december hunting tactics

6 Successful Hunting Tactics for Whitetails in December

We've all heard people say you "can't kill 'em from the couch." But many whitetail deer hunters are ready to hang it up by the time December rolls around. However, I personally get just as excited for December hunting as I do for opening weekend in September. In fact, I took my biggest buck to date in December a couple years ago. Every season I take field notes to record my findings in the deer woods, and I had been gathering information through shed hunting in early 2017 and didn't bring success to that hunting season until the very end of the year. It was a very educational year, and I'd love to share what I learned to help increase other hunters' chances of finishing their hunting season on a high note.

1. Get on the food source

december hunting tactics

I recognized one glaring reality when I looked back through my field notes: mature bucks are really only interested in food for those first couple of weeks of December—up here in the Northeast, at least. Of course, hunting wisdom tells us they're exhausted. But you if you're able to lay eyes on a mature buck, you can actually see it. They've dropped a substantial amount of body weight, and they're trying to bounce back with a surplus of carbs. Following the final week or so of the rut, these deer have dropped so much body weight as their focus has been on nothing but breeding does, they've actually driven themselves to near starvation. If you have late-season food plots, now is the time to set up nearby, as surely deer are going to be more frequent in that area now.

2. Tuck into the edge of the bedding area

december hunting tactics

I can't stress this enough, and this is probably the best advice I can give anyone when it comes to late-season deer hunting. If you know of a bedding area that holds plenty of deer or actively holds mature bucks, this is where those deer are now. A bedding area that is close to a food source is dynamite in December. As mentioned before, the bucks are exhausted, they need food and rest. If you can get in between these two, there is no denying you will be successful.

However, whatever you do, DO NOT enter the bedding area. Unless you have no plans of hunting that property again for the rest of the season and want to throw a Hail Mary before you pack it in, stay away, plain and simple.

Also, make sure you're able to stay downwind of the bedding area, as you'll do nearly as much damage with unfavorable wind as you will by marching right through there. You could possibly see a few younger deer, but those mature bucks you're interested in won't be around any time soon.

Finally, try to get to your stand as early as you can, and do so as quietly as possible. Get in early and leave as quietly as you can. Think of it as knowing where the grocery store is and knowing a community where the hit list buck lives. If you end up showing up on the front porch, knocking on the door and causing a commotion, the buck that lives there is going to stay inside or sneak out the back door. Tread lightly with both your sound and scent and you only increase your chances for success.

3. "The Second Rut"

december hunting tactics

Toward the end of November, I have traveled through several states hunting and made my way back home in Pennsylvania and Maryland. The deer during the first two weeks of December are focused on food but are still pushing does around. Knowing where the does go this time of the year is crucial to being successful.

As the does group back up and travel in herds to find food, the bucks will still work their way to scent check these deer. They are looking to find that doe that was never bred who is making their way back into estrous or that younger doe who never entered estrous yet.

Keeping an eye on your deer herd in the late spring and into summer can help you find when the majority of your deer breed. If fawns are being born well into June and July, there is a good chance they were bred in December. Most does are pregnant for around 200 days, so when you begin to see fawns make a note.

When you think you have witnessed one of the last fawns being born, make another note. From there count back about 200 days and that will usually give you a rough idea of when your deer are breeding.

4. Calling and Rattling

december hunting tactics

The author with his 140" Maryland Buck he shot on December 5th, 2017

By December, I'm usually all done with rattling. But that changed during that 2017 hunting season. I was watching a group of six does feeding on the downwind side of a bedding area. This was a property that I am contracted with to remove a specific number of deer from annually. I shouldered my shotgun, popped off the safety, and just as I was about to squeeze the trigger on a mature doe, I heard two bucks fighting 100 yards away from me in the bedding area, prompting me to hold off on taking any shots.

I then worked through a 30-second set of soft grunts. I then followed with two longer, deeper grunts trying to imitate two different deer in the area. In less than five minutes, I had three bucks under my treestand and all of which were three years and older. Of course a more mature, 140-inch whitetail stepped out as well, and was met with a sabot from my shotgun.

5. Go Get Lost

december hunting tactics

Author-Dustin Prievo-Four miles off the road on public land in New York, seconds before harvesting a buck in 2016.

As a public land hunter, this is my time to find new ground. I'll typically wait until a fresh track of December snow comes for the best chance. I will then make my way deeper and further than ever before. This is a great time to look at pieces of property that I didn't have time to dedicate to earlier in the season.

I like to move in and look for as much deer sign as I can find, and I especially target bedding areas, and then the food. But for me, finding that bedding area has consistently been my key to success. Of course, deer operate differently in different regions, but but this tactic has produced consistent results for me on public land.

If you aren't fortunate enough to get snow you can still find success by going deeper. You may just have to change your tactics a little bit. With no snow, I recommend walking at a little slower pace. You will want to keep the wind in your face if possible, steadily scanning for deer and deer sign.

The deer begin to herd up by this time of the year, so if you see one, there's a good chance you'll see more. Once you find them, look for old buck rubs and scrapes that are being revisited. After you find these, mark the area and spend a day or two hunting there. If you're limited on time, hang a trail camera and move on to the next piece of property. At the end of the season, go back, collect your cards and prepare yourself for next year's late season.

6. Do Some Deer Drives

december hunting tactics

Author-Dustin Prievo and his team Top Pin Outdoors after a successful bow deer drive in 2017.

One of my favorite things to do in the entire season happens the last weekend at hunting camp in the Adirondack Mountains. Friday night we show up, play cards, and eat like kings. Then Saturday morning we would start out doing deer drives. The deer drives would last all day and well into the early afternoon. We would skip the evening watch and celebrate the end of a hunting season in a beer drinking fashion.

I practice drives on both public land with the bow and then late season only, with a gun. They work great for filling the freezer, satisfying any unfilled tags, and providing a great opportunity to take a great buck if you haven't yet for the season.

Many will say that if you perform a deer drive at the end of the season it will not affect the deer on your property. I cannot confirm or deny this to be true, but I know plenty of hunters who I respect and trust who swear that it will not affect the comfort, security, and well-being of the deer in the area.

The key to doing the drives are keeping them small. You only want stir the deer up, not panic them.

Don't let a drive get so big that you push the deer off your property. Smaller drives have always been more successful for us, especially when executing them while bowhunting.

If you know the area, push them towards bedding and get them up on their feet. If you are unfamiliar with the area, look for the thickest area you can find and push it. In the wintertime, deer like to bed in the heat of the sun. South-facing hillsides get the most sun so finding these areas could be key as well.

When it comes to being successful in the late season, especially December, it may not be as easy as mid-November. The thing is, it can be if you do your homework. If you have yet to punch your tag, now is not the time to be down on yourself. Now is the time to get out and get the job done. Remember, you can't kill them from the couch.

Like what you see here? You can read more articles by Dustin Prievo here. Follow him and his hunting team, Top Pin Outdoors, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.