By Ben Smith:
It wouldn’t be far-fetched, I don’t think, to say that most whitetail deer hunters in Mississippi look forward to the rut more than any other time of the year. Obviously, the rut is when the majority of bucks mess up and let their guard down. You might go the entire month of November without seeing a buck, and then BAM you’re all of a sudden seeing a buck on every trip. But, what about after the rut? If you don’t fill your buck slots during the rut, what should you do when the rut winds down to avoid eating tag soup?
The Mississippi rut is a magical time in the woods, especially when the weather cooperates (seldomly) and you get deer movement during the daytime. The rut is an opportunity for hunters to potentially see bucks that have been giving them the slip through the first half of the season. On the other hand, the rut can make bucks very unpredictable. This can be a good thing, and it can be a bad thing. You might have a buck hanging out on your property only to be dragged away to another property by a hot doe. You may also be the beneficiary of a hot doe pulling a buck onto your place that otherwise would have never showed up. You just never know. The one constant is that hot does will get lovesick bucks on their feet. There’s no denying this. For me, this entire occurrence is sometimes painful.
As a hunter, I like predictability. If I know a buck is in an area and nothing is bothering him, I feel confident in the odds of being able to find him and kill him. The rut ruins that! I’ve mentioned before that I keep a journal of every single hunt that I go on. I keep up with weather conditions, pressure, moon phase, wind direction and speed. I also document everything that I see on each hunt. In doing so, I feel like I can consistently pattern deer movement and predict the most optimal times to hunt. During the rut, I can basically throw out most of my data and just hope that I’m in the right area at the right time. For me personally, that’s tough. Like I said, I like predictability and my experience is that late season bucks are more predictable than any other time of the year.
For the purposes of this article, let’s say that a whitetail buck has 3 basic needs: food, water, and safe cover. You could probably count the desire to reproduce as a “need”, but since we are talking about the post-rut, we’ll leave that one for another day. Without any one of the three aforementioned, your odds of killing a mature buck during the post-rut phase are probably slim.
Water. It’s the most basic need of survival for just about every living creature. In Mississippi, during the post-rut phase, it’s highly likely that water is the easiest to find of the three basic needs. By this time of the winter, we’ve usually had plenty of rain to fill ditches, ponds, small creeks, and rivers. If there’s no source of water on your property at all, it’s going to be difficult to keep a whitetail around for very long. A post-rut buck is going to spend some time near water to help replenish the fluids he’s lost over the last few weeks.
Cover. Mature whitetail bucks don’t just wander around out in the open. That’s how they get to be mature. We all know that when a buck starts daylighting out in the open it’s usually not long before there’s a picture of him on Facebook. Good cover is essential to hold bucks on your property. If you want to kill a late season buck, hang your set somewhere close to the thickest stuff imaginable on your property. It’s likely that your post-rut buck is using it to rest after spending the last couple of weeks without sleeping very much. He’s likely going to have more than one point of entry into this area, so make sure the wind is in your favor and not blowing into the thick cover, or it’s probable that your buck will slip out the other side.
Food. To me, this is the most predictable element when trying to kill a late season buck. Have you ever killed a buck right after the rut before? If so, did you notice how he had almost zero fat on him? Bucks will go for days at a time barely eating during the rut. When it comes to an end, they need to replenish the nutrients they lost while chasing does. Food plots are one of my favorite places to hunt during the late season, especially during the evening. I’d have to check, but I’m willing to bet that I’ve killed more food plot bucks during the late season than any other time of the year. A food plot that is a short distance from thick cover is the most ideal location for a post-rut buck.
Obviously, these things do not 100% ensure your success of bagging a late season buck, but it should up your odds. There’s always a little bit of luck involved. By the time this article comes out, deer season will be over for much of Mississippi. If you hunt the south zone of the state, the rut should still be in full swing. If you don’t bag your buck then, hang close to those thick bedding areas and slap some antlers on the wall to finish up the year!