Sitka Gear


By Dr. Dave Samuel

Ten years ago while attending the spring West Virginia Bowhunters banquet weekend, I had the opportunity to visit with a young Ohio bowhunter and view his super near Boone and Crockett buck.  What was so unique about this buck, other than it was enviously huge?  It was shot the last day in January, the last day of the Ohio bow season, AND it was shot over a scrape.  Yep, this big buck was still scent checking scrapes in late January.

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As we all know, the peak of the rut, the time when most does get bred, is in mid-November.  Twenty-six days later, there should be that second rut, where all the does not already bred, come back into estrus.  In addition, especially in farm country, as many as one-fourth of all female fawns will also come into estrus in the second rut.  So, it is obvious that during the second rut there is major buck hysteria.  Right?  Well, not really.  True, all does not bred in one cycle will come into estrus in December as will some female fawns.  But, from my experience there aren't too many of those unbred does nor young female fawns in estrus out there and that second rut is a bit of a bust, compared to the November rut.  True, I remember Roger Rothhaar telling the story of seeing eight bucks near or on one scrape in one morning near Christmas one year  in Ohio.  (Must have been one hot doe in the area).   Obviously there will be some buck rutting behavior in December, and in some local areas you might even get a fair amount of rubbing, scraping, and chasing.  But  in general, that so-called "second rut" is pretty quiet.

What do we know about deer, bucks in particular, during December?   First, we know that the bucks are worn out from November chasing. They will need to replenish their bodies before heavy winter hits.  Second, we know that there are a lot fewer does alive in the woods.  Hunting season has taken a major toll on does.  We also know though, that if a doe comes into estrus, bucks will find and chase matter how tired they may be from the peak rut.  This then leads to one major hunting strategy for the second rut...find the does.

There are two major strategies for finding does at this time of the year.  First...does will be bedding in the thickest cover around, especially after the deer gun season.  Denny Crabtree and I have a hunting lease on some Meade Paper Company land in Ohio.  In the very heart of that lease is a 40-acre pine plantation, now so thick you can't walk in it.  It is a major bedding area, even more so as winter approaches.  The does are there and this means the bucks are there too.  The second strategy for finding does, and thus bucks, is to find the food.   Although deer metabolism slows in the winter, food is still key for bucks and does.  In fact, food just might be the most important thing to bucks at this time in December.

The big advantage for you will be to find those bedding and feeding areas.  Any does coming into estrus will be feeding there, as will the bucks.  These feed sources could be alfalfa, standing corn, winter wheat, rape, unpicked soy beans (great, especially when you get snow cover), honeysuckle (especially further south), and even acorns.  Do some scouting with your spotting scope, check out likely fields just at dusk.  Set up on trails between the bedding and feeding areas, just as you did in the pre-rut period, and your chance for success will increase.  I love to set up in woody, brushy draws, especially the narrow ones that come off the bedding areas.  If you find a hot scrape in such an area, hunt it.  If it gets cold, leave it.  Remember, there just aren't that many does coming into estrus at this time, but there are some.  Of course, there aren't as many big bucks left after the peak rut, but there are some...and you only need one!!!

Dr. Dave Samuel is now a member of's Staff. He is available to answer questions in our Ask the Expert's section entitled The Future of Hunting.
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