About two to three weeks after peak breeding of whitetails has ceased some of the younger does that did jot come into estrous earlier, particularly six month old fawns in many regions, may come into a first estrous, and older does that were not bred earlier come into a second or possibly a third estrous. This may cause an increase in both rubbing and scraping activity as the bucks begin to travel their rub routes and search for late season forage, where they may come in contact with does or the scents the does left behind. Since the younger or subdominant bucks may have never ceased looking for does, the earliest of these activities may be attributed to the these bucks, resulting in what appears to be a pre-late breeding phase, which precedes the peak breeding of does at this time. The actual Late Breeding Phase peak may last two to three weeks, and in the northern states, it usually occurs in December. However, breeding may continue for a month or more before ceasing, with breeding continuing longer in the mid-latitude and southern states.
Winter Home Range Shift & Migration
Bucks are often still interested in breeding during these phases, but they may be tired after the rigors of the breeding phase, the may not travel as much and they will probably be wary as a result of the hunting season; so you need to use long rattling sessions to attract the bucks, but not so loudly that you spook them.
T.R.'s Tips: Right Place, Right Time
The time to hunt late season bucks is when the conditions are right. When foods are scarce, or a preferred food is available; and when there is cloud cover and the wind-chills drop, expect to see deer earlier in the evening and later in the morning than normal. After a winter storm lets up, or it has been cold, windy, or there has been heavy precipitation for more than a day and a half, causing deer to miss two or more feeding periods, and then the wind dies down, or the wind-chill rises, expect deer to begin feeding, and to continue for the next couple of hours.
T.R.'s Tips: Hunting the Right Area
On several occasions I have seen trophy class, dominant bucks like the three mentioned above, traveling together when the sky was cloudy and the temperatures were low. The largest deer I ever saw, a 12 point 200 class buck, was traveling with a button buck near a cornfield on a cold, cloudy day in December at 8:30 in the morning.
Post Rut Hunting Techniques
Estrus scents can be placed so they spread out downwind of your hunting position to attract the buck as it approaches a food source. Estrus can also be used on a scent line by leaving drops of scent on the ground along a line that crosses a deer trail and leads to your location. Although scientific research suggests there is no doe estrus call the "social grunt," which is used by does when they are trying to locate each other will get a buck's attention at this time. When a buck responds to scents or calls it may not be because of rutting urge, it may simply be because of curiosity.
Decoys can provide the needed visual stimulus to bring a buck within range after it has responded to scents or calls. Bucks are not looking for a fight at this time of the year, and because of this doe decoys work best. A decoy with antlers may intimidate or alarm a buck, causing it to leave the area. Mobility is a key factor in late season hunting. I use a collapsible, bedded doe decoy because it's lightweight and rolls up for easy transportation. With their low profile bedded decoys should be placed in a semi-open area, preferably not on a trail. In several field tests I have seen deer skirt a bedded decoy on a trail, while walking right up to it in other areas. Place bedded decoys near a bush or tree where a deer would normally bed. Standing decoys can be placed in tall grass, brush or any other area where deer might be found.
Because deer, including bucks, are looking for food at this time of the year the combination of tarsal scent and deer urine on the ground, leading to a food scent, can be very effective. The tarsal and urine are non-threatening and may arouse the buck's curiosity; the food attractant then brings it within range. These scents may also attract does, which may be followed by bucks. When using scents choose those that are particular to your area. Corn, apple and acorn scents work well in most areas.
Again, because the rut is over, bucks are not looking to exert dominance, or looking for a fight, and they seldom respond to buck scents, aggressive grunts, tending grunts and rattling. However, these products and techniques, when used in combination with doe or estrus scents to create the illusion of a buck with an estrus doe, may attract a buck that simply hasn't had enough of the rut yet.
Bucks are often still interested in breeding during the post rut, but they may be tired, not traveling as much and wary as a result of the hunting season; so you need to use long rattling sessions to attract the bucks, but not so loudly that you spook them.
T. R. Michels is nationally recognized for his action-packed, informative seminars based on his experience as a wildlife researcher and professional guide.