Updated: Mar 28, 2020
Photo Credit: briarwoodclub.com
It seems as if every year I go into the late season with at least one unfilled tag in my pocket. I often think the big bucks make it a priority to skirt me all throughout the bow and general firearm periods just to see me out in the frigid cold of the late season. The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities to harvest mature deer in the late season. In fact, many prefer to hunt the late season because the needs of deer become much more predictable, essentially making deer easier to pattern. I have compiled a list of tips to take to the stand with you.
1. Food, Food, Food
Photo Credit: thespruce.com
Once the heart of the rut is over, the needs of mature deer shift from heavy chasing to food. Bucks are in recovery mode from going weeks without normal eating habits. It isn’t uncommon for male deer to lose 30 pounds or more during the rut. It’s truly amazing what a little hot doe action can do! They get so side-tracked chasing tail they forget to eat!
Because food is the main need of deer going into winter, a good and healthy food plot in December might as well be a pile of gold for a deer hunter. Setting up around standing food plots in travel corridors is a great tactic to shooting late season deer. Sometimes this means setting up directly over good feed areas and other times it means setting up slightly off to the side where you predict deer will be traveling through to get to the feeding site. Everyone’s setup location will be different depending on the property layout. Just know being near the food is going to drastically improve your chances of seeing deer.
2. Ground Blind vs. Tree Stand
Photo Credit: Primos
For the longest time, I was the stubborn guy who always hunted tree stands because I thought the advantage I got in the elevated stand was much greater than sitting lower to the ground in a blind. I also never liked the ground blinds because I was sure deer could identify that big thing in the middle of the woods that suddenly appeared from nowhere. It seemed obvious to me that deer weren’t that ridiculously unaware of their surrounds.
What I have found is that I can bear the cold so much longer if I am not 20 feet up in a tree trying with all my might to fight the brutally cold wind. If I sit myself in a ground blind, I am able to stay longer in the field! I’ve observed that lots of big bucks will move in the later morning time frame, and I can guarantee you won’t see any if you left the tree stand at 9:30 because you were just too cold!
Follow the ten day rule! In my experience and research, I found that it takes a period of ten days before deer are comfortable with walking near or around new objects in the woods such as new ground blinds. If you think you are going to be breaking out some ground blinds for the late season, get them out early enough so that the deer have time to adjust. I have found it to be very beneficial to brush in your ground blinds as well. The more you can make your blind look like a pile of sticks, the better! Give it ten days folks, trust me!
3. Don’t Spook Deer Getting Down from the Stand!
This is often overlooked in most of the season but should be taken more seriously in late season. If you are like me, you have limited access to great food plots to hunt over which we already know can prove to be gold mines in the later part of the season. If you find yourself at the end of legal shooting light and you’re target deer hasn’t shown himself BUT you have a few small does in the food plot below you, wait! If you get up to leave and identify yourself to non target deer, such as a few doe, this can play against you in the days to come.
If these same deer ever do come back into the plot in the future, odds are they will be extremely on edge and on high alert. The non-verbal body language and alertness vibe they reveal to other deer will most likely be sensed by the buck you are targeting. Deer communicate more with their body language than any other form of communication.
There are two main ways to get around this that does not involve sitting and waiting out the deer in your blind or stand. First, you can have a friend or family member drive up to the stand or walk to you from another location to get the deer out of the area before you depart. Another alternative is to set up your stand on the travel corridors around the food plot between where they bed down and the feed. You don’t necessarily need to set up directly over the feed. This will allow you to slip out at the end of the night and get back to your truck.
By no means is the season over just because you didn’t fill your tag(s) during the regular season. Get out there and keep swinging the bat and sooner or later an opportunity will arise. Keep in mind these 3 basic tips I have laid out for you, and let me know the success you have this late season!