Mid-South deer are settling into late-season patterns while many Deep-South states are just getting started
I'd describe the 2022 Mid-South rut as amazing while it lasted. Though it was a little slow to get going, the seeking and chasing action from mid-November through Thanksgiving weekend was as good as I've ever seen in western Kentucky and northern Tennessee. I've reported on that plenty in previous entries.
We're in a different phase of the season now. Early this past week, I shifted about a dozen trail cameras around to a mix of mock scrapes in the hardwoods, food plot edges and bait sites in preparation for the late muzzleloader season in Kentucky, which opens Dec. 10. That season has been especially productive for some of our guided clients the past few years, mostly during evening food source hunts (though we did have a fellow from New York shoot a great buck in 2021 during a morning hunt back in the timber). Doe movement becomes a little more predictable then, and in my experience, the mature bucks are usually still hanging around the fringes of the same doe groups that were holding their attention in early November.
One wild card is that we almost always see some new bucks hanging around in early December. I'm convinced some of them are transplants from earlier rut excursions that just stay in new areas, motivated by good food, abundant does and lack of hunting pressure.
Quick story to back that up. We had a big 8-pointer show up on our home property around Christmas a few years ago, and he'd suffered a substantial wound during rifle season. I'd never seen the buck before, and honestly didn't think he'd make it through winter. But he healed fine and ended up sticking around through summer, when he grew into a fine 140-class deer. My wife shot him during the second week of archery season the next September. Home ranges can change, even for mature bucks, and this is a likely time of year for that to happen.
My mock scrapes have been surprisingly cold so far (they're usually very productive for me in the immediate post rut), but the food source activity — especially around corn piles — has been really good. Some of my mock scrapes are on oak ridges with remnant mast left over, and I'm still seeing a number of deer in my cameras' periphery in those areas as well. We have an extended rainy period in the forecast — finally — and then some winter-like weather is supposed to set in for the late muzzleloader season. I expect good things. Though archery season continues through mid-January — and though firearms season remains open for several more weeks in neighboring Tennessee — I usually call it a wrap on deer hunting for the year around here the week before Christmas. The best of the rut has likewise come and gone in the Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia.
But many of our Deep South readers are preparing for the best part of the season. Hunters in the delta counties of southeastern Arkansas and southwestern Tennessee can expect another week or so of good rut activity (I know some of my contacts around Memphis have had good hunting this past week). Alabama's gun season on private land is open through Feb. 10 (it opens on public land starting Dec. 10), and with the exception of a few areas, peak rut times for most of the state, based on fawn conception data, range from mid- to late December through January, and as late as early February for the southernmost counties. Mississippi is similar, with peak fawn conception dates getting gradually later across the state, going from northwest to southeast, with counties near the Gulf Coast seeing peak ruts as late as the last week in January and first week in February. Archery seasons run especially long in Mississippi, with the southeastern unit open until Feb. 15. Most of Louisiana (with the notable exception of some western parishes) sees a peak rut from mid-December through early January, but again, some southeastern parishes are a month later.
The southern rut is erratic, especially as you get closer to the Gulf of Mexico, and there's no way to keep up with all of it, even with numerous contacts. Fortunately, most Southern states are very proactive in their whitetail management strategies, and they publish maps that show peak fawn conception dates from border to border. Food sources, meanwhile, become limited no matter where you are. Food plots can stay green all season in the South, and cover crop wheat is almost always a good bet in December and January. In fact, I'm sitting in a box blind as I type this in central Texas, watching a big winter wheat field and wearing shirt sleeves. There was a good buck in here feeding last night, so let's hope he makes the same mistake today.
Good luck out there.
(Don't Miss: Serious Sleeper States with Big Whitetails)