Thanksgiving Whitetail Strategies
Thanksgiving is an awesome time to get out after a nice buck. Many of us burn our off days on the rut, but thankfully many companies give their workers at least a couple of days off around thanksgiving. Using those days to hunt down a big buck is very possible. In this article, we are going to go over how you can expect deer to behave around thanksgiving and how to capitalize on it.
What to Expect Around Thanksgiving
In many parts of the United States, the main part of the rut will be winding down or will be over during the week of thanksgiving. Although the peak of the rut has come and gone, there is still a ton of opportunity to kill a nice buck.
At the start of the season, and the rut, you likely saw plenty of smaller or younger bucks running around. During the rut, they were plenty busy chasing does. However, now that the rut is over they are focused on bulking up for the winter. Mature bucks will be the only ones still looking for does.
During this time a handful of does are going to come into estrus. This is what we call the second rut. Mature bucks are old enough to have seen this before and know what’s going on. So they will be the ones on the prowl for the few does that are still unbred.
This is not going to be a full time job for mature bucks though. They are still going to need to recover from the start of the rut. All deer are going to put a lot of effort into eating during this time, so make sure you know where the best food sources are and have a stand ready.
Take Advantage of the Hunting Pressure
Another thing you need to think about is just how much pressure deer have been seeing the past few months. If you are hunting public land, those deer have likely been pushed around since September. If you have done a fair bit of hunting on your own land, the deer know you are there.
So during this time of year, mature bucks are going to be even more seclusive than normal. You will have to figure out where those mature bucks are staying during the day if you want to get a shot at them.
So if you want to figure out where those deer are, you have got to figure out where the least hunting pressure is. To do that, you need to use Deer Brain’s Heat Map feature. You can use this feature inside of the Deer Brain app. Here is a quick rundown of how it works in a video,
After you go through and make your heat map of the property you hunt, you can see exactly where the most hunting pressure is. Then you of course want to hunt close to where there is not any hunting pressure. Just make sure that you do not go up in the middle of a low pressure haven and push deer out of there into a neighboring property.
These low pressure areas can be the golden ticket during this time of year. So the first step of hunting thanksgiving week is to figure out where deer are not seeing a lot of pressure. Then you want to use one of a few different strategies to get that buck on the ground.
Hunt the Best Weather, or Don’t
Since deer have been pushed around so much, it is important that the remaining sits you have this year are as effective as possible. That means you want to wait for the best conditions possible.
Ideally, you will want to hunt during a nice cool day with low to medium winds and low air pressure. Hunting before or after a few days of rain or harsh conditions would also be awesome.
Basically, you want to hunt a nice cold day or before and after a weather pattern that is going to keep those hungry deer bedded. You can bet those deer are going to be moving before and after harsh weather so they can put on as many pounds as possible.
If you have the option to wait on good weather or favorable conditions, you should. Although that is not an option for many of us. So if you only have these next four or five days during thanksgiving week to hunt for the rest of the year, you better get in the stand regardless. I would not personally give up three or four days to hunt this week unless the weather was really bad.
Trade in the Bow
If you do not have that many hunts left in the year, I would suggest changing up what weapon you are using. If you are like me, you love bow hunting. I know how thrilling it can be and I do it every year. Although when it is getting down to the wire, I always grab my rifle if possible.
A deer doesn’t know the difference between dying from a gun or a bow, and after all a dead deer is a dead deer. So if you can, consider bringing a rifle or at least a muzzle loader into the woods this week. If it is the last hunt of the year for you, you just may regret having to watch a nice buck walk by 20 yards past your comfortable range while you only have a bow in your hand.
Plus it may be more difficult to bow hunt this week anyway just based on the temperature. If you have to be bundled up, it can be hard to pull a bow back. I have had a problem many times with my heavy jacket getting in the way of my bowstring during a shot, or just being too bundled up to work effectively in the stand with a bow.
Know What The Deer Want
During the late season most of your deer are going to be focused on feeding. Even those mature bucks that know there are does to be bred will need to stop and feed occasionally. That is why you can really take advantage of food sources during this time of year.
