Here are a few ways to stay motivated this hunting season.
It happens to all deer hunters at some point or another. It is late in the season. All your buddies have already tagged out and you still have a bunch of unfilled tags.
Frustration begins to set in as the rut wanes and the habits of big bucks begin to change.
Yup, we know the feeling. The doubts are starting to creep in. How do you stay motivated to hunt late-season deer when you're just not having any luck? We have some suggestions that should help.
Go back over your trail camera photos again
As the late-season kicks in, it can be easy to forget why you're even in the woods in the first place. This is especially true if you just haven't seen any of your target bucks. Of course, there's always the chance that trophy whitetail or monster muley fell to another hunter, but an absence of sightings doesn't always mean that deer is dead.
Remember that hunting pressure can really put a damper on rut activity at times. The behavior of deer in the early season is never going to match what happens in the late season. In fact, your best chance at that big buck may be just beginning.
Unless you know for certain that mature buck is dead, there is no reason to give up now. Go back and look at the photos you have, remind yourself what the stakes are. You'd be surprised how much of a confidence boost this can be.
I actually like to save all my best trail camera photos to my phone. That way, when I'm shivering in my blind or stand and start questioning why I'm even out there, I can pull my phone out and get a little reminder of what is still running around out there and what may step out at any moment. It's a great little confidence boost!
Take a break
This is going to depend on your state and how the different seasons are structured. For instance, my state of Michigan goes from regular firearm season to muzzleloader before reverting back to strictly bowhunting to round out the year.
However, just because the next season is starting the day after the last one ends doesn't always mean you should go out and continue hitting the woods right away. Sure, cold fronts may be spurring a lot of post-rut deer activity, but sometimes you have to know when to back off a bit. Hunting pressure doesn't just get to the deer. It gets to the hunter, too.
If it's possible for you to take a week or more off between the end of firearms season and whatever late seasons your state offers, you should consider it. Taking the hunting pressure off your area gives the big bucks and does a chance to recoup from the stresses of constant danger and the rut.
But it does something more than that. Going hunt after hunt without seeing a deer can really take it out of a hunter. Sometimes you just need a chance to relax and recharge the batteries before you head out in the cold temperatures every early morning again.
After a little break, you'll have a fresh perspective and a cleared head, and the deer will be calmed down a bit from the rigors of the season. If you time it right, you may even be lucky enough to take advantage of a second rut of does that didn't get bred during the regular season. All it takes is one slip-up by that big buck to turn a terrible season into a great one.
Change things up
Late season is the perfect time to come up with a new hunt plan. Assess the situation. Is there snow on the ground already? If there is, your best chance is going to be hunting the food sources. This time of year, the best hunting tip we can give you is to key in on feeding areas. Focus on your food plots, especially in the Midwest. Check around your hunting area. Is there any standing corn still up? If so, it could be a dynamite place to ambush late-season bucks.
Snow on the ground also makes it easy to see what the deer are doing as fresh tracks stick out like a sore thumb. Maybe deer movement has shifted to a new area. Check your trail cameras. Deer movement is seldom the same late in the season as it was in the early season.
Remember, deer get lazier in their movements as it gets colder. They won't wander too far from home as they attempt to conserve energy for the long winter. Most deer activity will be focused on feeding areas and bedding areas. Position some new treestands or ground blinds accordingly. Sometimes just a slight chance of pace is all that is needed to turn a whole season around.
Put some meat in the freezer
If you've been after one particular mature buck all season, it can be pretty frustrating to get to December without a sighting. It's easy to feel your chances slipping away. Now might be the time to simply put some meat in the freezer by harvesting a doe.
Sure, it may not have been the goal you set out for in the early season, but it is amazing what bagging a big, old swamp donkey can do for your confidence. Sometimes in late-season hunting, a simple doe harvest is all that's needed to remind you of why you're sitting out in the cold weather to begin with.
Once you have something to eat in the freezer, you can focus on those big bucks with a little bit of pressure relieved that you'll be eating good all winter at least.
Don't give up
Hunting the late season can be a lot of fun as the hunting pressure is down and the deer are back and moving again in their normal routines. By utilizing these tips you can be ready to finish out the deer seasons strong.
Even if you don't get a deer, you'll at least feel better that you gave it everything you could. Deer hunting is an exercise in patience. Use what you learned from this year and apply it to next season and you might just be amazed at the results.