Is this your most challenging month for hunting? It is for Jim Harper of Vicksburg.

"Opening weekend was so special this year," he said. "My oldest boy Jay was home from college, and the youngster of the house Ben was out of school in Vicksburg for a few days. My dad had the old farm along the Big Black River near Bovina in shape for the season, too. The food plots were in, the stands were cleaned out and set up, and the river was down. We had tuned bows and rifles ready to go.

"We had a great time through (November), saw a lot of deer running in the woods, put a couple in the freezer and of course, missed a few shots as well.

"But then comes December, and it seems like every year everything always grinds to a sudden halt. We continue to hunt nearly every weekend, but our time just doesn't seem to be as productive as earlier times in the year. And, heck, shouldn't the rut be kicking in about now, too? We're thinking hard how do we make the upcoming Christmas break more productive?"

If I have heard this commentary from a deer hunter once, I have heard it dozens of times. The irony seems to be that just when hunters ought to be expecting the season to really heat up, because of the rut kicking in, instead there seems to be a lull in the action come December. What's that all about? Many factors can contribute to these unexpected December cool downs. The trick is to figure them out, then hunt around them.

Deer are quite adaptable to situations that constantly morph in their habitats. Lots of things can change in a deer's living room since the opening day of bow season way back in October. Truth is, the average deer hunter never sees half of it going on right under his tree stand.

The first thing to change is the food supply. Deer foods that were highly sought after a month ago are probably mostly gone now. For example, by the second or third heavy frost, every persimmon has already been eaten by the deer or will now dry up and spoil. That is one food source out of the cycle. Honeysuckle may also be dwindled back by now. Lush grasses will be wilted too by the frost. So deer begin to move onto other foods. You have to find out what those are.

Check the acorn crop and other hardwood mast. Green plots if they are still green will be hit by deer but not likely with the frequency as earlier in the season. Your best bets on food plots now will be early and late in the day. Otherwise deer coming and going will likely just be a hit-and-miss proposition.

When the does start to yard up during the rut to be sorted and singled out by the bucks, then begin to observe food plots again. Waiting to witness the chasing frenzy will take some time in the saddle.

Whatever does find to eat this time of year is what you want to be hunting over or nearby. Wherever the does are, the bucks will show up eventually. As the season progresses, follow the food.

Since October deer hunters have been roaming the woods whether on your own private property or across the fence. Nearby to where you hunt, other hunters have been stinking up the woods, running dogs, riding ATVs or otherwise keeping the woods stirred up and not for the better. All this activity does one of two things to deer, or maybe both. It either spooks them completely out of the area or sends them nearly into hiding.

Often a reason or excuse deer hunters use for what happens when hunting pressure gets to be too much is that the deer go "nocturnal." I am not sure research on whitetails has ever proven deer would prefer the evening hours to daylight, but if the presence of humans is consistently prevalent, then it's common sense.

Whether deer will totally seclude themselves to the evening hours alone is somewhat speculative. If it were totally the case, then hunters would never harvest some of the trophy-class bucks that show up in contests every hunting season in Mississippi.

Deer will continue to come out during daylight hours to feed, to assemble, to socialize, to be chased and chase, to breed and to conduct all their normal deer life activities. Hunters have to be in their stands when this limited daytime exposure takes place, however brief it is.

If I were going to place bets on the best times of the day to observe deer moving this time of year, it would be an hour to two after daylight, and ditto for the end of the day. If there is still considerable hunter activity in the area, then I would also opt for hunting from 10 to 2 right through the mid-day lunch hour. This is one way to beat hunter pressure in December.

There are other factors that will alter "normal" deer activity. Weather is one of the big ones. Deer have their comfort zones, too, and too hot or too cold temperatures will lock down their movements. Mississippi Decembers are famous for warming up into the 80s or dropping down to the freezing point for several days. Always monitor the coming and going weather.

If your deer hunting December is in a stalemate, then adjust your hunting strategies. Shift hunting hours, scout current food sources and keep an eye on the weather. Getting ahead of these changes will up your chances for a winning