Get Out of the Box to Locate and Shoot a Late Season Buck.
By this time in the Alabama deer season, the bucks have patterned the hunters. Within the first month of the season, the deer have learned every location of the hunters’ stands. They know the hideouts and the trails hunters use to come and go in their living rooms.
Bucks will quickly learn when and where hunters enter and exit their stands. They know most hunters seldom hunt all day. Hunters typically leave their stands around midday and don’t return until after 2 p.m. The deer can hear hunters talking and slamming truck doors before and after hunts.
Hunters are creatures of habit. They usually take the easiest and shortest routes to their stands. Bucks learn this regular behavior about hunters and change their patterns. Deer will forego food and mating for their survival. Late season deer hunters must be willing to put forth the effort to make a change to discover hidden bucks.
Start the Search
With deer hunters patterned, bucks will learn when to move and where to hide. The deer may be closer by than many hunters believe. Mature bucks will usually find a small locale for protection. The secure area may be away from all the activity, where hunters seldom trod.
“I look for small secluded areas away from other hunters,” mentions Adam Reaves of Randolph County, Ala. “Finding these areas takes some scouting and legwork, but is worth it.”
Reaves advises hunters to find a place where other hunters would never expect to see a deer. The better looking “deer spots” have more hunting pressure. Bucks prefer an area that has at least two or more escape routes. Often small thickets of brush or dense trees are a prime location.
Most hunting clubs use some type of check-in system with a daily log and/or map of the lease where hunters check into their hunting areas. Savvy hunters can peruse the log and see which hunting areas are being pressured the most. Then, the hunter can avoid these areas and concentrate on other less hunted locales.
“It doesn’t have to be a big area to hold a buck,” Reaves comments. “If it is secluded and away from hunting activity the buck should be there.”
When scouting out these secluded areas, hunters need to be as stealthy as possible. Keep noise to an absolute minimum. Also, leave no scent behind. Avoids touching branches and limbs with bare hands. Hunters should wear soft, silent outer clothing for these treks.
Pine thickets are a first choice for hunters to investigate, but, Reaves says, don’t overlook small wood lots or patches of thick brush. Swamps and creek drainages are also spots bucks will use to hide out. These do not have to be large. An acre or two can be enough for a buck to hide.
“Search for trails leading into the area,” Reaves advises. “This can give you a place of where to put your stand.”
Reaves will search for active scrapes and rubs around the perimeter of the hidden area. These deer signs will indicate if a buck is in the area. He mentions these areas can be where others least expect to see a buck and are farther back on the property where no other hunters want to walk.
Avoid the Obvious
Some deer hunters take the path of least resistance. They will often climb into a shooting house overlooking a green field. Anticipation is high for them expecting to see a big buck follow in behind the does. The reality is other hunters have visited the same food plot since the beginning of the season and they didn’t see any bucks either.
As mentioned earlier, mature bucks pick up quickly on hunting pressure. These bucks did not get big by being dumb. They learned to avoid these fields during daylight hours. After dark and hunters have retired back to the clubhouse, the bucks visit the fields to fill up on groceries.
Several years ago, noted deer biologist Dr. Grant Woods of Missouri completed a GPS collar study of bucks and does in north Alabama. The study began before archery season opened and ran through the firearm season. Before the season, bucks and does visited the greenfields during the day and night. After some hunting pressure was applied, mature bucks and some other deer avoided the field during daytime hours.
“By the GPS tracking data, we determined the bucks stayed about 200 yards back off the food plot during the day,” Woods reported. “After dark, the bucks would visit the field and spend most of their time there.”
Hunters wanting to tag a mature buck in the latter portion of the season would be wise to avoid hunting over food plots. A top strategy would be to set up a stand well back in the woods or thicket on a trail leading to a greenfield. As the bucks approach the area before sunset, a patient hunter could get a shot at a good buck.
Other open areas to avoid include powerlines or gas line right-of-ways. Other hunters have most likely visited these areas during the first half of the season. Again, with hunting pressure the bucks will slip around these locales. One exception to this is during the rut.
“A buck will follow a hot doe out into the open,” Reaves comments. “If I know the rut is on, I will set up near the edge of cover where I can see the field and some distance back in the woods.” When the rut has wound down in the area, Reaves will move back farther in secluded areas in the buck’s bedding site. Some hunters may continue to hunt out in the open areas hoping to see a buck. However, the older bucks have retreated to thicker cover.
Get High for Deer
One thing deer, especially bucks, learn from hunters is they are moving. Many hunters walk with a normal cadence from the time they leave their truck until they climb into their stand. When hunters are scouting these secluded areas, they should slow down and vary their pace.
Deer have learned to look up in trees for danger. Deer hunters using ladder or portable climbing stands may set up too low, making it easier for deer to spot them. Some hunters also like to set their stands in a more open area, even in the woods. By late season, the trees have shed their leaves and offer little concealment.
“I prefer a tree in the middle of thick brush,” explains Jacob Davis of Talladega, Ala. “I will climb as high as I necessary to get above the smaller trees.”
Davis mentions he sometimes might climb 26 feet or higher. He likes a large diameter tree for a couple of reasons. One, it offers him better stability. Smaller trees can sway more even under a light breeze. Second, the larger tree helps conceal him, his stand and movement from the deer below.
Also, hunters may want to opt for a lock-on style stand. The stand can be placed above limbs and branches to enhance the concealment of the hunter. Access to the stands can be quicker and quieter than with a climbing stand.
Right Place, Right Time
Reaves and Davis both agree that to bag a mature buck you must be in your stand when the buck appears. Staying put in a tree stand can be tedious and at times boring. However, the dividends will pay off when that trophy buck saunters into your sights.
One option to avoid an all-day sit in is to wait until mid-morning to climb into your stand. Bucks have patterned hunters that arrive before daybreak and leave by around 10 a.m. Hunters can slip into their stands around 9:30 a.m. When the other hunters head back to camp, they could push a buck in their direction.
Midday hunts are another option. Many hunters believe the big bucks will be out early. However, Dr. Woods’ study indicated that bucks may not leave their bedding areas until late morning. This is especially true in colder weather. Since most of the state has experienced extreme drought conditions, a water source is another locale worth checking out. Search out major creeks, rivers and lakes that held water back in early November. These areas also have more browse than other regions.
Buck hunters will enjoy a great day outdoors if they will locate a secluded area away from other hunters. In addition, they will discover hidden bucks no one else knew were there.