While the peak rut is yet to arrive in areas of the Deep South, most hunters in the region should be thinking of late-season strategies
Though there’s still some peak rut activity ahead in pockets of the Deep South — notably Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana — the flip of the calendar into December signals the start of the late season for the bulk of the region. Modern gun season ended in Kentucky over Thanksgiving weekend, and concluded last weekend in most of Arkansas and Virginia.
But elsewhere in the region, firearms seasons run the month of December and even well into January. And even where modern gun seasons are closed now, there are still archery, crossbow, and late muzzleloader opportunities ahead. For most southern hunters, hunting the post rut phase is undeniably more difficult than hunting the pre-rut and peak rut, and even uniquely challenging compared to late-season hunting in the Midwest or Northeast.
The trick everywhere is finding food sources, which are more abundant in our region this time of year than they are elsewhere. Milder climates mean green browse of some sort is available year-around in the South. Food plots planted in clover and cereal grains, like wheat and oats, can hold deer throughout the late season, while brassica plots can be hit and miss. Southern deer will gobble turnips down to the dirt on some farms, but ignore them on others. Remaining waste grain from harvested crop fields (don’t expect to find much) and red oak acorns are also key food sources in the late season. Where legal, there’s no better time of year to hunt over bait.
I don’t really believe that the there’s a secondary rut “event” in most of the South so much as I think the primary rut sputters and trickles to a slow end in areas with high deer densities. Some does are bred in October, most are bred in November, and some are bred in December. That’s where we are now. Perhaps those does are last year’s doe fawns cycling for the first time, or maybe they’re adult does that weren’t bred in the primary rut. Whatever the case, putting yourself in a spot where you’re seeing a lot of antlerless deer is the best way to get a shot at a mature buck right now. That means finding those food sources listed above. The mature bucks have to feed, too, but for now, the urge to breed still reigns supreme.
Just this week, I’ve seen several mature bucks in person and on my trail cameras trailing behind family groups of does and fawns. Down in Georgia, Tyler Jordan reported the same thing. “A buck was chasing a doe around 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon, and the day before, one of the hunters we had in shot a mature buck that was following a doe,” he said. “But deer activity has drastically decreased over the last week to week and a half. I’d expect we are at the tail end of things.”
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