December is a busy month: Shoppers frantically invade area malls looking for bargains on Christmas gifts, businesses prepare end-of-the-year financials for their CPAs, and deer gun hunters clean and store their gear away for the next season.
Photo by Brad Myers.
But wait! If you’re an avid outdoorsman, a lot of action takes place in the woods and on the water near you at this time of year. For starters, you could enjoy some stellar waterfowling; there’s also some tremendous upland bird hunting for quail and even pheasants. And, if you want to rid the landscape of a few pesky varmints, then you might consider hunting for coyotes, bobcats, and gray foxes (red foxes are illegal, as you know).
Better yet, wild or feral hogs top the nuisance list in most areas; you could shoot a porker and make a farmer’s day.
As for me, the whitetail’s second rut is beginning so I’ll grab my archery gear and head to the Oklahoma woodlands for a crack at a late-season deer — provided I have one of my two buck tags still in my pocket. If not, I’ll be after a fat doe to add prime venison to my freezer.
It’s true: Hunting our late archery season can be amazing! Experts confide that the activity they’ve encountered in December rivals any deer hunting they’ve ever experienced. But before you head to the deer woods. Let me stoke your fire with a few deer tales from some of last year’s successful December bowmen.
LATE-SEASON BOWHUNTING HAS ITS REWARDS
What’s so special about December bowhunting? Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation biologist and deer statistician Jerry Shaw said that December bowhunting can be very good. He pointed out that while most does are breed during the first rut in November, some aren’t. Those females will start their second estrous cycles 28 days later and again be receptive to breeding. That second cycle generally gets going about the second week of December. And that means late-season bowhunters can find good rut-hunting action during our second bow season.
“Normally the deer start settling down in December, after being skittish from rifle season,” Shaw said. “Generally, December has some nice days and provides a good opportunity for hunters to take some venison and help manage the herd.”
THE HUNT FOR TERRA’S BUCK
Being a talented photographer, Kansas native Brad Myers is afforded with very limited opportunities to hunt deer. However, with a passion for bowhunting, he makes time to hunt as often as possible. In fact, last season Myers tagged a dandy buck and he didn’t have to travel far from his Edmond home to do so.
Myers is no Johnny-come-lately to bowhunting. In 2001 he arrowed an awesome heavy-horned buck that scored 212 inches in northeast Kansas. He was named the “Moonlight Buck” because Myers’ brother Nate first laid eyes on the behemoth one bright night as the huge non-typical crossed a river on their Kansas hunting property. Brad moved his stand to an area near the river, and the first time on stand he was rewarded with a 15-yard shot at the buck.
Myers is a big believer in game cameras, employing 10 of them to monitor the deer activity on his hunting areas. Nearing the end of the 2006 season, Myers saw a huge typical on his in-laws’ land in Oklahoma County. “The buck was huge,” said Myers, who anxiously awaited the 2007 season for a chance at the buck.
After seeing trail camera photos of the big typical he named “Terra’s Buck,” Myers believed that if his fiancée could arrow the buck, it would be the largest typical ever taken by a woman. Myers was on a mission, so he bought Terra a bow and she soon became proficient with it.
The couple hunted the early bow season, but never glimpsed the huge buck they were so intent on taking. In fact, even their trail cameras failed to record the big buck anywhere on the property, causing them to wonder if he had been killed elsewhere. However, on Dec. 12 the big buck appeared again on the trail cameras, his antlers looking bigger than ever!
On Dec. 14, the couple planned to bowhunt together. Unfortunately, being a successful realtor, Terra had a house showing that kept her from bowhunting. After some good-natured teasing by Terra, Brad left to hunt the brute, settling in his chosen deer stand at 1 p.m. Shortly after, Myers began to see does and small bucks moving his way on the cool, foggy afternoon.
At 5 p.m. Myers checked his watch and knew he would have to leave soon to make it to a friend’s wedding rehearsal. “Terra was already miffed at me for hunting her buck,” said Myers. “So I knew if I didn’t get home in time for the wedding rehearsal, that would only make matters worse.”
At 5:15 movement in the brush indicated another deer was heading toward Myers’ stand — Terra’s Buck! With the buck 100 yards away and walking slowly, a shaky Myers sat down to gather his composure. Myers rose slowly and attempted to draw as soon as the buck was within bow range. “I drew my bow but I couldn’t hold still,” remembered Myers. “So I closed my eyes and said a prayer.”
Myers’ prayer was answered; when he opened his eyes, he was rock-solid and drew on the buck now only 17 yards away. Myers’ aim was true and the razor-sharp broadhead sliced through the buck’s vitals. The huge buck expired 70 yards away as Myers watched.
Now elated, Myers called Terra to tell her of his news. “I thought he was kidding at first,” said Terra. “I really gave him a hard time because I really wanted to shoot that buck, but I was happy for my husband at the same time.”
Myers’ late-season bow trophy was magnificent — 11 long tines! The big-bodied old buck field-dressed at 199 pounds and grossed nearly 180!
THE ICE BUCK
Last December, Jonathan Tisdale decided that even bitter cold weather couldn’t keep him from bowhunting. The fact was that he was on a mission. Tabe’s Archery in Shawnee was holding a big-buck and heaviest-doe contest, so Tisdale believed he could shoot a fat doe and win the top prize — a new compound bow.
