Late Season Deer Strategies
Dr. John Woods 02.02.15
Have you got a dab of moxie left by now or are your cookies just about toasted? The last few weeks of deer hunting can seemingly drain the energy and senses from many deer hunters. However, truth be told this is the time of year to concentrate your hunting focus. Lots of trophy bucks have been taken late in the season even if every drop of rut is over.
I just got asked by a hunter yesterday if I thought he had a chance yet at a buck with the season winding down. I encouraged him to keep after it every day he could go. Several states still have deer hunting going on. Here in Mississippi, the southeast sector is open until February 15, so any hunting time is good hunting time. I have scored on bucks in the last hour of the open season more than once.
Big bucks are still on the prowl, though perhaps as worn out as the hunters are. Their roaming patterns may change, but they are still in the area. Now is the time for hunters to search deep down into their strategy bags to pull out one more good effort before the race is done. Though not guaranteed in many areas, some southern deer states witness 2nd and even 3rd ruts due to late breeding of does, so be on the lookout for does feeding and bucks hiding in the shadows.
So, before you toss in the towel to stow your gear, consider these approaches to deer hunting in the late season. You may just find some renewed interest as well.
What tactics are there to test now? What strategy could work with any degree of success this time of year? Trust me, I realize your bag of buck nabbing tricks is just about as empty as empty gets. You have tried everything. So now is the time that basics and common sense approaches have to prevail. It’s time to start over from scratch, going back to the tactics that worked with viable success earlier in the year.
Tommy Hoff hunts all over the northern section of Mississippi with earned success on many private lands, but much of the time on public lands as well. “My best advice for hunting the late season is to focus on the remaining food sources such as green fields, honey suckle bushes, and green briar thickets,” says Hoff. It may be cold and wet, but deer still have to eat.
“The strategy is to catch the does that have not been bred. This tactic works well where I hunt because like most places in North Mississippi, the buck to doe ratio is so out of balance that bucks are not able to breed all of the does during the first rut. Bucks continue to roam their territories a lot more to find the few remaining does that have not yet been bred.”
“The point is then to focus on end of the season food sources that are getting scarce. This is where the does will be feeding and hanging out. Wherever the does go to feed, so too there will be bucks eventually. This may seem too simple, but it is the best tactic this time of year for late season deer hunting. Oh, it’s also a good time to take another doe for the freezer as well. Like my dad always said, “Find the hot does and you’ve found the bucks.”
A lot of deer hunters use the excuse that too much hunting pressure derails their own hunting success. In certain situations this can certainly be a realistic factor, but in most cases it is overly exaggerated.
By this time of year it may seem like every available buck hideout has been scoured by hoards of deer hunters coming and going in every corner of every hunting woods. They have been driving the roads and cruising every woodland trail on foot or an ATV. This is particularly the case on almost all public hunting lands by late season, but it is also often encountered as well on large private hunting club leased lands with lots of members. It can even happen on private family lands if too many relatives are constantly hunting or regularly spooking deer by the way they hunt.
Luckily, by now deer hunting pressure is certainly subsiding. A little cautious renewed scouting could uncover new deer activity in some old familiar spots. Be on the search for clues of newly created late rut rubs and scrapes, or fresh signs on old pre-rut activity signposts. Believe it or not, it’s mid-January and I just photographed new, fresh rubs last weekend. Whatever that is all about, it means bucks are up and acting out.
If your regular hunting areas do not show any current buck sign, move on. Determine where the last resort places that few if any hunters ever hunted are. Start in the most distant spots away from everyday hunter access points or scouting routes. Sneak into the thick and nasty habitats near swamps, thorny thickets, congested cane, and other areas the lazy hunter would never venture. This could just be the preferred hiding places of the worn down post rut bucks driven into hiding by the sustained hunting pressure of a lengthy season.
Change up your hunting times, too. Consider a 10-2 hunt, pack a light lunch, and watch long lanes, open trails, power lines, and other open areas for moving deer. If it is really cold, sometimes bucks wait to stretch once the sun really warms things up. Noon time can really be a smart time to be hidden in a ground blind or in a sneak-in tree stand overlooking funnel trails.
It’s late in the game. The season is in the last quarter. The clock is ticking. It’s time to man up and girl up. Forget the gimmicks and tricks and return to the basics of food and does. Now is not the time to fool with the air pressure in the ball, if you get my drift. When that big buck does show, shake off the fever, focus, and then call your taxidermist.