting does than mature bucks. This may be a result of the year's human pressure coming to an apex, with firearm hunting pressure in multiple states. The overall feedback has been that with many animals being back on bed-to-feed patterns, the hunting has been pretty good, with numerous reports of success on deer of all sexes and ages.
There is some concern over potentially diminished deer populations in a couple areas that normally have high numbers. This was echoed in a recent conversation with a local friend and another from out of state who expressed concern about the lack of mature deer, and specifically does, on the lands they hunt. Interestingly, one hunts public ground and one hunts private, yet I found it curious they were experiencing similar sightings this far after the primary rut and being nearly 300 miles away from each other. Each reported having seen larger-than-usual groups of fawns, even well after the peak of the rut, when we expect to see mature does temporarily abandoning fawns.
In New York, I have received several calls detailing some mild chasing off the edges of fields, but nothing as intense as a mid-November chase. The majority of reports have been near food and adjacent cover, with movement limited to the first and last hour or two of daylight, depending upon the hunting property and amount of local pressure.
This past week, Maryland and Pennsylvania firearm seasons opened under favorable weather conditions. Word from the field was that the deer were active with some bucks closely tailing does, but again, with limited intensity. One hunter recounted his story of a harvest of a doe from a family group and a limited number of buck interactions during the PA opener. Another told of seeing pretty intense chasing along the hardwood where he had assumed his opening day perch. A favorable moon phase and good weather could have definitely played a role in an active opener for those hunters, and I was excited to share their stories.
From Massachusetts, I received a great story of a public-land buck harvested during a spot-and-stalk hunt. The hunter told of how he quietly snuck along an old forest road when he encountered a buck that appeared to be on the prowl for does. Unfortunately, the hunter's first attempt ended in a miss, but didn't result in any major alarm for the still love-sick buck. The aim was true for the next shot, and the hunter dropped the 20-inch-wide, 7-point monster in its tracks.
Looking forward, the weather forecasts in most of the region continue to be seasonal. This is the time of year when many look for strong fronts and changes in barometric pressure created by pending winter storms to kick-start deer activity around food sources. Many hunters are transitioning to hunting afternoons, hoping to take advantage of deer on the move late in the day. There could be some more rut hunting opportunities soon as well, with a second round of does going into estrous.
With the abnormally warm temps experienced for most of November, many are turning blue in the face as they hold their breath in anticipation of a strong secondary rut and an opportunity to get a crack at bucks that seemed to have vanished earlier in the month. I have heard from more than one person this is one of their favorite times of year to sit, as you can see any form of deer activity in a wide variety of areas. Point is, something is going on in a woodlot near you!