While we all hope to be tagged out by the end of the rut, a plan for late season deer hunts can save a season.
Opening day of whitetail season is either here or on the horizon. You have high hopes that this is the year you connect with a true giant in an early-season food plot or along a funnel during the rut. As deer hunters, that’s what we dream about.
What we don’t dream about are the frigid post-rut hunts when pressured deer are walking on eggshells and looking at every abnormality with a discerning eye.
We all this familiar situation: The rut passes and you are feeling the weight of that unfilled tag in your pocket. All of sudden hunting becomes a grind. You go through the motions, hoping to catch a break.
However, the late season might be the best time to tag a world-class buck if you are intentional about it. Planning for the late season, starting now, can create more opportunities in December and January.
1. Boost your Confidence
As outdoorsmen, we read the success stories. Most of which are set during the rut when a buck, drunk on testosterone, makes a mistake. He rushes into scents and calls or pauses in your shooting lane as he chases a hot doe. Then with a mere squeeze of a trigger or release of an arrow, it’s over. We are so inundated with these accounts that we lose hope once the peak rut passes.
But there are other motivating factors that will get big bucks to move after the rut: weather and food. In the last 10 seasons, there were 299 bucks entered into the Boone and Crockett books from the state of Iowa. Bucks shot December 1-10 account for 32% of those record book deer – more than any other 10-day period during the season. Yes, that’s even more than the second week of November.
Look at the data from the area you hunt. It may not favor the late season quite so much as it does in Iowa, but we’d bet there is a peak of bucks in the record book somewhere after December 1.
2. Plan the Menu
Get those cool season food plots in the ground or leave some corn and beans standing. Bucks rely on high-quality food sources close to bedding areas to recover from the rut.
3. Setup your Hunting Blind
Healthy plots in December and January are your best chance to see a giant during daylight hours as mature bucks are forced to feed with the rest of the herd when the groceries dwindle.
A Banks hunting blind right in the middle of these feeding areas will allow for easy access and exit, and reduces the chance of being smelled by bedded deer as long as the wind is right. It will also keep you warm on those brutally cold days that keep treestand hunters on the couch.
4. Pick your Days
Simply put, the deer will not be moving all day, every day like they did during the rut. Looking again at the results in Iowa we see that on December 1, 2007, 11 bucks were shot that eventually entered the record books. On that day, the weather recorded in Cedar Rapids had a little bit of everything – high winds, falling barometric pressure, light rain, hail, freezing rain and snow. This significant weather event caused mature bucks to move when hunters were on stand.
The right time doesn’t have to be drastic. Sometimes an afternoon above freezing temperatures after a string of freezing days is all it takes to get deer up to feed. The simple fact is deer have to eat, and they do it at the warmest times of day in cold climates in order to preserve body heat. But what is considered warm to them, is often frigid to our bones. Be there when they are hungry enough to move or the cold weather loosens its grip slightly to fill that spot on the wall, the space in your freezer and the tag in your pocket.