On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be too much for a local deer hunter to love about the post rut phase of the whitetail autumn.
As I write this on my phone, I can concur with that statement after a few days sitting in a box blind a couple of hours west of Texomaland with an unused deer tag burning a hole in my back pocket.
As I hunt in one of the most beautiful pecan bottoms imaginable, only a couple of weeks ago, the nearby trail camera was full of rutting action as big bucks cruised through this cathedral like setting and checked for does coming into estrous.
I saw one of those big bruiser bucks bright and early yesterday morning as the 150-class brute strolled through and checked to see if one last breeding doe might be around.
Why didn’t I shoot? Because Mr. Big was fashionably early, cruising through a full 15 minutes before legal shooting time. That left me with an interesting tale to tell back at camp, but — so far at least — no antlers for the wall or venison for my yawningly empty freezer.
Aside from that exciting moment when a shooter buck strolled by at 30-yards, its been crickets from the local deer herd as whitetails lay low, lick their wounds, and recoup from the rigors of the November rut.
With my hunt coming down to the wire, and hoping for some 11th hour redemption, it occurred to me that a refresher course might be in order as I hope for some post rut success today and look for a little inspiration to keep up the faith in a creek bottom suddenly devoid of any deer sightings.
If there’s a first rule for post rut hunting success, it’s simply to get out of your recliner and go to the deer woods. Put simply, you can’t shoot a good buck while kicking back in your easy chair.
Sure, you’re tired after a hard month of dawn to dusk hunting hours as you’ve chased the November rut. But while many deer are laying low right now and deer sightings can be depressingly minimal in many hunting camps, bucks and does still have to get up each day to move around and feed.
And when they do, you’ve simply got to be there waiting because there’s no other path to a punched tag.
Want proof of this idea? Well, consider that the biggest typical buck ever tagged by a hunter in Grayson County — the 175 2/8 inch net typical taken by Sherman’s Jimmy Lillis back in the fall of 2007 — was actually killed in the early post rut on Nov. 30th that year.
On that Hagerman NWR hunt nearly a decade ago, Lillis heard something rustle behind him, slowly turned to look and saw a giant buck that he grunted at once. Moments later, Mr. Duck brought his Mathews bow to full draw and prepared to unleash an Easton Axis arrow at the buck of a lifetime.
“When he went behind a tree about 90 degrees to my left side, I came to full draw,” said Lillis. “When he started moving again and came out into my shooting gap, he stopped, I put my sight pin right where I wanted it and shot him at 18 yards.”
A second key to post rut success is to guard the food. Because as Old Man Winter makes his presence increasingly known on the December landscape, the chow hall is everything again as whitetails seek a high calorie meal.
On some spots, that will involve sitting over a corn feeder. In other places it might be a spot where some leftover acorns remain or some new growth is occurring after recent rains. Perhaps it’s a food plot or maybe the lush green of a winter wheat field, but the point is that food is everything for late season deer.
That’s what Robert Taylor focused on at the end of the season in 2012 when he arrowed one of the largest bucks ever shot in North Texas, a huge non-typical buck that scores well north of 215 inches.
The key to Taylor’s hunt — which came on the evening of Dec. 29 as cold weather and the remains of the region’s 2012 White Christmas dotted the landscape — was high energy food on the small acreage he was hunting.
That food was the combination of corn and a food plot that promised local deer high caloric intake during the cold snap. That was enough to lure in several does, a good 10-point buck and the huge bruiser that Taylor ended up shooting that evening.
A similar scenario played into the harvest of another top Boone and Crockett non-typical taken here in Grayson County, this time on the final weekend of the 2007 deer season when Mike Benson of Sherman guarded a food source on a chilly winter evening.
Before shooting time ended, a 201 1/8 inch net non-typical sauntered into range and Benson put his name into the B&C record book with an 11th hour buck.
If guarding food is one rule for post rut success, another is to make a little bit of noise. In this case, that simply means don’t stop rattling just yet. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to practice what I preach and lean out the window to do just that for a few seconds.
Ok, while my rattling session with my Primos Rack-n-Roll synthetic rattling horns only worked to bring a young cow to within 10-yards of my blind just now—seriously—it also works on whitetails too.
In fact, early December might be one of the better times to grab your rattling horns and try and rattle in a wise old buck.