Tisdale identifies himself as a meat hunter and estimates he has taken 20 deer since he began bowhunting 26 years ago, his best being a small-racked buck. Tisdale mainly hunts on a small piece of land in Oklahoma Cou
nty that’s owned by his father-in-law Jimmy Orr.
Tisdale’s hunting spot is described as pastureland surrounded by pockets of trees. “The place attracts a few deer since we set out a deer feeder — mainly does,” said Tisdale. “Once in a while my father-in-law sees a small buck.”
On Dec. 9 last season, Tisdale went out for an afternoon hunt in hopes of nailing a big doe to feed a church friend’s family — and maybe to win the big-doe contest as well. At 2 p.m. he got inside a ground blind that his wife Susan had bought him and began his frosty vigil. The weather was bitter cold and going downhill fast.
“It was sleeting and snowing lightly and very cold,” recalled Tisdale. “My small propane heater had just quit and I was freezing. I had a friend hunting a few miles away, so we text messaged each other to encourage us to keep hunting and not give up.”
At 4 p.m. a small doe came out, and soon a big doe followed that Tisdale ranged at 43 yards. Not feeling comfortable with that long a bow shot, Tisdale waited, hoping the big doe would come closer. Meanwhile, 114 yards away, Orr watched his son-in-law from the confines of his warm house.
At 5 p.m. a big buck walked out 35 yards away and headed to Tisdale’s feeder, but Tisdale’s gaze stayed on the big-bodied doe still out of bow range. As Tisdale watched the buck, he was amazed at the large rack the animal carried. Convinced the doe was not coming any closer, and with a buck tag left over, he drew on the buck and released what turned out to be a perfectly placed arrow.
The buck bolted when the arrow struck, giving Tisdale reason to walk to his father-in-law’s house to warm up and drink a cup of coffee. After waiting 30 minutes, Tisdale returned and found the buck dead only 70 yards from his ground blind.
“The buck was crystallized with ice,” Tisdale said. “He was a beautiful deer. It was really an emotional time!”
Tisdale’s 15-point non-typical buck scored 162 1/8, and was taken on his father-in-law’s birthday. Ironically, the buck would have won the big-buck contest — if Jonathan had entered it!
DRESS FOR DECEMBER
My first time to hunt in late winter was pure misery. My clothing, which I thought would be adequate, left me shivering. The only rattling that came from my tree stand that day was from my teeth. Since that time, I’ve learned ways to stay warm and endure the worst weather an Oklahoma winter has to throw at me.
Most experts agree that the secret to staying warm lies in layering your clothing. I do too! Start off with a good base layer, following that with polar fleece or wool clothing. But don’t overdo it: Remember that if your garments are too bulky, they can hinder your drawing a bowstring at that critical moment of the hunt.
One of the newest innovations in clothing is made by Oklahoman Rob Cleveland, owner of Talent Sport Inc. (1-888-447-2962). This year Cleveland is introducing a garment called StormSkin’s.
“I developed a garment that is lightweight, totally waterproof and windproof, and while replacing a jacket will keep a hunter warm in temperatures below freezing,” touted Cleveland. “Best of all, the entire garment is anti-microbial and renders a hunter totally scent-free.”
Warm boots are necessary too. I learned that lesson years ago when my feet went numb while I was perched over an active deer trail. I remedied the problem by getting some Pac-style boots that have a removable insulated liner. I wear one pair of good wool socks, and my feet have never been cold.
Headwear is one of the most overlooked but most important areas of winter dress. The human body loses most of its heat through the head, and so a good covering is essential to prevent loss of excess body heat. I like to wear a camouflage polypropylene stocking cap. On really bitter cold days with wind, I wear a polar fleece facemask. Though I might resemble a character from a Stephen King movie, I stay warm, and that’s a big key to late-season hunting success.
An absolutely critical item on our list of necessities is a good pair of gloves. This is a crucial aspect of an archer’s attire, because a late-season archer has to be able to use his hands and fingers to hold and shoot the bow. I rely on a Gore-Tex glove on my left hand and a fingerless glove on my right. A right-handed shooter shooting with a mechanical release, I must have the dexterity necessary to properly operate the trigger.
My secret weapon for late-season hunting comfort is disposable handwarmers. In fact, I keep several in my fanny pack at all times. These inexpensive hand heaters, activated by rubbing them together, are a lifesaver while waiting on stand for a shot at a deer on a cold morning.
Don’t forget to practice shooting your bow while wearing heavy winter clothes. I’ve been asked if archers should lower the draw weights of their bows in the winter. My response is that if you can’t draw your bow while sitting down in a chair with your heavy winter clothes on, then you’re probably trying to shot too much draw weight anyway.
With the faster speeds of modern compound bows, shooting heavy draw weights might be a macho thing, but it’s rarely needed to kill a whitetail. Rather, the accurate, well-placed shot is the key to a quick, humane kill.
December is a busy month with so many things competing for our attention. However, I believe Justin McDaniel said it best: “If you really enjoy deer hunting you’ll hunt in December.”
Well said — but I believe Tisdale offered some savvy advice as well: “You can’t kill a deer if you’re sitting on the couch!”
Just remember that the state’s weather can change in a moment’s notice and be prepared for unstable conditions. And when the opportunity arises, take a doe — if you have any doe tags left over, that is!