If you’ve always hung up your bow at the end of peak rut you don’t know what you’re missing. Even in our northern latitudes, some years you may have rut activity that lasts through the month of December and even in to January. Even if all the does have been bred, ambushing a buck on his way to a food source to replenish the fat he lost during the rut is one of Mark and Terry Drurys’ favorite tactics.
How do you know which mode they’re in, breeding or feeding? Read the sign. If there are still a few does yet to be bred, then as far as the bucks are concerned, it’s still all about “perpetuation of the species.” In this case you should see significantly more sign than if they have gone into winter survival/putting on the feed-bag mode. When going into winter a very clear pattern starts to develop. The bucks will try to put on some of the weight that they lost during the rut and will begin trying to conserve energy. Unless they’re spooked, most of their travel will be done from the bedding area to a food source and straight back.
If all the does have not been bred, you’re probably better off using the same tactics that are common during the peak of the rut. Breeding or competition tactics can still work well. Hot doe vocalizations, aggressive buck calls or even rattling can still work well. Scents like Special Golden Estrus or #1 Select Estrus are “go-to” lures.
If breeding is finished you’re better off using their curiosity or hunger to your advantage. In this case, keep calling soft and social. Sometimes you can still fire-up a buck with a little aggressive calling or rattling, but it’s best to “test the water” first. Curiosity smells like Trail’s End #307, Golden Buck or plain buck or doe urine.
Regardless of which mode they happen to be in, to whitetails the time during late season is about filling their gut. A plot of brassicas like Deer Radish, Winter Bulbs & Sugar Beets or Maximum is a good bet in any case. Corn can also be good in absence of brassicas, but day in and day out, brassicas outperform corn in basically every category. A wise gamekeeper will have both in their plot.