Deer season is running out of steam. The muzzleloading season goes until the 5th; a statewide antlerless season runs the 6th through the 9th. But you can argue that the big push ended a week ago when the rifle season closed. Muzzleloaders have their day and hunters love that nine-day stanza. And late season archers have another month. However, any time you get into December only the real hardy hunters remain. Weather can turn ugly, the holiday season kicks in, days shorten and the urge to hunt fades.
Late season deer hunters can have it pretty tough. Cold and snow make time afield difficult; deer move less in the cold, and the deer that have survived the long season are battle tested and wary. The one thing that deer do have is a desire for food that is a source of energy and that, in the natural world, means acorns. A good crop this year over most of the north should provide a prime draw for December whitetails.
Deer don’t want to travel very far in the cold so expect to find bedding areas near the food source. Runways between the two areas can often be productive for cold weather hunts. There are still deer to be taken; it now comes down to how persistent the hunter will be.
The same cold that is affecting hunting is helping make ice on lakes. This week saw a number of lakes locked up even as other, deeper waters stayed open. All of which leads to the one fact of early ice: It does not form uniformly on all lakes. Which brings to the fore the early season caution: Do not assume ice is safe. It often is not. Some back bays may well be thick enough in the next days to support weight, but the majority of ice over deep water will not be thick enough.
Early season fishing can be very good; it can also be hazardous. We always advise holding off and waiting for good ice before venturing out. And we think most lakes are not there yet and will not be for a while.
Grouse hunting continues and can be very good, albeit challenging, in December. As with most game, the key is to find good food sources near thick cover. This time of the year, that usually means young popple stands for grouse or, if the snow cover is thin enough, oak stands where grouse, like deer and turkeys, dine on fallen acorns.
The Outdoor Report is provided by the staff of Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander.