It’s true that December bowhunting can be tough, particularly compared with the warm evenings of the early season and the frenzy of the November rut. But you shouldn’t write off going hunting in the last month of the year. Although deer are more easily spooked in December, and frigid temps numb your fingers in a matter of minutes, Mark Kenyon, Wired to Hunt founder and podcast host, and MeatEater team member, recalls several successful December hunts. In fact, he says about one-third of his whitetail harvests have happened in December. Kenyon shared his approach to harvesting a mature whitetail buck during the chilly, but productive, month.
“I’ve learned to love December bowhunting,” Kenyon said. “Once you get to December, there’s a serious attrition rate. People are hibernating and celebrating the holidays. You have to be dedicated to chase deer. But deer return to a bed-to-feed pattern, and if you can stick to it, you can get a great buck.”
Here are three things to note about deer behavior in December that will influence your hunt strategy throughout the month:
Because pressure affects deer dramatically in December, Kenyon says remaining undetected is key. “The biggest thing is to keep deer in the dark, away from anything abnormal,” he said. Be conservative and put away your calls, decoys and rattling antlers, and keep your human scent and presence to a minimum.
Analyze your hunting location to understand how deer use the area in winter. For example, in early season, deer might have bedded 150 yards from a food plot, but in the late season, they may close that gap to just 50 yards. If that’s the case, you may need to hunt the opposite side of the plot or walk a creek or ditch to remain undetected as you enter the woods. Kenyon said you can’t forget about your exit route either. Deer will still be in the plot when you’re ready to leave.
“If you have to spook deer on the way out, you’ll see the quality of your hunts decline,” Kenyon said. “You may have to beg or bribe a family member to spook the deer and come pick you up in a wheeled vehicle, which impacts deer a lot less than walking through the woods.”
Once you determine where and how to hunt, pick when to hunt based on the weather.
“Watch and wait for the correct day and moment,” Kenyon said. “Once you see the forecast or have a daytime photo of the buck you’re after, that’s when you want to slip in. Don’t hunt 10 days. A few well-informed prime hunts are much more beneficial than a lot of average hunts.”
Kenyon describes a perfect evening in his home state of Michigan as the day after a big cold front or blizzard. He’s looking for a 20-degree temperature drop after a big snow event with strong winds.
“When the temperature has settled, the wind stops blowing, the snow stops falling and there’s a bluebird sky, the deer will move,” he said. “That’s a special night. You never see something like that any other time of the year.”
But remember, weather conditions are relative to where you are geographically. Southern hunters, for example, might look for a less dramatic temperature swing with a rainstorm instead of a blizzard.
Freezing temperatures are the most challenging part of bowhunting in December, according to Kenyon and probably the majority of bowhunters, but there are ways to stay warm.
Dress accordingly and be smart, persistent and patient when bowhunting in December, and you may just find yourself shaking in eager anticipation of an approaching buck instead of from the cold.