November 30, 2022
The arrival of December means the end of the whitetail rut for many deer hunters, but not for all of them. While deer are transitioning to bed-to-feed behavior, especially in the East and Midwest, there still remains plenty of bucks looking to hook up, especially in the South.
Regardless of the rut stage at your hunting grounds, it's still a great time to tag out. You might need to make some tactical adjustments, however. Learn where and how below.
This is Week 7—the final edition of the season—of the Game & Fish Regional Rut Update, exclusive weekly rut reports from the field from whitetail contributors Dustin Prievo (East), Brandon Butler (Midwest), and Josh Honeycutt (South). Click here for last week's report. This week's report includes:
- In the East, Prievo reports that the rut is pretty much over in the northern half of the region, but there remains some rut activity to the south. With a cold front expected by the weekend, your best bet is to focus on food and transition areas late in the day in the north, and on doe bedding and feeding areas to the south.
- In the Midwest, it's much the same, Butler says, with post-rut patterns coming into place. There are bucks still seeking their last breeding opportunities, but it's probably better to adjust tactics toward food and bed.
- In the South, the rut is still very much in play in many states, Honeycutt reports. The peak of the rut is right on the doorstep from Alabama to Texas, but it's post-rut in many places to the east.
The Rut is Waning, But Bucks Are Still on Their Feet
Up north, the rut seems to have come and gone in most places, but hunters in areas with unbalanced deer herds, those hunting public lands and those who sustained a great deal of snow have continued to see bucks on their feet throughout the day. Does have almost gone into hiding, getting away from the bucks that pester them and looking to find alternative food sources. This has made the field hunting rather slow, and typical deer movement has been thrown off-kilter. Bucks still are looking for that last doe in heat or one just coming into estrous. It was a tough week overall; getting the opportunity on a buck took patience and perseverance.
In the southern part of the region, the past week brought a great deal of deer movement, and many bucks hit the dirt. Although things slowed down as far as rut activity, bucks were seen traveling well over a mile to find a doe in estrous. Hunters who sat all day found themselves getting opportunities on bucks late in the mornings and early in the afternoons. Many hunters reported seeing different bucks on their cameras than what they were used to, and for some this meant larger, more mature deer. For others it meant that their target bucks "disappeared." Those who focused on does were able to capitalize, as buck movement this past week focused heavily on doe bedding and feeding areas.
If you have not yet punched your buck tag, don't be discouraged. Personally, I look forward to December and January more than November, as bucks go back to being patternable—from food to bed, and bed to food—but are still actively looking to breed. The does that didn't breed and the fawns mature enough to breed make these months exciting. Most hunters give up after Thanksgiving, which puts deer a bit more at ease. Focus on late-evening food and transitional areas, especially with a good cold front, and you can really capitalize in December. — Dustin Prievo
Opening Day Success in Pennsylvania
- Hunter: Amanda Baker
- Date: Nov. 26, 2022
- Location: Elk County, Pa.
- Method: Rifle
- Stats: 147 6/8"
Amanda Baker harvested this 10-point buck on the opening morning of Pennsylvania's rifle season on a family-owned property in Elk County, Pa. The buck stepped out into a cut cornfield at 7:20 a.m. Amanda promptly shouldered her rifle and placed a perfect shot that dropped the buck in his tracks. This buck was seen over the past several years on trail cameras, and Amanda and her family have had a long history with the deer. Amanda had made the 10-point her primary target for this rifle season, and she connected during the first hour! — Dustin Prievo
Rut Crash Course: How to Hunt Funnels, Pinch Points (Video)
- Do the homework and increase your chances at a big whitetail.
Post-Rut Begins; Hunt Bed-to-Feed Patterns
The number of bucks roaming the Midwest has decreased now that many firearm seasons have come and gone. For example, Missouri hunters put the hurt on bucks. The Missouri Department of Conservation reported 197,724 deer killed during the November portion of firearms deer season (Nov. 12 to 22). Of those, 102,633 were antlered bucks, 16,929 were button bucks and 78,162 were does.
There are still plenty of opportunities to wrap your tag on a Midwestern giant. However, doing so will likely require adjusting your strategy a bit. You'll need to transition from thinking anything can happen (like during the rut) to focusing on travel patterns between feeding and bedding locations.
Jeff Lampe is a longtime deer hunter from Knox County, Ill. As the former publisher of a local outdoor magazine, Lampe keeps his ear to the ground concerning big bucks hitting the dirt in the Land of Lincoln. He was excited to report, by his estimation, that a ton of big bucks have been killed so far this year in Illinois. He said it was like a throwback to the good old days.
