Score big by finishing out your buck tag during the late season.
Although many deer hunters have filled in most of the blanks on their deer tag, the late season can provide some excellent opportunities. Depending on your locale, the rut is either over or just getting started. Deer chasers in the extreme southern portions of the state may not see rutting activity until late in the month.
Many hunters only target deer during the breeding cycle. However, late season bucks can be more predictable before and after the rut. Hunters will need to be a little more diligent in their approach and think outside the box. A little thought and some planning can have you scoring big in the late season.
Leave the Crowds Behind
By now most top choice hunting areas have been walked, scouted and hunted several times over. Trails and access roads have been worn down with foot and vehicle traffic. It doesn’t take that wise of a buck to figure this out and change zip codes. Savvy hunters will find an area with less activity.
“You have to go farther back in the woods,” advises Jeff Daniel of Bynum, Ala. “To find a big buck, you have to move away from the crowds.”
Daniel suggests finding an area that is less hunted. He says look for spots away from where other hunters have easy access. This may mean you have to walk farther off of a road or trail. Also, hunters should avoid hunting over green fields or food plots. Older bucks have seen or smelled hunters around these spots and they too will avoid them.
In high pressure areas, bucks will visit food plots after dark. Hunters will want to locate a trail leading to the food plot a few hundred yards back in the woods or brush. Bucks will generally lollygag around in the thickets before stepping onto a green field under the cover of darkness.
Cover the Back Door
Hunting crowds can play to your advantage. Buck hunters will want to locate escape routes on the back side of a pine thicket or other heavy cover. Hunt carefully to your stand site. Approach from the downwind side to minimize spooking any deer. Once in your stand, remain there and watch for bucks slipping out away from the hunters on the opposite end.
There can be a two-stage approach to this tactic. One is to arrive at your stand well before daylight. Cautiously approach your stand. Get settled in before first light and be prepared. After daylight, other hunters will begin the trek to their stands and will bump deer your way.
The second school of thought is to arrive at your stand during the mid-morning hours and wait until the other hunters head in for lunch, pushing deer in your direction.
Get in the Thick of It
Big bucks love thick cover. The thicker, heavier cover is the better hiding spot. Older bucks will spend a majority of the late season in these areas. Alabama has an abundance of cutovers or clear-cuts all across the state. Some of these areas may appear impenetrable, but the deer love them.
“I look for the nastiest, thickest cutovers I can find,” Daniel mentions. “Everything a deer needs is in these cutovers.”
Daniel says he would rather have one acre of cutover than 100 acres of hardwoods. Most of the deer in the area will be in the cutover. The deer feel secure and there is plenty of hiding spots. Also, Daniel likes to climb as high as possible to get a wide picture of the area he is hunting.
Weather the Storm
January in the Cotton State can have some vicious weather at times. Cold fronts bring in rain, storms and sometimes freezing precipitation in portions of the state. Deer hunters can use these weather fronts to their advantage in planning their hunts.
Before a major storm or weather event, deer will feed heavily and will feed again immediately after the weather subsides. Deer hunters need to be on a stand before and after the storms. Deer will generally begin to feed a couple of hours before the weather approaches.
Hunters should pay close attention to weather forecasts and storm warnings. Most major TV stations and the National Weather Service provide frequent updates and timing of the approaching weather system.
Find the Chow Line
Food is an essential part of late season deer hunting. By this time, most of the acorn crop has been devoured or is inedible. Hunters will need to focus on available food sources in their area. They can set up a stand site leading to or from a food source.
“One thing I have found late in the season that’s still available—usually—is water oak acorns,” Daniel remarks. “I have taken several deer over the years with these small acorns in their stomachs.”
River and creek drainages will usually have some water oaks along or near the banks. Also, by chance there could be some other late acorns still accessible. Agricultural crop fields are another location that can provide food for deer late in the season.
“Deer will also eat privet hedges,” comments Daniel. “These can be found along creek bottoms and swamp areas.”
There are many foods still available to deer in the late season. Food plots that have not seen a lot of hunting pressure may receive a visit from a buck. Expect the deer to show up late in the final minutes of legal shooting light. A game camera can help with the scouting and minimize human impact on the area.
Not every doe is bred during the rut. Many factors can determine the duration and the rut intensity. One thing is for certain: if a doe is not bred, she will come into estrous again in approximately 28 days. If hunters can determine the peak of the primary rut, they can calculate the timing of a possible second rut.
“During the late season, I will hunt around does,” Daniel reports. “A buck will come around to check for any does in heat.”
The secondary or late rut will not be as intense as the first rut. In fact, the duration may be only a day or two. However, a buck will seek out a hot doe in the late season. The hunter must be prepared and in position when this second rut occurs. This may require hunting a few days in succession.
Even though it is late in the season and the clock is ticking, there is still time for deer hunters to score and finish out their tag.