Deer Hunting Strategies For December

Upstate Outdoors
December 01, 2017 - 9:12 am

I would like to propose a new trend among deer hunters heading to the woods during the month of December. Although it’s cold, windy, and hopefully wetter than it has been over the last three months, I’d like for you to stick your left hand out the window of the truck and hold up four fingers, just like the kids in high school football do at the start of the fourth quarter of the football game.

I’m asking you to do this for the same reason the high school football coaches require it of their players. It’s late in the game, everyone is tired, half the participants are heading out of the arena, and if we’re going to put one in the end zone, we’re going to have to dig deep and use some different strategies.

December is the time to define your goals for the end of the game. Are you headed to the woods to collect meat for the freezer or are you hoping to have a, or maybe another, shot at a trophy deer? 

Many hunters use the final weeks of the season to harvest does for the freezer. From a biological standpoint, this is not the best strategy. While not all does get bred during the rutting period, sometime in late October and early November, there’s a better than average chance the big nanny you’re eyeing through the rifle scope or sight pins is already bred, and you’re about to waste the efforts of the buck who bred her as well as all the resources she’s been consuming since September.

But if meat is on your mind, your best strategy is going to be the same one you’ve probably relied on since September – hunting food sources. The big difference now is that the natural food sources have changed and the deer are probably aware that something about that unnatural free meal laying on the ground ain’t so free.

Now is the time to take advantage of those winter food plots you planted back during August Any clover in the plots that survived is likely dying off from frost by now so it’s grains like wheat and oats that will be the most common and attractive to deer, although turnips or other late bloomers will also be on the menu.

Hardwood mast crops have mostly fallen by now with the exception of some water oaks or pin oaks which typically drop later in the season. Any pin oak or water oak that’s off the beaten path or tucked away in some forgotten corner is worth investigating.

The big question is whether rutting strategies should still be used during December. The answer is unequivocally yes, but at a lesser intensity than during the primary rut. Any doe that went into heat but did not breed will go back into estrous 28 days later. If the primary rut was mid October into November this year, then the secondary rut should hit late November and most of December.

Always bear in mind that trophy bucks which may throw caution to the wind during the primary rut, are even more spooky now. The best strategy would be a food source that is tucked into thick cover or right on the edge of it, preferably facing a direction that has not seen much traffic from hunters. Does come to the food, the buck slips out to the does. 

Unfortunately, that means vacating those permanent deer stands that you’ve hunted all season and getting out in the climber, or if you planned ahead and hunt private lands, head to those one or two stands you put way back in the dense cover and haven’t hunted, waiting for fourth quarter.


Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. Online broadcasts and recorded podcasts of the show can be found at 


Late season deer hunting means digging deeper than you have all season and changing things up if you intend to fool that wary buck. Photo by Phillip Gentry. 

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