This post is from a newsletter compiled by Craig and Neil Dougherty,  in which they summarize whitetail activity across the nation per a group of thousands of hunters sending in their observations from across the country. So read on for some great insight from the whitetail woods, and be sure to sign up for this report to be sent to you directly if you enjoyed! (click here to sign up) – MK  

By Craig & Neil Dougherty

With the rut officially over, it’s time to shift to hunting food sources and keeping your eye on the Weather Channel. Late season bucks are recuperating from two months of intense activity and that means food and rest. The wildcard in the equation is severe winter weather which will force them into daytime feeding activity.

The Rut Takes It’s Toll

A rutting buck typically looses 20%-25% of their body weight which is a lot of weight. Skin a good northern whitetail buck in mid-October and he is likely to be covered with fat. Skin the same buck two months later and he is all muscle. This would be fine if he was a prize fighter, runway model, or long distance runner, but he is a white-tailed deer headed for winter; a winter that will require him to live off his body reserves. When there is little food to be had, the fat goes first and then the muscle.

Neil hunted an Adirondack property last weekend with a client he has worked closely with for a number of years. The client shot a late season buck that had absolutely no body fat at all when skinned. In fact, the muscle flesh looked grainy and was as hard as a board. What was the buck doing when shot? Chowing down on brassicas; rebuilding what he had lost. He was at least 6 years old and weighed in at a svelte 205 lbs. The year before they shot 2 pre-rut mature bucks that tipped the scales at well over 300 lbs. This buck may not have weighed 300+ pre-rut but he was a whole lot heavier than 205. Probably a good 250.

Interestingly, the only time this buck was ever seen on this property was in the late season when winter conditions set in. The year prior he showed up for the first time in December. He did the same the year before that. They have the sheds to prove it. This year, with this buck in mind, the boys decided to keep the pressure off the property until the end of the season. They were waiting for him when he showed for his late season feeding frenzy. He died exactly one year to the day he showed up last year. This guy appeared to spend most of his time elsewhere and move into the rich food areas only at the onset of winter weather. Lesson learned, big bucks crave late season carbs and are creatures of habit. Also, if you want a big buck to show up on schedule keep the pressure off!

Speaking of keeping the pressure off, some of you may remember a buck we call Survivor. He had a very distinctive upturned rack and there is no mistaking him. Neil has played off and on with him for the past 6 years (really). He noticed him at 3, grazed him 3 years ago at 6, and has seen him in the same general location every year since then. Every year he looks for him. He would be 9 this year if he made it but hasn’t appeared on camera all year—–until yesterday. A photo of Survivor beamed into Neil’s cell phone last night at 6:00. Needless to say, Neil will be in the woods the next few evenings for a return engagement. This old buck is also a creature of habit. His habit is staying alive and he is darn good at it. But, his habit is also to hang in the same area, an area Neil has been resting since the opening weekend of gun season. Stay tuned.

Our deer sightings have been up lately. They are definitely back on the feed and the rut is a thing of the past). The does and fawns are coming to the plots and the bucks are starting to return. But they are plenty wired. They run from road traffic, bolt when they hear something, and spend as much time looking for danger as they do feeding. What a difference from the early season.

Our older aged bucks are alternating between resting their tired and beaten bodies and feeding when they can; and that means feeding without getting shot. Old timers are plenty smart they have been hunted all season and they are not about to waltz out into the middle of a turnip patch and take one in the ribs. They are still wired from being hunted all fall and none too eager to wind up in a skinning shed. They feed under the cover of darkness back in the thick stuff where they are hard to find especially during mild weather conditions. A great strategy for this time of year is to find and camp out in “clean zones” on your property. We have a good bit of success with this approach. That can make the hunting pretty tough. We were going to try to finish up our doe harvest this weekend but the return of Survivor might change that. The does might just get a pass, a pretty good argument for taking them early.

The Need to Feed

Whitetails are the ultimate survivors. Something tells them to put the weight (and fat) back on as winter approaches; that mean hitting high carb fat producing foods. Whitetail watchers from across the country are reporting food plots and crop fields loaded with deer. They are chowing down on turnips, and beets and kale and rape. Standing corn is covered up with hungry deer as are soybean fields and anywhere acorns can be found. Late season apples and fruits are hard to find but if available, they will draw a crowd.

A whitetail can generally paw through about 8″ of snow to find food before going to browse. If standing corn is available, he will be all over that. Low hanging limbs holding late leaves (some oaks) are an attractive to snowed in deer and anything with seed pods still on the stem, like multiflora rose hips, are used heavily as are certain standing forbs like goldenrod (p221).

The Weather Factor.

Harsh winter-like weather can be a game changer. Late season cold snaps and severe weather drive deer to feed during daytime hours and that often means places where they can be easily found. Once temperatures drop 10° below normal, a whitetail’s need to conserve energy intensifies and that means feeding during warmer, daytime temps. They may not feed during an intense winter event but they sure enough will as soon as the weather settles. They will feed as it approaches as well. Severe weather seems to trigger an “approaching winter warning” which sends them into a fat producing feeding frenzy. The need to feed will be on in full force.

If you’re interested in learning more about whitetails from Neil & Craig, pick up a copy of the Dougherty’s new book “Whitetails: From Ground To Gun

Quality Deer Management Association CEO Brian Murphy describes this book by saying it “provides detailed insight into what makes a great hunting property and how to consistently harvest mature bucks. It is a clear roadmap to QDM success.”

Pick up a copy today (click here to buy “Whitetails: From Ground to Gun”)