Unfortunately, Illinois is not the place to live if you like to spend a lot of time deer hunting with a gun. The first four days of the state's split firearm season have come and gone; the second split runs Dec. 1 to 4.
"Things were really hot in November but have calmed down now," says Lampe. "I'm not seeing as much daylight action, but of course there are fewer bucks around now that the first part of gun season is over. We did have quite a bit of rain, so bucks are back at the scrapes, opening them up in hopes of a hot doe coming through."
Up north, Lake of the Woods straddles the Minnesota and Ontario border. It's as far north as one can go to chase whitetails in the Midwest. In recent days, the main outdoor pursuit in the region has mostly turned to ice fishing, but a few big buck hunters are still out there.
"The rut is definitely behind us up here," says Brian Smith with River Bend Resort in Baudette. "There may be a few young does that get hot in the first part of December, but for the most part it's been over for a couple of weeks. There are still plenty of great bucks in the timber. You can catch them coming out into fields to feed at dusk."
At this point, the vast majority of does are past estrous. There are a few does coming into it now, especially younger ones. Bucks are still seeking out any last remaining breeding opportunities, but for the most part, it's time to start focusing on bed-to-feed patterns. — Brandon Butler
Read Last Week's Regional Rut Update
Iowa Hunter Harvests Corn-Fed Giant
- Hunter: Max Mongrello
- Date: Nov. 26, 2022
- Location: Iowa County, Iowa
- Method: Compound Bow
- Stats: 170 7/8"
Max Mongrello is a 25-year-old Southerner working to make his way in the Midwestern whitetail world. The Georgia native makes his living behind a camera filming hunts. His company, Maximum Exposure Productions, has done work for operations like Midwest Whitetail and Operation Impact 22.
"Operation Impact 22 takes disabled veterans on the hunt of a lifetime," Mongrello says. "They hunt for three or four days and get to see what Iowa whitetail hunting is all about. Many of these veterans are struggling mentally, and this experience is a huge pick-me-up. So not only do we want them to leave with a trophy buck, but also some helpful advice from guys who have been through it. It's an unbelievably rewarding thing to be a part of."
When he's not behind the camera, Mongrello spends his time working to punch his tags on trophy bucks. He did just that on Nov. 26 in Iowa County when he arrowed a 13-point giant that scored 170 7/8 inches.
"I got on this farm last year for the first time and had an encounter with him right away," Mongrello says. "My partner would have shot him, but he was on the wrong side of the fence. We watched him walk by us only six yards away."
The buck showed up on camera just once in the summer. Then, in October, he moved back into the area and was there until the end.
Mongrello says does have largely transitioned back to food over the last few days. And this is how he got a chance at his trophy.
"They're hammering cut corn and beans," the bowhunter says. "He came out following a group of four or five does. There were 40 does in the field and he pinpointed one. And a few little bucks were on her, too. When he came in range, I made the shot." — Brandon Butler
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The Rut is Just Getting Started in Portions of the South; Head to Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas for Action
While some Southern locations are past the peak of the rut, many places continue to experience breeding activity. Even better, rut behavior in a few areas is just starting to pick up, providing hunters who are willing to travel with a way to extend their rut hunts. We tapped into those in the know throughout the South to get the latest insider reports on where to find the best action. In addition, a review of historical rut data provided by state wildlife agencies reveals that the rut is just getting going in some places and has yet to start in others. Given this is our final rut report of the season, historical data offer a glimpse into what to expect in areas where the rut has yet to occur.
In Mississippi, the rut is beginning to show some life, but recent daylight movement has been minimal. UC Hunting Properties Land Agent Michael Roberson gives us the scoop from the Delta region.
"Movement is slow and mostly at night from what the cameras are showing us," he reports. "Scrapes are starting to open up, and a few of the smaller bucks are starting to bump does around the food plots that made it through our recent drought. Most deer are feeding on acorns and out in agricultural fields. It looks like we'll be seeing a cold front around the first of December, and hopefully that will really get them going."
Great Days Outdoor's Joe Baya reports from east-central Alabama. Baya was in deer camp last week, which provided some insight into breeding activity.
"Sadly, I had the flu and didn't hunt, but my wife hunted Tuesday through Saturday," he says. "Bucks are still grouped up and traveling established bed-to-feed patterns. Bucks are sparring but haven't yet established dominance. Does have kicked off their male fawns but are still with female fawns. My wife saw bachelor groups every day, ranging from four to six bucks."
Baya expects peak chasing to occur the week after Christmas. Until then, expect rubbing, scraping and fighting to ramp up daily.
