The Rut Wanes, but Opportunities Still Abound in the Northeast

Image by William T Smith

Bucks now care more about their stomachs than does, making them susceptible to smart hunters

Each day brings a little less daylight as the calendar fades into the back half of most of the Northeastern states’ hunting dates. With the days ticking by, many hunters’ optimism for putting a buck on the pole is dulling.

This is far from a good reason to hang up your camo, and there’s still plenty of great post-rut hunting ahead. This past week’s report is a prime example of why. Deer activity was abundant, with almost everyone I spoke with talking about favorable activity and a surprising number of deer sightings during their time afield.

As bucks and does filter between food and cover, the guessing game the rut presents has all but vanished. Some weak-hearted rutting activity continues to crop up, but most of what outdoor writer Charles Alsheimer dubbed the “rites of autumn” are now beyond us. We’re back to what I referred to earlier in the year as food-is-the-mood hunting patterns, with great opportunities at various positions among the timber. Those with access to a reliable food source and preferred bedding areas will find deer can be easily patterned this time of year. Sprinkle in a dose of lingering lust and you have a recipe for success, despite what the calendar and waning hunter attitudes might say.

From New York, we heard from Just Hunt Club’s Eric Hansen, who detailed the conclusion of a two-year quest to kill a wide-racked mature buck he had gotten to know well. Eric had multiple encounters with this buck in 2021 and again in 2022, but he was struggling to close the deal during this year’s rut. With a post-rut hunger, the massive 20-inch-wide monarch made his way to food and encountered Eric’s well-placed bullet, putting an end to the multi-year saga.

“This time of year, you just need to keep poking around the edges and keep the pressure down,” he said. “They’re going to hit the food, even this deep into gun season, if you don’t let them know they’re being hunted. My entry and exit is really low impact and lets me keep hunting these deer every day.”

Eric also discussed how exceptional the number of deer sightings have been these past few weeks, since temperatures moderated. That sentiment was shared by several others this week from almost the entire region. That brings into question this past week’s comments about the lack of mature doe sightings and activity. Were they just locked down and in different locations? This week’s reports point to that being the case, but there’s no question this has been one of the most unique hunting seasons many can remember.

I also experienced some success afield. This past Monday afternoon, while perched under an overhead moon, I sat in vigilant watch of a freshly cut corn field. My hope was to intercept a mature buck feeling the pangs of the rut’s rigor as he succumbed to the need to feed under the amplified thrust of a weather front’s advance. My hunch was right, and my aim and bullet true. As a result, I wrapped my hands around a beautiful set of 10-point antlers well before the day’s sunset. The distance from bed to feed was short, and the buck fed among almost a dozen other deer — bucks and does. Like Hansen, I agree earnestly that since the weather has normalized, deer activity has been unseasonably good, even in the face of the season’s highest pressure of many states’ firearm seasons.

Those recent conversations bring to the forefront of my memory that this is a great time of year to capitalize on deer activity, especially when they’re slaves to their stomachs. December can be one of the best times to hunt if we do our best to keep the pressure low and our stoke high. The biggest challenge seems to be maintaining enthusiasm when the tailwinds of the rut aren’t blowing in our favor, especially as the mercury drops and the sting of late-season headwinds chills our bones on an overcast day. However, as this week’s reports have proven, bucks and does are still active, still huntable and definitely not abandoning the countryside. As with all segments of deer season, there’s still opportunity, and it’s not quite finished yet. We just need to make wise decisions and do our best to take advantage of the opportunities we have.

(Don't Miss: Serious Sleeper States with Big Whitetails)

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Rubbing

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Fighting

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Seeking

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Chasing

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Breeding

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