Rutting whitetail’s are simply amazing. The ability to call in a buck, and harvest him within 20 yards, is an awesomely testosterone charged event. When those levels of testosterone come back down, following the winding down of estrusing does, we find ourselves in late season. Rifle season has either passed or is ongoing, depending on the state in which you live. Hunting pressure on these animals has educated them enough to compete on the local debate team, and right when one comes within 40 yards, someone else’s gun shot spooks them away. Ah, late season. How I hate you so. But… I still love you.
Tactics have to change, and for me they change every year. I typically move into more of a “scouting” style of hunting. I evaluate the rut and post rut sign, aiding in the ability to close the gap on a mature animal the next year. Some people like to stay in the treestand. This can be an effective way of getting that late season deer. I can get behind this idea when the moon is either overhead or underfoot, within 1 hour of sunrise or sunset, in order to tag game. I feel this is the time of year to take up hunting solar lunar patters, much as in the early season. This is typically not the time of year to be doing all day sits, but to be more effective with the windows of feeding and movement patterns.
When the bucks go nocturnal, and sign goes stale, I find myself hunting bedding areas hard. Normally during any other time of season I wouldn’t be caught dead near a bedding sight. However, when the days are winding down, I’ll take advantage of these untouched opportunities and exploit them until I burn them out. By burning them out, I’m referring to hunting the same bed at least 3 times. A lot of this “burn-ability” comes with entering and exiting your stand, utilizing the wind and paying close attention to the route you’re using. While doing this, I realize that I am educating the animals. By educating them, they may change their patterns and strategies of entering and exiting these areas. When that happens, I simply move my stand and again exploit the opportunity. This is yet another plus of being a mobile treestand hunter – I can change my patterns just as quickly as my quarry.
The stands, blinds, or trees that you’ve hunted up until this point in the season, if you have used them, are typically a no-go zone for deer. When we set these stands and scout these spots earlier in the season, the trails, sign, and presence of animals can be a night and day difference compared to late season. Knowing you’ve educated them from old hunting positions, it’s a great time to find out where they are moving, taking advantage of your own pressure. It is very “cat and mouse”, but it can keep you on deer.
I keep an eye out along fence lines or transitions in terrain which seem to receive more traffic from deer during this time of year. I often find the highest amount of traffic between hardwood and grass areas. Pressured deer will also resort to utilizing the changes of elevation in both micro and macro terrain in order to mask any movement to onlooking predators. Finding these transition lines is possible from app’s like Google Earth, but I highly suggest to get boots on the ground. What your eyes see 5 to 6 feet off of the ground, is a world of difference compared to a 30,000 foot overhead view.
Pictures, pictures, pictures. When I am at a property or piece of land I try to take and log pictures of sign that I am seeing throughout season. In late season this is crucial and may be your best scouting for next years rut. It may not get you on the deer now, but come next year you will be glad you took the photo’s and made notes of the terrain and sign.
Other things these photo’s will help with is understanding how quickly feeding areas are disappearing though the brutal months of winter. The acorns may be long gone, buds plucked from branches, and roots starting to be dug up. All things to note which you can follow with and plan for next year. If you are a food plotter, it will also help you track how long the plots will sustain the local herd, ultimately aiding in the estimate for what may be a necessary resizing the following season.
Many of us, myself included, can find a number of excusable reasons not to practice throughout the winter months. It takes a lot of motivation and self convincing to step out into temperatures in the single digits to shoot a few arrows. What I have found works best is to practice indoors. Setting up a target my basement, even at only 10 yards, definitely helps keep my brain and eyes in-tune with my arrow. It only takes a few arrows or a few minutes. I will typically try to shoot one to three dozen arrows at least 3 times a week throughout the hunting season. In late season when the daylight winds down, doing this in the house is a huge plus.
Something I have recently taken up, is practicing in my warming layers. On my way back from a stand or from a hunt I will either shoot a couple of stumps or targets in my yard with all of my layers on. I remember someone telling me years ago that it will be harder to pull a bow back when it’s cold. I’ve never had this problem, but I do have an issue with my sleeves and other jacket material getting in my way. The only way I found to minimize this is to practice through it. Learning what materials to cinch down or get rid of has definitely put deer in the freezer and was practice well spent.
Some of us are blessed to hunt 3 or more months of the year for large game (deer, bear, elk, etc.). Here in Virginia I’m able to hunt white-tailed deer six months out of the year in certain areas and black bear nearly 4 months of the year. With all this opportunity comes some serious use and abuse with equipment. I continually make a conscious effort to keep up with my mobile tree stand, my safety system, and my archery equipment to name a few.
Over the past year I have developed a habit of checking my gear every Sunday. I consider this the last hunt of the week. This usually works in my favor, allowing me to catch any undesirable components in advance, having an entire week to figure out a plan or order my repair materials. Fortunately, with my recent changes to my purchasing decisions of quality over price, these necessary repairs have been minimal. My change of buying habit has already paid itself off. For much of this gear, please refer to my recommended products page.
Along with the “Sunday Fun-day”, I look over all of my archery tackle. I look for cracks in arrows, rust, threading/gluing of broadheads, and general bow health (string, nocks, serving, limbs, and shelf) are all things to check. All quick fixes, and with the proper set up, highly tuneable to keep pushing on.
Late season is the winding down. The end of a great thing for the current or past year. With slow movement and progression, my best advise is to slow down yourself. Pay attention to the small stuff. The devil is in the details, and us being traditional bowhunters, need these details. If you have any questions about this article or how to better progress through your Primitive Pursuit, please contact me through the contact page. You can also reach me by email at email@example.com. Happy hunting and stay warm out there!