December 01, 2015

High winds and swirling tornadoes of snow highlighted my December hunt as I slipped into the big buck bedding area in search of a monster buck nicknamed Thor. The monster deer got its nickname because it is a mythical beast, the kind of buck you never see on stand but you know he is alive because occasionally his image would show on my Stealth cam. I chased him for years but could never get a shot as his huge ghostly figure melted into underbrush. I’d guess his weight over 300 pounds because he had an unbelievable massive body like a Greek God. This brute was at least 6 years old when I decided to stalk him in the thick brush. I got kissin’ close because the soft snow concealed my footsteps and howling wind put the brute in lockdown. I got inside 12 yards and caught the monster curled in a tight circle in his bed. I readied the Horton crossbow but could not get a shot because brush blocked the path of the powerful bolt. That’s when he got on to me, stood up and took a glimpse of my human form standing less than 15 yards away and he blew and ran the opposite direction.

I followed him in the scope and eventually put down the crossbow and snapped shots with my camera. Then, to my left I detected movement and out of the corner of my eye I could see antlers. They were tall, white looking against the thick alders and pine boughs as I slowly reached for the crossbow and shouldered the weapon. The second big buck had no idea I was kissin’ close as he watched Thor bounce into the forest. When the big 10-point finally noticed me and stared my direction it was too late. I touched the sensitive trigger and heard the thwack as the Spitfire open on impact broadhead sliced through skin and bone. The adult buck charged through the brush snapping twigs like a runaway freight train then collapsed into a pile making a large puff of snow when his big body hit the dirt.

But there is more to this story then me simply shooting a big buck. Timing was critical to success and of course I knew exactly where the bucks were bedded and used the nasty swirling winds to conceal my stealthy approach. I knew there were no other human intruders to alert them. Perhaps the biggest advantage of December hunting is bucks are very predictable, somewhat easy to pattern.

There are still mature bucks roaming Michigan’s countryside and chasing a brute can be productive as winter beckons, nights grow longer and megabucks go on a feeding spree. photo by Kenny Darwin.

Don’t get me wrong, I love chasing bucks during the glory days of October and November when weather is mild and bucks are chasing does. However, once the guns of autumn announce hunting season the bucks go into defensive mode and spotting a shooter is a big problem in Michigan. Once gun season ends and the woods become quiet again deer begin using traditional travel routes and quickly establish a feeding pattern. The trick to hunting success hinges on cold weather; how well you scout, identify buck movements and take stand to intercept hungry critters.

Cold weather, snow and freezing temperatures can be the key to success. If December weather is mild, bucks will remain in a nocturnal pattern and they spend daylight hours tucked into a thick swamp resting. However, howling winds and below freezing temperatures will cause them to head for feeding locations during broad daylight. Southern Michigan deer begin moving to agricultural fields when the sun touches the horizon and temperatures plummet. Most are headed to stubble corn fields, but if bedding areas are found near alfalfa or beans, look for bucks to be munching on the food sources close to cover. The same holds true for food plots, bait piles or ridges covered with acorns and you can expect to see deer as daylight makes the transition into darkness.

The trick is to locate a big buck hideout and intercept bucks enroute to the dinner table. In southern Michigan small tracts of land near sanctuaries can be the key to scoring on a wallhanger. Look for metro bucks to take refuge in airports, city parks, condo developments, golf clubs, cemeteries and more.

It is a good idea to talk with UPS drivers, night shift police; people who drive a lot at night to locate a big buck near your home. Once you locate a hot spot get permission to hunt and begin by setting out food under the watchful eye of trail cameras. The idea is to avoid hunting until you are certain a big boy lives in the area. Once you have a buck pinpointed I recommend you use bait to bring him out from hiding. My choice is shelled corn mixed with Kaytee nut and fruit bird food during December and I like to replenish baiting locations during lunch break when bucks are bedded. The trick is to condition a particular shooter, get him hooked on your chow and teach him to visit your stand location during broad daylight. Sure you have to talk to plenty of folks and knock on a lot of doors to gain access to productive buck properties. Again, after rifle deer season your chances of getting permission soar.

