It’s late December and I’m several weeks removed from what I thought was the end of my 2015 archery deer season. Truth be told, I did spend the opening day of rifle season in the stand. Rifle season for me now, has more to do with tradition than the actual hunt. Not to discredit those who enjoy rifle hunting, but archery hunting just appeals to me more at this point in my life.
With that being said, I’ll have some time off during the late season allowing me to hit the timber to make one final attempt at filling my tag with a nice buck. I’ve hunted late season sparingly in the past, typically considering this period of the season a lost cause with little to no deer movement. I’ve never had success during late season, and never knew anyone who had either. As I’ve dedicated this year to learning as much as possible about whitetail strategy, I realized that my approach, understanding and tactics used during the late season had been wrong. In past years I didn’t pay much attention to how deer behavior would change during late season—with the exception of the extreme hunting pressure during rifle season here in Pennsylvania. I think it’s safe to say I’ve consistently been in the wrong place at the wrong time when it comes to late season archery hunting.
Many standard tactics hold true during late season. Access and exit routes to a stand or blind are essential, playing the wind will be critical and all movement should be low impact. All these may be even more important than usual due to the skittish nature of most deer herds, given the pressure they’ve experienced all season. I’ve decided to focus on three areas to improve upon this season.
When To Hunt
If you’re like me, between work and family I have precious little time to spend in the stand, and I’d like to hunt every free day I can. But just like any other time of the season, quality sits are better than quantity sits. This time of year morning hunts should be out, and the focus should be on evening hunts, as deer this time of year will likely be in bed long before you hit your stand. Morning hunts will also increase your odds of bumping a buck enroute to the stand. As always, follow the weather closely. Allow the weather to help you decide when to take that extra day off from work to be in the timber. The usual cold fronts are choice, but this time of year also look for days when precipitation is forecasted. The day after a light snow should be particularly good.
Where To Hunt
This time of year food is king and evening hunts should include a field or food plot stand location—as food sources in the timber should be getting scarce. A deer’s body during late season is pretty worn down. With the intensity of the rut, and the pressure of gun season, deer are looking to replenish their bodies and increase fat storage in preparation for the winter months to come. Again, pay attention to the weather, as not all food source are created equal during this time. Green food sources are in play if the temperature is trending warmer than usual for the time of year and crops like clover and winter wheat are a good option. If temperatures are on the colder side, focus on higher energy foods like corn, beans and turnips.
How To Hunt
Simply put, you need to know where the deer are at. Avoid barreling into a stand location without good information—patience is key during the late season. If the conditions aren’t right, the high risk with a low reward opportunity isn’t worth potentially blowing up what might otherwise be a good location. Steer clear of bedding areas and try to hunt property edges to avoid bumping deer. Rely on game camera intelligence now more than ever. And if you have a piece of property that has been relatively untouched this season, this might be where that mature buck you’ve been looking for is living.
Below are a few videos from Drury Outdoors that are definitely worth watching. These videos share some tips for the final phases of the deer hunting season.