The rut and the gun seasons are over, and gone with them is the
helter-skelter buck movement. Now the deer are focused on the available food;
they need to replace fat reserves. In the opinion of many deer hunters, it’s
the best time of the year to shoot a big buck… if you can take the cold.
By Bernie Barringer
Many bowhunters consider the early season the best time to hunt deer, and with good reason. The deer at that time are undisturbed, they can be found in somewhat predictable daily movement patterns and the weather is nice for sitting in a treestand. The rut and the gun seasons open up and the normal patterns go out the door. Bucks are running around helter skelter and hunters either figure out how to take advantage of the conditions, or just sit home and wait it out.
The majority of bowhunters who have an unfilled tag in their pocket just hang it up and wait until the following year to go after it again. That’s a big mistake. When the gun seasons end, most states offer late season bowhunting that lasts until the end of the year, and in some cases, well into January. When the gun hunters go home to watch football, the deer quickly return to daily patterns that involve taking in lots of calories. The rut is hard on them, especially the bucks which have significantly depleted their summer fat reserves and they will need to return themselves to good condition as soon as possible in order to survive the harsh winter conditions.
In my opinion, the
bucks can be found in their most predictable patterns of the year at this time.
They need high-carbohydrate foods; they need a lot of them and they will focus
on food at this time even at the risk of exposing themselves more during
daylight than at any other time of the year. If you can find where they are
bedding and where they are feeding, you can easily capitalize on this situation
by ambushing them in between the two places.
Glassing and Patterning
One of the best
ways to discover their daily movement is by long-range observation. A good
spotting scope or at least a good pair of binoculars is an important tool to
monitor their movements. The deer will have to cross open areas to get to the
feed in the evening and back to the bedding areas in the mornings. Often, the
deer are feeding in open areas such as harvested crop fields, food plots and
open timber with mast crops on the ground. Their visibility allows you to
pinpoint where they are entering the fields. Spend some time with some good
glass and you will have a good idea where to set up by learning where the
bedding areas might be.
The feeding areas
may change from day to day, but if there is food available, the buck will be
back. Just because he is a no-show on any given evening doesn’t mean he has
left the area. If there are does and small bucks still using the fields, he is
nearby. There’s a good chance he has just chosen a different bedding area for
that particular day so it pays to understand why bucks choose to bed where they
Bedding areas: Thermal cover and solar
Bucks will use two
primary types of cover to bed in during the day. On sunny days, they will most
likely be bedded on the south sides of slopes where they can take advantage of
the sun’s warming rays. When the weather is bad, say cloudy and windy or snow
is coming down, they are more likely to be found in the thickest snarliest
cover around. Knowing where these two types of cover are found will help you
choose the stand location where you will eventually waylay the buck.
They key of course
is to get as close to the bedding area as you can without tipping them off to
your presence. Too many hunters observe where the buck tends to enter the field
and then set up a stand on the edge of the field right where he enters. That
can work, but more often, the buck may hang up off the field edge for a while
before entering. By finding the trail he uses from the bedding cover he has
chosen for that day and setting up on the trail, you significantly increase
your odds of getting a shot at the buck well before dark.
Dealing with Cold Conditions
The nastier the weather the more the deer move and the earlier in the day they move. That’s bad news and good news for the hunter. Days are short in the late season, so bad weather can influence deer to move earlier, which improves the odds that they are going to walk by your stand during legal shooting hours. That’s the good news.
The bad news is
that the couple hours spent on stand at this time of the year can be downright
brutal. Aching toes and shivering shoulders can make a hunter long for the
early season. There are ways to beat the cold, including hand and foot warmers,
body bags—which are like sleeping bags that allow you to unzip and ready for a
shot with a minimum of noise and motion. Some of these even have heater
elements built into them.
I have begun to use ground blinds more and more for late season hunting. They keep the wind off you and if you really want to add comfort you can add a small propane space heater such as the ones used for ice fishing. One drawback of ground blinds is the need to put them out early and hide them well by covering them with things that are natural to the area. A ground blind just plopped down in the open will make the deer uneasy, often for a week or more. You must hide them well in order to have success with them quickly.
So if you have an unfilled
tag in your pocket, you might be tempted to watch a football game from the warm
couch instead of getting out there where the opportunity to bag a big buck or
at least secure some venison awaits. Once you are rewarded for toughing it out
in the late season, you will look forward to the late season when the last
minute bow bucks are vulnerable to the savvy but tough hunter.
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