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4 Keys to Hunting the Secondary Rut for Big Bucks

If you miss a buck opportunity during the heavy November whitetail rut and have a tag burning a hole in your pocket, don't forget about the second wave of breeding activity in December

4 Keys to Hunting the Secondary Rut for Big Bucks
When looking to punch your buck tag during last-call in December, a good strategy is to hunt near food sources. (Terry Owens photo)

If guarding red-hot food sources is a primary key to late-season big buck hunting success during the month of December – especially where second-chance bucks are concerned – then another key can certainly be the reappearance of the whitetail breeding cycle.

As in the secondary rut, something that occurs when does weren't bred in November cycle around again approximately 28 days later.

Or when a young-of-the-year doe cycles into estrous for the very first time, even if most of the herd is already done with the yearly breeding frenzy.

While the topic of a secondary rut is often debated by hunters – sometimes quite vigorously around a late-night deer-camp campfire – there can be little doubt that big bucks do still fall, even in the month of December, thanks to the whiff of an estrous doe.

Dallas-based deer hunter Sherman Wyman is one such hunter who benefitted from the secondary rut back on Christmas Eve 2005 as he sat in a hunting blind set up on his moderate-size low-fence ranch in northwestern Texas near the Red River.

Before Santa had even warmed his sleigh up good for the trip south later on that evening, Wyman had already tagged a late afternoon Christmas present for himself..

And that was a Boone and Crockett non-typical buck sporting a gross score of more than 240 inches and a net score of 226 4/8 inches.

As impressive as the buck was – it was one of the top bucks reported in all of Texas that particular year – it isn't the only bruiser buck Wyman has seen looking for love so late in the season.

"I've shot a lot of big deer around Christmas time," Wyman has told me about his December hunting efforts. "(Up in North Texas), everyone thinks once Thanksgiving or the first of December has come and gone, you're done."

Certainly with rutting behavior, at least.

But that's obviously not always true, even for second chance bucks that have survived several weeks of intense hunting pressure and near misses during the Texas archery and gun hunting seasons.

Why has Wyman been so successful in mid to late December when others have called it quits, licking their wounds until next fall?


First, because he routinely looks for reopened scrapes like the one he was actually hunting over in December 2005 when "Big Daddy" came rolling through.

Second, the Texan identifies and hunts near the region's preferred late-season food sources as mature bucks and does try to fatten back up again after the November rut's various rigors.

Because where there is food in December, there will be does. And where there are does in mid-December, there may one or two ready to breed.

Third, Wyman relies on the fact there are often a few late-born fawns coming into their first estrous cycle at this time, something a mature buck will certainly take notice of. First with his nose as he smells love on the wind, next with his feet as he gets up and seeks to breed that final doe of the year.

While some hunters argue about this idea of a visible secondary rut, Wyman isn't one of them. And mind you, he's got 226 inches of antler on the wall to prove that sentiment.

A final reason for Wyman's success in the year's final month is that the diligent Texas hunter punches the late season clock, all the way to the point where the annual deer hunting campaign's final bell has rung.

"How many guys do you know that were out on a deer stand on Christmas Eve?" Wyman queried me as we discussed all of this.

And my answer to that question was not very many, not very many at all.

In fact, it's only those hunters whose inner primal hunting fires burn brightly and hot enough to drive them out of the easy chair and into the late season woods in hopes of tagging a buck looking for a second chance at love.

Even if that second chance comes right at the season's final buzzer.

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