Deer are just beginning to show signs of rut activity (scraping and rubbing) in Lawrence, Cleburne, Randolph and Chambers counties. The remainder of Alabama won't see the peak of the rut until mid-December (parts of Winston, DeKalb, Cherokee, Bibb, Houston, Henry and other counties) or sometime in January (90 percent of the state) to early February (in select south-central counties).
In Lone Star country, much of Texas experiences the peak rut in December. Activity in most of the western and northwestern regions kicks off in late November and carries over into December. A large portion of southern Texas, and even some central counties, fire up during the last 30 days of the year.
Duck Commander extraordinaire and Realtree pro staffer Justin Martin is seeing a declining rut in certain parts of Louisiana. Bucks have been chasing hard the past two weeks, but the action is tapering off now. However, historical data show a large swath of Louisiana has yet to see any rut activity. Numerous parishes won't hit peak rut for another month or two. Roughly the eastern half of the state, and some northwestern parishes, will see the rut fall sometime between early December and late February.
In Georgia, Realtree Road Trips co-host Michael Pitts says the post-rut has settled in throughout most of the state. "The mature bucks are run down from chasing," he reports. "I'm seeing bucks starting to feed a bit more, trying to put lost body weight back on. With the bucks not as worried about does, and hungry, they should go back to basic feed patterns, which will make them patternable again. Food plots will start becoming a good food source for deer and will be great areas to put some time in."
Outdoor videographer Clay Courington is seeing the same thing in Georgia. "Deer are still on some of the late does, but there is a push back to a bed-to-feed pattern."
Several Georgia counties, however, could see rutting activity into early January. Some of these include parts of Early, Miller, Seminole, Decatur, Grady, Catoosa, Whitfield, Murray, Fannin, Union, Towns and Rabun counties.
A handful of Arkansas counties see peak-rut action during the first two weeks of December. These include Arkansas, Ashley, Chicot, Crittenden, Desha, Lee, Phillips and Woodruff.
In South Carolina, the northern halves of Oconee, Pickens and Greenville counties are still seeing some chasing, but the remainder of the state has eased into a late-season pattern. In the west-central area of the state, C.J. Davis of Montana Decoy says the rut is virtually over. "My son killed a good 8-pointer for our area on November 19, which was following a doe. The next morning, I called in a little 4-point, and then someone shut the rut off. The weather got warm and rainy."
Although the rut is largely over in Tennessee, some late action is still going on, especially in the easternmost counties. Expect that to continue for another week or so. The same is true in North Carolina, except for its westernmost counties, which should see continued chasing through Dec. 10.
Florida deer are largely done with the rut. However, the western half of the Panhandle, and a 50-mile radius around Winterhaven, are now in the thick of it, or will be within the next three months, depending on the specific location.
In Oklahoma the rut is over, having run its course in early November. Deer should predictably move back to their bed-to-feed patterns on the best available food sources. Look for those quality food sources that were least affected by earlier dry conditions. — Josh Honeycutt
Persistence Pays Off in Tennessee
- Hunter: Nick Gatlin
- Date: Nov. 24, 2022
- Location: Lincoln County, Tenn.
- Method: Rifle
- Stats: 140 1/8"
Nick Gatlin recently hung his tag on a great Tennessee whitetail. Gatlin saw the buck last year and had gotten photos of the deer on trail cameras this season at night. However, he hadn't laid his eyes on the buck this year. Gatlin decided that if he saw the buck, he would take advantage of the encounter.
"His schedule was very sporadic, and he showed up on one of my cameras on November 20 while I was at church," Gatlin says. "I thought I had missed my chance. That Sunday morning was the only time I had a picture of him in daylight."
On Nov. 24, after hunting the buck for seven straight days, Gatlin got his opportunity. At 6:05 a.m., just minutes after legal shooting light, the big deer stepped into view.
"I'm pretty certain I bumped him on the way to my stand," Gatlin says. "I could hear him running a doe and grunting across the cornfield before shooting light. As it got light enough to see, I saw the doe first and then he popped out. He was too far for a shot, so I let him work his way toward me. Once within range I stopped him with a grunt call."
Gatlin ranged the deer then squeezed off the 128-yard shot, which hit the mark. The deer fell upon impact.
"This buck means so much to me; it was the reward for perseverance and patience," Gatlin says. "I'm thankful to God for the blessing of letting me harvest this awesome animal in a heavily hunted area."
For Gatlin, it is his best Tennessee buck, his first 10-point and first piebald. — Josh Honeycutt