I’ve been hunting whitetails for more than 40 years, and nothing a mature buck does surprises me anymore. Nothing. I learn new things every season, and so should you. Here are 5 takeaways from the 2021 season.
Stop Complaining and Hunt The Heat
During early bow and black-powder seasons in Virginia last October, temperatures hovered in the 70s and even 80s some days. In mid-November, I traveled to north-central Saskatchewan, where average temps should be in the teens and low 20s that time of year. Afternoons in the bush were a balmy 50 degrees. One sunny day in Oklahoma in late November, it was a record 88 degrees! Long story short, I hunted hard for 2 months in all these places and didn’t see a mature buck.
I’m sure you can relate. Warm to crazy hot weather is here to stay from September into November in most regions of whitetail country. Stop complaining about it and go hunting. Lots of mature bucks and some 170- to 200-plus giants are killed on sweltering days by hunters who stay positive, grind it out and make their luck.
Mature Bucks are More Nocturnal Than Ever
I’ve been both awed and frustrated by the nocturnal tendencies of old bucks for years, but last season was ridiculous. Everywhere I went, from Virginia to Canada to Indiana, mature bucks showed up on camera at night but hardly ever moved in daylight. On all the lands, hunting pressure, which can turn bucks nocturnal overnight, was light to nonexistent. Was this just me, or were other hunters experiencing the same?
“We saw exactly the same thing on our north-central Pennsylvania farm,” said deer biologist Kip Adams in an email. “And I know of many folks in the eastern half of the U.S experienced the same thing. I firmly believe it had to do with the unseasonably warm temperatures. At least on our farm, mature bucks, and most does for that matter, were not hitting our traditional November/December food plots of corn, brassicas and winter cereal grains until after dark. We take extreme care to not pressure our best food plots, but even those were pretty empty during shooting hours last fall.”
I do not expect last fall to be a one off. With warm weather likely to dominate deer seasons to come, you’ll have to deal with bucks that are more nocturnal than ever. You’ll need a break to score, read on.
Capitalize on a Weather Change
After a week or two of warm days and nights, a shot of cool, fresh air often kicks bucks into moving but sometimes just for the first few hours. If you’re not out there in your best stand the minute the weather turns and drops the temperature 10 or 20 degrees, you might miss out.
Last November Mark Velez, a Purple Heart veteran of the Afghanistan war, hunted with us in Virginia. For 4 days the temperature hovered in the upper 60s; Mark saw 30-some does and 2 spindly bucks.
At 3:00 p.m. on the fifth afternoon, I dropped Mark at his stand just as a dry front rolled in from the northwest, cooled the temperature 20 degrees and erased the stagnant humidity from the air. Thirty minutes later I got the text, Big Deer Down. The first deer to come by that afternoon was a beautiful 140-class 8-pointer and Mark smoked him.
Watch the “hourly” on your favorite weather app and be in position the minute the weather changes and crisp air moves in because the next few hours can be your best chance to get your buck.
Moon and the Rut
In 2021, there was an early “rutting full moon” on October 17. In my annual moon-rut predictions I wrote: “October 20 through the waning gibbous moon on the 27th wouldn’t be a bad week to try (last) season. The moon will be bright and a good number of adult does should pop into heat, kicking bucks into a frenzied if brief seeking mode. If you can push your off days into the last-quarter moon through October 31, do it.”
Recently I got an email from a bowhunter called Jimmy Belmore, who wrote, “Mike, you nailed it here in northern Pennsylvania. I took your advice and hunted the last week of October. Fresh scrapes everywhere, a couple of buck fights and lots of chasing. Shot a 160-inch non-typical 12-pointer. You made a moon believer out of me.”
There are many skeptics, both biologists and skilled hunters who pooh-pooh the moon and believe it has absolutely no effect on deer movement and the rut. Not me. For the last four decades, I haven’t missed a season where I didn’t hunt around and during the rutting full moon in late October or November. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that during the full moon and in the three days before and after it, I have seen increased buck movement, both on camera at night and, better, from a stand during daylight hours.
In 2022, the rutting moon will wax full on November 8, which is about as good as it gets for the bowhunter. The bright moon will expose the late pre-rut and begin to kick does into estrus. Take off and hunt this week and I predict you will see fair to extraordinary buck movement, especially if we get a few days of cool weather.
Don’t Overlook the Post-Rut
Last December 8, in a stand in southern Indiana, the cool air that blew through the windows felt good. At 3:45, does and little bucks started piling out in the cut corn. At 4:30 I couldn’t believe my eyes. A tank of a buck with a weird rack—4 on one side and a giant blade on the left–followed a doe out of the timber and approached my stand, a good hour before dark! My muzzleloader roared and the beast went down. He weighed 260 if he weighed a pound.
My final lesson: Hunt hard through the warm, tough days of bow season…keep your head up if the bucks go nocturnal and elusive during the rut…stay positive and keep grinding into December. When conditions finally turn in your favor later on in the season and you tag out, it’s all the sweeter.