But as I’ve stated before in this space, don’t take my word for it. Instead, take the word of Mike Hanback, author of Mike Hanback’s Big Deer blog (www.mikehanback.com) and the popular TV show host of the Big Deer television program on Sportsman Channel.
“For the last few years I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that the first weeks of the post-rut, when gnarly old bucks cruise for the last hot does, are prime for trophy hunting,” wrote Michael Hanback a few years ago in an article for Outdoor Life magazine (Deer Hunting Tips: Rattling Research That Will Help You Get Your Buck).
“Once the rut starts winding down, it’s a good time to rattle again,” agrees Realtree Outdoors executive producer David Blanton. “A lot of does have come in and out of heat, but the bucks are still aggressive.”
Such thoughts are backed up with biological science in addition to in-the-field hunting observations. That is apparent after a study in South Texas several years ago by wildlife biologist Dr. Mick Hellickson who noted that the best time to rattle up a mature buck is in fact…you guessed it…during the post rut.
Another route for success in December can be the secondary rut. While not everyone believes in the idea, there is at least anecdotal evidence to suggest that any does that weren’t bred in last month’s breeding cycle may come into estrous again approximately 28 days later. The same holds true for yearling does that may be cycling for the first time.
Dallas hunter Sherman Wyman certainly believes in the idea of a secondary rut. That’s because Wyman capitalized on the tactic on Dec. 24, 2005 when he shot a Boone and Crockett Club non-typical buck that netted 226 4/8 inches on his low-fence ranch near Wichita Falls.
“I’ve shot a lot of big deer around Christmas time,” said Wyman. “(Up in North Texas), everyone thinks once Thanksgiving or the first of December has come and gone, you’re done.”
Obviously not in Wyman’s mind, especially when he is able to find scrapes that have been reopened; to identify and hunt preferred natural food sources that mature bucks tend to key on; and to be in the woods when those late-born fawns come into their first estrous cycle in mid to late December.
Finally, when it comes to beating a case of the post rut deer hunting blues, remember the photographer’s “F8 and be there” rule.
That rule simply means to put your digital camera on manual, set the f-stop to F8 and be there for the shot instead of worrying about difficult lighting, exposure and composition rules.
One example of this idea is longtime Grayson County bowhunter Dale Moses, an archer that gives more proof to the idea of “late being great” thanks to the giant non-typical buck that he arrowed as the final hours of the 2013-14 season ticked away.
The big Grayson County buck, a bruiser that the now retired game warden had nicknamed “Captain Hook,” first showed up on Moses’ trail cameras back in November of that season. That began an exhausting cat-and-mouse game between Moses and the huge deer that went on for several weeks.
By the time Moses finally caught up to the big whitetail and arrowed it on Jan. 2, he was all but devoid of vacation time and had logged many, many hours in a stand chasing the buck. But arrow it he did, putting a 184 0/8 inch net non-typical into the Texas Big Game Awards program and becoming the cover boy for an issue of the Journal of the Texas Trophy Hunters magazine.
“I wasn’t sure if I would get him or not because he wasn’t showing up much and several other hunters were after him too,” said Moses. “But in the end, it all worked out. I feel very blessed to have taken him.”
That idea rings true for other late season deer hunters too.
Former Sherman area hunter Mark Wade practiced this rule just before Christmas in 2000 when he carved time out of his busy holiday and professional schedule, braved cold weather, and got to the nearest deer stand as the season wound down.
He was rewarded with one of the biggest typical bucks ever reported in Grayson County, a 163 5/8 inch net typical, a wide and beautiful racked whitetail that adorned the good doctor’s Christmas cards that year.
Ray Petree, another Texomaland bowhunter with several Grayson County Record Book (GCRB) bucks to his credit, has also made a habit of punching the clock with late season hunting success over the years. That includes a 2002 typical that Petree arrowed, a buck that nets 165 4/8 inches and ranks highly in the GCRB standings.
Want to do something similar this year as the current season winds towards its inevitable end over the next month? Then get out of that easy chair, leave the warmth of the fireplace behind, get into your deer stand and punch the proverbial clock.
That’s what I intend to do the remainder of this early December day-my daughter Katie’s 25th birthday, no less—as I seek to fill an unused deer tag.
With any luck, I’ll have material for next week’s column. And if not, perhaps I’ll have a prime recipe to share from a well known steak house just down the road.