Even though a few bucks will be looking for those last does in estrus, their behavior will not look like peak rut behavior. We all know how deer will run all over the place during the peak rut, but during the late season/second rut your bucks are going to be lightly cruising and taking some time to fill their stomachs.
Every deer knows that winter is only a month or so away so they are stocking up as much fat as they can. Even the mature bucks that want to breed the last does know that if they do not add on some pounds they may not make it through the winter. This is especially true in the northern states.
That is why you can always bet on food sources during this time of year. The only problem is picking the right one to hunt over. If you have food plots, now is their time to shine. Agriculture fields will always have a bit of leftover corn or soybeans that drop during harvesting too.
Fruit trees will not be a factor during this time of year, but white oak trees with a good acorn crop could be your golden ticket. Good acorns are a highly preferred food source for whitetails, so if you have a patch of producing trees, it may be a good place to hunt.
The best possible place to hunt during this time would be on a funnel/pinch point leading to a feeding area from a bedding area. We know that deer are going to be feeding, so if there is an area that funnels deer wanting to go to a preferred food source, you could sit within bow range.
Plus if a lot of deer are using that trail, you can expect a hot doe or two to use it as well. Then those bucks that are still looking for does are sure to come through that funnel even if they are not after the food on the other side.
Try Out Some Scents
This time of year is an awesome time to use deer scents. Like I have mentioned before, there are only a handful of does still in estrus during this week so hanging your own doe estrus scents could bring in quite a few bucks.
Normally I always try to slip in and out of my stand as stealthy and scent free as possible. This normally means that I take a path to my stand that I do not expect deer to take. This keeps a lot of deer from crossing my path and catching the scent I left behind. Although when the season starts coming to an end, I get a little more aggressive.
Instead of taking a sneaky path to my stand, I put some hot doe urine on one of my boots. Then I walk right down the trail I expect deer to come from. It is important that you try not to touch anything else like branches or trees. The only scent you want to leave is the doe estrus.
Once I get close to my stand, I normally hang one of those scent wicks with doe urine on it close by. It gets the attention off my specific tree and can keep you from getting busted by non shooters sometimes. Plus the scent from those is normally much stronger than my walking path, so it could attract more deer.
I have done this many times, and more often than not, I will see a buck come right down that trail with his nose to the ground. The bucks that I do not want to shoot often wind up close to the bottom of my tree or smelling the scent wick.
Keep Using Calls
Other than the scents, I still give calling a go. I don’t love rattling during the late season. I know people have success with it, but I haven't and I much prefer using a grunt tube. So I let out a few blind grunts every now and again.
If I manage to see a nice buck that does not look like he is going to come in my direction, I let out a soft grunt. Then I work the aggressiveness up until I have his attention. Sometimes I have grunted to bucks and they come right in, other times the softest grunt can send them running. It all depends on the area. Although if I have a buck that just doesn't care about my grunting at all, I let out a snort wheeze as a last ditch effort to bring him in.
Throughout most of the day I like to use the grunt tube, but during the early morning and late evening I like to try out a doe bleat. I just do a couple of bleats to see if anything wants to check it out. Sometimes you get a deer or two to come looking for you, but a lot of the time nothing happens, so I mainly focus on grunting or just being silent.
If you know from experience that the deer in your area don't care about grunting, or run away at the softest grunt, just rely on the scents and be silent. I think we sometimes get a little tied up in the calling and forget that sometimes the best call can be silence.
To wrap it all up, you want to focus on food sources during the week of thanksgiving. Ideally you can hunt a funnel leading to a food source. The mature bucks are still going to be looking for the last does in estrus, so using some of your own doe estrus in the form of scents can be extremely effective during this time of year. I also like to use my grunt tube liberally during this week. While most of the rut is over, bucks are still moving. Plus all deer are going to be feeding in preparation for winter. So stick to food sources and funnels for the best chance at a thanksgiving buck.
Written by Patrick Long of Omega Outdoors