Here's why the hunting might heat up as temperatures drop.
Should you hunt the late season? After all, many hunters all over the nation focus much of their time, effort and money on hunting big bucks during the rut, and rightly so. Mature bucks are more visible during the early stages of the rut than at any time during the year, making them more susceptible to harvest.
While bucks are better able to be patterned during the early season, once those hormones kick in to full gear, your chances of getting a shot on a mature whitetail skyrocket.
What if, however, the rut has come and gone and you still have a tag in your pocket? Has your chance at that buck of lifetime gone out the window? Contrary to popular belief, absolutely not!
Here are three reasons why the late season may be your ticket to a bruiser as well as five tips for getting it done.
1. The pressure is off
Most hunters spend the bulk of their time hunting during the rut, and with good reason. More bucks are killed during the rut than perhaps any other two week period of the year. By the time the rut winds down the temperatures are usually dropping, and many hunters have either tagged out or aren't willing to brave the cold.
If your willing to tough it out, however, the late season can still provide some fantastic hunting opportunities. With the intense hunting pressure of the rut wearing off many deer, including mature bucks, will be more apt to move during daylight hours.
2. Deer are hungry
Whitetail bucks rarely eat during the rut, and instead spend most of their time chasing receptive does. When the rut ends, however, they go in to full blown panic mode as they try to pack back on the weight they lost during the rut before the full onslaught of winter.
3. Deer are pattern-able
Because whitetails (does and bucks) try to put as much weight on as they can after the rut, they once again become pattern-able. Deer must eat as often as they can, and as a result generally stick to a bed-food pattern. Not only that, but by this time acorns are usually gone, meaning that standing ag fields or food plots really serve to concentrate deer movement.
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Now that you know why you shouldn't quit when the temperatures drop, here are five keys to late season success.
1. Embrace the cold
While hunting during the late season, don't make the mistake of trying to stay too warm. Many hunters dress in all their layers before walking to their stand or blind, and as a result they can work up quite a sweat. That in turn makes them smell like a gym locker, and the resulting moisture can in fact make them even colder.
Instead, try dressing down until you get to your favorite honey hole, then add your layers. Not only will you stay warm and dry, but your chances at tagging a snowy-season monster will be boosted.
2. Get in close to their bedroom
Deer are weary and hungry during the late season; try to use this to your advantage and key in on food sources that are close to thick bedding areas. Deer will now more than ever take the easiest and most direct route from food to bed, so be sure to take full advantage.
3. Hunt the best food in the neighborhood
Whitetails will instinctively move to the best late-season food source, even if its outside their home range. If you can get on the best winter food source in the area, that may be all you need to tag a bruiser.
4. Take advantage of any remaining mast crops
While by this time most acorns have been consumed (or are buried under snow), try to find any remaining mast crops. Hunters in areas where apples persimmons, or any other soft mast is available may have just found the golden ticket.
5. Hunt just around the river bend
Especially in locations that have been hit by a drought, any area close to a permanent water source has a better shot at producing late season browse. Try to find a pinch point along a river bottom that still has some green browse; if you can find such a spot, you may be in the game.
With these tactics and reminders, you can have a different kind of success (or luck) when hunting later in the season. Especially when your days are numbered and time is of the essence, trying these can get you closer to the buck that's eluded you up until now.
Play it smart and safe, and you can still put that big one down.