December is when you want to remain comfortable while on stand and you need to wear insulated boots, heavy coat with hood, gloves and warm stocking hat. Make certain you use hand or toe warmers to keep circulation in the extremities sharp enough to help you draw a bow or steady a gun. Smart hunters set up next to food sources that draw deer. You will discover the best spots for deer hunting are not far from corn fields, acorns or inner-city backyard feeders. Food plots can draw deer for miles during December and bait will be gobbled at lightning speed when the weather turns cold. Avoid being detected by deer when you exit your stand after dark.

Some hunters use permanent blinds, pop-up blinds or simply hug a tree. The most productive hunting strategy is to go airborne and skinny up a tree and take stand. Variables in terrain make it difficult to estimate the best height for a stand. Most hunters prefer a height of around 18 feet, a respectable height for good visibility and added advantage to avoid a deer’s sense of smell. Regardless of height, select a background that breaks up your human outline. Select a tree with few overhanging limbs to block your shot or trim branches so you have a nice clean shot. The trick to buck success hinges on finding the deer first and the tree second. Try to place stands downwind from travel routes and make certain to use products that eliminate human odors.

Smart buck hunters seek out travel corridors, funnels or bottlenecks where deer walk past stands in easy range. Place your stand to the side of the activity and adapt to deer behavior. Smart hunters move to exact locations where deer are active. Never overlook the power of food sources in December and take stand close to the dinner table. When hunting over food try to exit your stand at night without spooking deer.

Monster bucks always have a honey hole where they can hide from humans, predators and linger until the last light of day. My hottest buck magnet is a huge swamp that is filled with head-high cattails. Big bucks love cattail sloughs, thick alders, tall grass, pine forests, standing corn and swampy low lands too wet for humans. Bucks feel secure in marshes and sleep in the junk all day and reserve feeding forays for night when they raid local neighborhoods, fields or food plot sources. Savvy hunters place stands at the edge of prime buck cover.

Years ago I learned to play the wind and never take stand if your scent is blowing into a likely buck lair. Search to find the preferred trails bucks like to use and try to set up crosswind from bedding areas. Most wise old bucks do not like to walk downwind and prefer to move upwind or crosswind. It’s kind of risky business to set up stands with only a 20 degree wind advantage but big deer like to move

with the wind slightly in their favor. This

means if the wind shifts or is swirling you

need to back out of there before your big boy

is alerted.

I’m a stalking fool and love to spot and sneak up on waterfowl, coyote, turkeys and especially deer. Come December I modify my tactic and slip into bedding areas that I know hold big bucks. Sometimes I get kissin’ close and zap them in their bed. Other times I push him out to my buddies who are waiting on stand. December is a perfect month for stalking deer, snow covers your footsteps and you stay warm as you slip through the underbrush. This is an excellent opportunity to get on the ground and scout your hunting property, evaluate deer sign like rubs, scrapes, beds, runways and get a better look at primary bedding locations. If I know where a particular buck is hiding I’ll wait until conditions are ideal and make my move. I love slipping into a big buck’s bedroom under the cover of fog, drizzle, high winds that hide my approach or when snow is falling. For this brand of hunting move slow as molasses, avoid herky jerky movements and use complete camouflage to conceal your human outline.

Once in a while I’ll use rattling to stir bucks in deep woods hideouts. Grunts can bring them running if you sound like a buck on a hot doe’s trail. In southern Michigan bucks continue with breeding chores through December. But I truly love to paint my face to look like oak tree bark, cover hands with camo gloves, put on camo boots, bibs, jacket with hood and slip into a big buck’s bedroom when conditions work to my advantage. This tactic is deadly but requires advanced woodsmanship skills and a willingness to slip through the underbrush like a cheetah on the prowl. Sometimes you catch them dozing and the kill comes fast and easy. Other times close encounters with mature bucks come swiftly to an end because they see, smell or hear you and dash for safety before you can get off an accurate shot.

What about you? Are you ready to get outdoors and organize a deer drive? Do you have a dandy buck pinpointed and are you on stand when bucks come dancin’ at sunset? December is a great month for deer hunting in Michigan. Don’t miss the opportunity to go afield soon! I guarantee the woods will be all yours and when you down that big trophy you will agree that December is the best.