A regionwide recap and late-rut big buck story from the Southeast
We usually address the weather in our rut reports, and this December has been particularly unusual. I had a client in camp earlier this week for Kentucky's late muzzleloader season. He arrived last Friday afternoon, when it was 75 degrees out and humid. Overnight, we had to take shelter as devastating tornadoes tore through western Kentucky, just a few miles from camp. That disrupted our hunting on opening day, but by Sunday, with loved ones accounted for and generators running, we hit the woods. My client settled into a climbing stand on the edge of a bedding thicket and shot a great 5 1/2-year-old buck shortly after daybreak. As we were tracking the deer, which fell dead 100 yards from the stand, we noticed a smoking fresh scrape line. It was an awesome hunt, and a definite bright spot during an otherwise tough week.
Though the rut's still popping in areas of the Deep South, it's mostly over regionwide — though late-cycling does, especially doe fawns, can still make for a lively sit with secondary rut activity.
In my area, this year's rut seemed to kick off right on time. I had a great hunt in northwest Tennessee on Nov. 1, complete with plenty of bucks cruising and chasing. I punched my first Tennessee buck tag at around 10 in the morning. I had a few good hunts at home in Kentucky that week, too, but the daylight action slowed considerably around Nov. 5, and it stayed that way for a while. I've never seen a slower gun opener (Nov. 13 this year), and many of my buddies agreed. Simply put, bucks were locked down with does for much of that week.
Things got good again just before Thanksgiving, with Nov. 23 getting my vote as the liveliest day of the month, according to the numerous trail cameras I had placed on different farms. I was out of town at that time, but big deer were on their feet.
I went back to Tennessee on Dec. 1 and filled my second buck tag on a nice 8-pointer that was cruising the same creek drainage where I'd had such a good hunt a month earlier. I've mentioned it several times in this year's Rut Report, but deer blogger Mike Hanback called it back in October, when he predicted a trickle rut, bookended by flurries of action in late October and again in late November. From what I've seen and heard, that prediction was spot on.
I still expect to see some stop-and-start rut activity until the seasons close in Kentucky and Tennessee next month, and hunters elsewhere in the Southeast should expect the same. Now is not the time to overthink your hunting strategies. In the evenings, hunt near productive food sources. Food doesn't hurt a thing in the morning, either, but when in doubt, set up closer to bedding cover. Beyond that, you have to be out there. Take chances. Hunt risky winds. Scout harder. You might bump a buck, but time is running out — and you might learn something that'll help you shoot him next season. Good luck out there, and count your blessings for any opportunity to sit in a deer stand.