As we turn the calendar to December it is hard for me to believe that we've already put 2/3rd's of the Michigan deer season in the books. In my mind I can still remember my first hunt of the season with vivid detail as if it was yesterday but, in reality, it was actually 60+ days ago. We've come a long way since October 1st and the closing of yet another season is right around the corner.
The early season feeding pattern period has come and gone, the October lull is long forgotten, the pre-rut excitement is a distant memory and the rut (albeit a slow one this year) has subsided. The fun of a sunny early October bow hunt was replaced by the feel of a cold early November morning, those awesome bow rut hunts were replaced by the excitement of opening day of firearms season and then a cold and snowy late November rolled through.
Now we stand here facing December head on with the majority, and arguably the best, of the 2013 season in the rear view mirror. As we move towards Christmas, free time to head into the woods becomes more and more scarce and the season is slipping through my fingers at an alarming pace. The close of the season will be here quicker than I'd like and the long wait for October 1st, 2014 will be underway in a matter of weeks.
Late season bow hunting can be tough but the rewards are worth the struggle.
With such a grim picture painted you may think I'm bummed out or ready to call it quits but actually it's quite the opposite. I am already excited to bust the bow back out of the case and get some late season bow hunts under my belt. It will be a week or so until I can get back out but I guarantee that when I next hit the woods I will do so with an "opening day" type of excitement. I can't help it; the late season is a great time to be in the woods and taking a week or two off from hunting this time of year makes me feel like I haven't been in the woods in ages. I know that the prime part of the season is gone but that won't keep me from enjoying and embracing the days we have left.
Bow hunting in December is a unique challenge and it comes with its own set of difficulties. During any part of the season the weather is a key factor in your hunts but in late season the weather plays a particularly keen role. The weather can range from unseasonably warm to absolutely brutally cold and either side of the spectrum can present unique issues.
Along with the impact that the weather has on the deer activity it also has an impact on the bow hunter as well. Bundle up to stay warm but don't get so bound up with clothing that you can't shoot your bow. We all know you can't shoot a deer from the couch but when the morning calls for single digit temps and howling winds it's tempting to just open the living room window and hope one wanders in to snag some escaping heat.
The deer herd has been drastically reduced in size following the firearms season which can make for considerably less action and, following the pressure applied over the last two months, most of the action that you'll see on trail cameras or discover based on tracks in the snow will be occurring in the dark. That spot that just couldn't miss back in November may now be a deer-less abyss and that sudden lack of production can wear a hunter's spirits down quickly.
A preferred food source, like these purple top turnips, can be a huge draw in the late season.
While those factors can make late season hunting a bit challenging, there are also a few things that you can use to your advantage during the late season. As we move through December deer become slaves to their stomachs once again. The cold weather forces them to feed often and they will hammer good food sources as they build their bodies back up for the upcoming winter season. If you're able to hunt on or near their food source of choice you will likely have a lot of deer around you and you may be able to score on a good buck that was drawn in because of that food source. This time of year a good food source is money in the bank and can make for some really exciting hunting.
In mid December the does that were not bred in November will be coming back into estrous and that will spark "the second rut" or the "the late rut" as some people like to call it. It generally won't be the full out frenzy that you see in early to mid November but with less does coming into heat you can get some pretty good rutting activity as bucks compete for those last few chances at love before winter sets in.
I have actually seen some pretty good rut activity during my late season bow hunts and am definitely not afraid to try some rut hunt methods (like grunting, bleating or light rattling) during this time frame. As I said, the action may not be as wide spread as it is in November but if you catch the right doe you may just end up having a hunt to remember.
The month of December is a time of solitude in the deer woods. Much of the hunting population has hung it up for the season and thus the number of hunters in the woods is far less than in October or November. Aside from a few muzzleloader blasts here and there I often feel as though I'm the only one brave enough (or foolish enough) to be out there some days.
A fresh coating of snow makes a beautiful backdrop for your late season hunts.
Hitting the woods after a layer of fresh snow has fallen transforms the woods I've stared at for the last two months into a new and beautiful place. The snow seems to act as a layer of insulation and it makes the world a quiet and serene place with a beauty that you won't find any other time of the hunting season. Watching a deer move silently through a layer of fresh snow will send the adrenalin through your body and warm you up from the inside out.
While it's true that the hunting may not be easy or for the faint at heart it is certainly better than hanging your gear up for the season. If you are willing to tough it out and hit the woods on a cold December morning you just may be rewarded with some memories to last a lifetime, and if you're really lucky you may have some fresh tenderloins to go along with those memories.
The season is passing by quickly and once it's gone it will be a long 9 months until October comes back around. Don't overlook these last few weeks of the season!!
Take care, and thanks for reading!!