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December's Diversified Hunting Opportunities-Tom Lounsbury

Wed, 01 Jan 2014 16:36:05 EST


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                             Decemberís Diversified Hunting Opportunities
By Tom Lounsbury

Due to the wonderful diversity of hunting opportunities that it offers, December is clearly one of my favorite months in the year. For a fact, I sometimes face a dilemma at times as to which hunting pastime here in the Thumb I want to pursue on a given day, but whatever decision I make, Iím never disappointed because I love it all, and look forward to this timeframe every year.
Deer Hunting.
Bowhunters have the entire month to pursue their quarry (December 1 - January 1) with a bow or crossbow, and if you donít bag your buck during the muzzleloader season (December 6-22), donít give up, because the last few days of December with archery tackle can pay dividends. Iíve had some fine opportunities at nice bucks during this timeframe. The Thumbís late antlerless firearms season starts Monday (December 23 - January 1) and I never hesitate to thoroughly enjoy this opportunity to add more prime venison to the freezer for the long winter months ahead and my entire family dearly loves to dine on venison.
Granted, a lot of bucks have been harvested by the time December arrives, but certainly not all of them. Actually, the final month of the year might be a great opportunity to bag a wily bruiser buck. Bucks enter the November rut in their best shape, but by the time December arrives, they have pretty much run off their fat reserves that are critical to winter survival. Food at this time becomes a critical priority for bucks and hunting in relation to key deer food sources can pay special dividends.
Antlerless deer also begin grouping up for the winter near areas that offer both shelter from frigid winds and storms, with an adequate food source nearby. Although weather plays an important role during all deer hunting endeavors, it is more so in the late season. Deer will be out feeding longer just before and right after a winter storm front moves through, so it pays to watch the weather reports and plan time afield accordingly.
While the November whitetail rut is the most prominent, donít rule out the December rut that follows exactly a month later. Does not bred during the first rut will be coming into their second heat, as well as some of the female fawns for the first time. Using deer calling and quality scents will work when this occurs. Iíve discovered that when you find the does, bucks arenít far away.
Hunting deer with a muzzleloader certainly has its challenges, with having only one shot followed by a slow reload being a major factor. Iíll never forget a special moment I had a couple Decembers ago when several antlerless deer came out of their bedding area near my (Luckyís) ground blind that I had setup in a transition zone between bedding cover and a food source. I had to pick a hole through the brush for the 60 yard shot and the lead doe was big and plump, so I immediately set my sights on her.
My vanity tells me that my carefully aimed shot was deflected by the brush, or I may have simply plain missed. Be that as it may, the doe looked in my direction after the shot, and began curiously stalking towards my blind, clearly trying to seek out the source of the loud noise. During my reloading process, the doe cut the range down in half, and stopped broadside to the blind just as I rammed the sabot down on the powder charge. I then reached for the tool containing my 209 primers that I had placed in my lap when I started reloading, and unfortunately it had slid off during the process.
Dark interiors are great at concealing your presence in a blind, but I discovered right away that during a lowlight period, such an atmosphere isnít conducive to locating small objects on the ground. This had me frantically running my hand around in search of the wayward primers that I never located until after the doe and the rest of the deer had moved off out of sight. Live and learn as they say.
Ruffed Grouse.
I thoroughly enjoy December grouse hunting (December 1 - January 1). Find nasty and thick cover, and you just might find grouse. When I do find and bag a grouse, I immediately check its crop to discern what it has been feeding on, and then I focus on that food source in the near vicinity, because the chances are Iíll find more grouse.
Using a good bird dog is my preferred hunting method for December grouse, but I have a friend that, lacking a dog, prefers locating grouse by following their fresh tracks in the snow. He uses a stop and go procedure when tracking that works well in flushing the grouse when he closes the gap. While my dogs may not appreciate it, I plan on trying this method right after a fresh snowfall.
Wild ďRing-neckĒ Pheasant.
The Thumb is experiencing its 9th December pheasant season this year (December 1 - January 1). Needless to say I have become quite passionate about this unique outdoor pastime. Anyone who thinks it is easy has obviously not tried it. Actually depending upon the weather, it can be one of the most challenging winter hunting pastimes going. I thought the tall grass was tough going in the earlier fall season, but add the often knee-deep snow to the equation and it can be downright brutal to both hunters and their dogs. The pheasants on the other hand tend to run circles around their pursuers in this environment. I know because thanks to the often present snow, Iíve seen their tracks defining this fact.
The roosters (only roosters are legal to shoot) are all fully hunter-educated at this time and have a whole bagful of elusive tricks to employ. Pheasants have very acute hearing and I learned a long time ago that when the birds hear anything suspicious, they do either a hover-up or wing-hop (Iíve observed both methods) in the grass, and expose just their heads to quickly pan the field for any possible danger. Since pheasants also possess acute eyesight as well as color perception, it doesnít take them long to figure out matters and plan evasive tactics accordingly.
If I go out with a group of hunters and dog bells are jingling, I have found strategically placing a hunter or two to block at critical points beforehand to be more effective than just the whole group setting out together. Iíve been blessed with the rare opportunity to act as a blocker occasionally (Iím usually a dog handler), and it isnít unusual to begin firing at birds vacating the field on the wing for neighboring cover past my position, while the dogs and other hunters are at least 200 yards away. Iím sure the roosters would have preferred to run most of that distance instead of flying, but had sensed my presence (especially when I began shooting) and flushed.
For effective December pheasant hunting when I am alone, I prefer to hunt ďsilentĒ by using just my female lab ďEbonyĒ who works close with few whispered commands, and doesnít require a bell to continually know of her whereabouts.
When Iím not Thumb deer, grouse or pheasant hunting in December, there is also rabbit, squirrel and predator (fox and coyote) hunting that have even longer seasons yet, to fill in the gaps.
The fact that all is conveniently available close to home here in the Thumb makes it even more enjoyable.
It has suddenly become that time of year, so Merry Christmas folks and happy December hunting, whatever it may be!

Randy Severance of Decker thoroughly enjoys every opportunity to hunt
December wild roosters in the Thumb.
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Aaron Hirsch of Decker enjoys December deer drives in the Thumb with
family and friends. This large doe was taken during an antlerless season
using a scoped shotgun and slugs.
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