Post-Rut Georgia Bucks In December

Strategies that can produce a mature buck after the rut peak.

Eric Bruce | December 3, 2023

The author with a Georgia buck taken with his bow last season during a December hunt focused on a food source the buck was using.

The two biggest bucks that I’ve taken in the state of Georgia were killed in the month of December. After more than 40 years of deer hunting in Georgia, these two bucks stand out as not only my personal best, but the fact they were not taken during the November rut but during the chill of December.

The week of Thanksgiving during the 2017 season I was set up in the woods when I spotted a really good buck walk out into an open area about 70 yards away and out of bow range. I gave a few blows on my grunt call, and the buck stopped, looked and then kept walking. I watched him through my binoculars as he walked off and noticed a split G2 tine. I then nick-named him “Splitter” and made it my goal to hunt him and try to get him. I set up a trail camera in the area he came out of and hunted elsewhere the following weekend. When I later checked my camera, there were no pictures of him, so I moved it again.

Two weeks later on Dec. 8 there was a rare early December snow in north Georgia, which coated the woods in a fluffy white blanket. My son and I waited for the snow to end and headed for the woods about mid-morning. I retrieved my SD card from the camera as I climbed into my tree stand. Once set, I began viewing the pictures on the card reader connected to my iPhone. I immediately saw photos of the buck I called Splitter. There was a photo of him the previous day with snow on his back. I knew then that he was still in the area, was moving in daylight and was a killable buck.

I sent the photo to my son, who was set up a few hundred yards away, and we both marveled at the buck, which appeared to be about 140-class. About an hour later, I spotted the buck about 60 yards away as it walked by into the brush.  I sent the photo to a buddy who called me. I had to whisper telling him that I was still in my stand and that I had already seen him. He wished me luck and asked for updates throughout the hunt.

At this point I decided to stay in my stand until I got him or it was dark. It was a cold December day. I had one granola bar in my pack, and I planned to take a bite once an hour. A bit later that afternoon I spotted him again following two does, and he walked back the way I originally saw him and still out of range. The tension and anticipation grew knowing that he was in my woodlot and on the move.

About an hour before dark a group of four does moved into the woodlot and toward where I last saw Splitter. I knew that something was bound to happen and readied for the action. My hopes and expectations were fulfilled when a few minutes later the does came walking back my direction with the buck right behind. The lead doe walked under my stand, and I watched the trophy buck follow behind her. I recall thinking that I couldn’t believe that I was about to finally get a shot at him. He cut behind my tree, and I leaned over and took the 15-yard shot and drilled him. He took off running and disappeared into the brush. Using my phone that was nearly dead, I texted my son that I just shot him. After waiting 30 minutes, I came down and followed the trail to my biggest buck ever lying in a creek about 50 yards away, and the celebration began. He was a 141-inch 11-pointer.

Killing nice bucks in Georgia is not unusual and it happens every fall. However, the majority of them are taken by Thanksgiving and earlier. With early season feed patterns, October scrape and rub line strategies, and the frenzy of the November rut, getting a mature buck in your sights is much more likely to happen in September through November. Not so much in December. But good bucks can still be hunted and killed in December, if you adjust your strategies.

There were several factors that led to my late-season success that year. The strongest factor being the ongoing rut activity. Most does in Georgia come into estrous in early to mid-November, but not all of them. Some can come into heat in late October and some as late as December. While not the norm, it can and does happen. The trick is finding one. That’s the challenge for rutting bucks, too, but they have superior senses, and particularly good noses, to help them locate a doe.

While it can be very challenging to ‘find’ an estrous doe that late, the best strategy would be to hang out in areas of high doe concentrations. Areas that have a lot of does may have one come in heat and/or it may be an area that bucks will continue to check looking for one, too. Monitoring trail cameras can also help in locating any late-rut activity or chasing. When a doe does come into heat that late, she will likely be the only one in the area and will consequently attract every buck in the area. This could be quite a parade of bucks after that one doe.

If a doe misses being bred on her first cycle in November, she will come back into estrous a month later, which will be December. Under prime conditions, sometimes a first-year doe that was born in the spring will have her first cycle in December. This will also attract a crowd of bucks.

A rare Georgia snow coated the woods on Dec. 8, 2017 when the author arrowed one of his best bucks ever. An all-day hunt paid off when the buck appeared following some does. December rutting behavior after the November peak is often the downfall for a mature buck this time of the season.

The buck I shot in December of 2017 was actively seeking out the does in the area. This had him moving during daylight, which was his downfall. When I spotted him that morning, I stayed in my stand the entire day hoping for a shot at him. It ultimately paid off with a shot at 5:30 p.m. Perseverance paid off that day.

While a December buck’s downfall may be his continued sex drive, their other Achilles heel is their stomach. Deer have to feed and that need never goes away, but in December it may be intensified. There are several reasons why a buck’s need to feed is stronger in December, and hunters can take advantage of it.

Most bucks spend their November searching for and chasing does. During this active and strenuous time, they’ll expend enormous energy and calories chasing the girls. They may spend little time feeding, likely grabbing some bites here and there between searching and following does.

By the time the November rut winds down and most does have been bred, an old buck may have lost a lot of weight  and will be in need to building back up his weight and fat reserves. This is especially critical with the impending cold winter looming. They cannot afford to go into winter underweight and undernourished.

Fall is a time of bounty in the woods with abundant natural food available. Native browse, soft and hard mast are plentiful into November. But by the time December arrives, those food sources are scarce or gone, and available deer groceries can be hard to come by.

This makes deer, including bucks, more vulnerable as they have to move and search more to find available food. When a good food source is found, deer will be all over. You may have seen the hunting shows and videos from the Midwest showing herds of deer in agricultural fields in the winter. Those deer are taking advantage of a much-needed food source to replenish.

There is not as much agriculture in Georgia, but any food plots and available crops will be whitetail magnets. Other late fall/early winter natural  sources include any remaining acorns and privet. While not necessarily a deer favorite, Chinese privet is abundant in creek bottoms across Georgia, and it provides a food source and cover for winter whitetails.

Of course, now another food source can be corn or other feed that hunters can provide for hungry deer.  Often deer will hit feeders less often in November because of the availability of acorns and their distraction with breeding. But come December, those feeders that they were visiting regularly in September, then deserted in November, may again be a frequented at this time.

This is what I observed last season. In September, I had game-camera pictures of two good bucks, a 10-pointer and a wide 8-pointer, that were feeding on corn that I had on the ground. There were a few daylight photos but most were at night. Wanting to target these bucks and keep them hanging around, I brought my feeder into the area. It made sense to me, but the bucks disappeared. I had no deer on camera at the feeder for at least a week until a few does came in suspiciously. For whatever reason in this case, the presence of the new feeder seemed to alarm them.

I later removed the feeder and placed it elsewhere, but I kept my cell camera in there to monitor the deer activity. I occasionally got a picture of the 10-pointer passing through, but the wide 8-pointer was a no-show. I did not get of photo of him the entire months of October or November. But in December, he showed back up.

I began putting corn back out to keep him there, and he began showing up fairly regularly, although mainly at night. As the days of December wore on, his visits became more frequent and closer to shooting light at dawn and dusk. I recall receiving a cell cam photo of the buck right at dawn while I was hunting at B.F. Grant WMA in mid-December. It was then I decided that I would hunt there until I got him. The 10-pointer was also visiting regularly.

On Dec. 18, I was set up in my stand about 25 yards from the feed location. I figured that my best chance of seeing one of the bucks was right at dusk in the final 15 minutes of shooting light. As most bowhunters know, this can be a challenging time to see and execute a bow shot in the waning light.

With sunset around 5:30 and shooting light done at around 6 p.m., I sat in my stand waiting for the magical last half hour of dusk. But at a few minutes before 5 p.m. I heard footsteps and looked up to see the wide 8-pointer standing in front of me. He seemed nervous, likely uneasy about moving in daylight, and jumped back several times and re-approached the pile.

In those tense moments, I slowly stood up, reached for my bow, attached my release, positioning my feet and shoulders for the shot. With the buck being so spooky, I knew that one errant noise or breeze could send him running. He was mostly facing me with a slight quartering to angle. I decided to take that shot and aimed high and forward on the shoulder facing me and released. The buck bolted, and I exhaled a huge breath of tension.

After 30 minutes I got down and looked at the arrow. It was stuck in the ground, a pass-through, and it was blood-soaked. I was a little concerned about the angle and not sure if I had hit lung, so after following the blood trail only a few yards, I decided to back out. With it dipping down to about 30 degrees, I knew the meat would be fine.

The next morning I returned at dawn with a buddy and took up the blood trail. About 100 yards later I found my December buck piled up and was immediately elated. The wide 8-pointer had an inside spread of over 19 inches and the rack grossed 133 inches.

Though the month of December is not viewed as the prime time to hunt or to kill a trophy buck, it can be done if you adjust your tactics. By looking for late breeding activity, luring them in with a food source, or hunting natural food sources, you can find and harvest a mature buck when others have hung it up or are Christmas shopping. Don’t put away your hunting gear this December when some good hunting can still be experienced—if you know where to look.

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  1. garyh on December 4, 2023 at 12:44 pm

    Too bad most of the better bucks are dead a month ago. Very few survive to be hunted in December where I live.

  2. whaylon1 on December 4, 2023 at 6:27 am

    This year in Walker county the rut did not kick in till around the 20 November going strong around the 27. Crazy late rut

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