Late Season Produces the Most and Largest Bucks

If you hunt in heavily pressured areas like we do, then maybe the late season deer hunt is for you. Two of my sons’ largest bucks came during the late season. And both came within the last 15 minutes of legal light. We see more large bucks in December than in November.

 

In our heavily hunted area, we position tight to the bedding area, and the bucks rarely show themselves with more than 15 minutes of daylight. Groups of 4 to 10 deer are not uncommon. While this can be fun, it also creates challenges with the extra eyes and noses out there. Stay back 30 yards from the trails being used with archery, and longer with a gun.

 

Snow on the ground will show the best travel routes. Remember that these deer are spooky. Play the wind; do not take any foolish chances with the wind. It’s by far better to hunt a secondary spot where the wind is in your favor.

 

When temperatures drop around the zero mark, mid-day activity really improves. This doesn’t happen often, but a few hunting seasons ago, I experienced such conditions and had the best luck ever.

 

Food is the prime importance to any deer at this time of the year; standing corn, acorns, dogwoods, berries, autumn olive, red maple, sumac and browse. If there is deep snow, then you can forget the acorns.

 

The last food source eaten each year is the browse, berries and such, found in low areas. Wetlands can be a large swamp, a river bottom or just an area that has higher ground surrounded by water. Wetland areas generally have a food source that will last into the new year.

 

Browse such as maple or aspen shoots is a good late-season bet. This could be a clear-cut, or a small group of trees along a swamp edge. Shrubs like dogwood and autumn olive are two of my favorites.

 

It pays to locate a couple of stand locations so that you can play the wind and the direction that the deer might be using. Some stands produce well in the morning, and others at night.

 

Drainage ditches are overlooked, are often lined with a good food source, and the ditch itself usually offers food. Stick a tree stand up where you can see a long distance in both directions, and don’t be surprised to see a deer rise up just before darkness.

 

Find out where the does are bedding and feeding, and the bucks will show up. The best locations are where the deer feel most secure during the daylight hours. The closer the security area is to a hot food source, the better buck potential.

 

High ground in a swamp or a cattail marsh is an excellent all-day location to hunt. The key is sliding in early and being undetected. Another good choice would be a small woodlot or briar patch that other hunters walk right by, thinking that it is too small to hold any deer.

 

The deer we hunt travel further distances in December to get to the prime feeding areas after dark. An exception is water. When we hunt areas that are partially flooded and have dry humps and mounds with some type of forage, we will see deer 30 or 40 minutes before dark.

 

Thick pines harbor late-season deer, and the closer to a food source, the better the odds of sightings within the legal hours to shoot. On a recent hunt, it was cold, the wind was stiff, eight inches of snow on the ground and darkness couldn’t come quick enough. Slowly, three deer emerged from the thick pines and headed towards the orchard.

 

When the rifle barked, the deer headed for the pines. Two deer stopped short of the pines, and started feeding on the tall ferns and field grass. Where did the third deer go? It traveled fifty yards, slid down the hill and was covered with snow. It turned out she was the largest doe I ever shot, and the second-largest deer ever in my freezer.

 

I love snow and cold weather in December. Food sources change, deer are spooky, but they will use the same late-season areas each year if not pressured or scented. Snow shows locations and trails.

 

Public land is home to Anthony Amalfitano, a Michigan resident who enjoys very good success on outstate lands. He suggested getting away from the crowd and two tracks. Other suggestions include finding water and entering the area; hunting swamps, islands, thick aspen or poplar stands, and thick pines; and knowing where other hunters are located.

 

On public land, we try to find the small pockets overlooked by other hunters. River bottoms flood out, and the dry humps hold bedding deer. Chest-high waders become part of our routine. Gun or bow, half the time, I will be found on the ground. It gets tiring sitting up a tree stand night after night, and winds are often unpredictable in December.

 

Some hunters like using pop up blinds, and several shared a few of the following tips: Hunt a cattail swamp or marsh, a cedar swamp, a Christmas tree grove, a group of pines, or inside or on the edge of a clear cut. There are plenty of locations; even an open oak forest can work. The next tip that was shared I found to be super helpful.

 

They suggested throwing a cargo net, often used in pickup trucks, over the top of a blind. A cargo net has hundreds of openings and bands that can secure brush or twigs. The fronts of many new blinds have tie straps. Adding a few branches or grass can fog in the lower portion.

 

A pop up blind is ideal in inclement weather, or when hunting with a youth. It’s also a great choice if you are fidgety or just plain want to hide your movements.

 

“The only clothing needed when hunting in a blind is something black,” said Scoot Livesay. Many of the newer blinds are black on the inside, so wearing black blends you in much better. Black clothing is also much cheaper than camo.

 

I use a turkey lounge chair that sits 3 inches off the ground in a potential spot before I hang a tree stand. Sitting nearly on the ground keeps your profile lower, and if you can tuck in behind a log or a small group of trees, the better your odds.

 

Google Earth and aerial photos can help in identifying bottlenecks, funnel locations, areas with water and potential thick bedding areas. Much of the best bedding areas will be thick cover, or areas with great visual and scent protection, much like a steep ridge.

 

One other tip: Try to position yourself so that you are not facing the direction that the deer might travel; instead, quarter, or better yet, have your back toward the best direction. With the colder temperatures, you will hear the deer before they come into range. I love a quartering away shot, the target being much larger for a killing shot. Very few hunters like having a deer to their back, but your movement in getting ready for a shot is less likely to be seen.

 

Remember that the first three times in a stand offer the best odds for success. Hunt your best stand under the best conditions. I often have 3 stands in a 100- or 150-yard area. One might be for sitting on the ground, and two others for covering the same area from different angles and wind conditions.

 

Late season, we see the most deer and the largest bucks. It takes extra effort and patience, but it really does pay off.