Everyday Outdoors: Late season deer hunting

After West Virginia’s general firearms season ends in early December, there are still plenty of deer hunting opportunities available in the Mountain State. Depending on which county you hunt, there may be one or more antlerless seasons, muzzleloader season, as well as late archery. This is also a great time of the year to learn a few things about your local deer herd.

The open woods of winter make scouting much easier than earlier in the Fall. It is a great time to see which areas and trails were recently and most heavily used. Of course, this is the most likely time to have snow on the ground in this area, which makes finding tracks and trails much easier.

One often overlooked aspect of late season hunting is the “second rut”. While usually not as intense or widespread as the main rut in November, the rutting activity in December can present great hunting opportunities, as well as help us figure out some things about the deer herd in a given area.

A Morgan County buck during last year’s muzzleloader season.

If there is not much evidence of significant rutting activity in December, it is likely that most of the available does were bred in November. This indicates that the area probably has a pretty good buck to doe ratio, which is good for the herd. If there is some rutting activity in mid to late December, but the bucks are mostly chasing young does that were born the previous Spring, that is a good sign that the deer are healthy and getting enough food. Try to get a good look at the does being chased. With some practice, you can learn to recognize the short nose and juvenile body of deer born the previous Spring. The 6- or 7-month-old does coming into estrous means that they have attained enough body weight and are maturing quickly, which indicates a healthy herd. If there seems to be a full-blown rut in December, with adult does being chased, it is likely that many of the available does were not bred during the first rut in November, and came back into estrous 28 days later. This could mean that there needs to be more does taken off the property, and/or fewer bucks. Pay attention to what the deer are telling you.

Whether you are looking to put a deer or two in the freezer, hoping for one more chance at a big buck, or simply trying to figure out things to make you a better hunter next year, there are lots of good reasons to be in the woods for the late seasons.

Wade Shambaugh has lived in Morgan County his whole life and is a lifelong outdoorsman.