It’s not over ‘til it’s over. Although some states have wrapped up hunting season, many folks still have the opportunity to bag a buck during a late-season bowhunt. If you still have a tag, don’t give up just yet. Patience and persistence usually pay off.
We spoke with Jimmy Primos of Primos Hunting and Mike Ellig, founder of Black Gold Sights, to discover how to find and hunt a buck post-rut. Incorporate these six tips into your hunting strategy.
Find food and you’ll find your quarry.
“You should primarily hunt their food sources in late season,” Primos said. “Bucks lose weight and get run-down during the rut, so they’re trying to put on as much fat and weight as they can to survive the winter, especially in the North.”
Many mast-bearing food sources like acorns, apples and berries have been depleted. Instead, deer will browse on shrubs or relocate to places with food options, such as food plots or agricultural fields. Learn more about winter food sources by reading Bowhunting 360’s article, “What do White-tailed Deer Eat During the Winter.”
Ellig said deer usually graze around in the early season, but late-season food options are limited. This will push deer to specific areas, which makes them predictable and easier to pattern. Plus, the colder it is the more energy deer need – and the more energy they need, the more food they eat. “That knowledge gives hunters a huge advantage,” he said.
Once you’ve located a food source, scout the area to ensure deer are present. Take a quick walk through the woods. Or better yet, use trail cameras to catch deer on the hoof.
Trail cameras help you minimize your scent in the woods. “Deer live in the woods, so if you’re out walking around, they’ll know if you’ve been there,” Primos said.
You can also use maps to identify thick cover, such as wind and snow, which deer use to escape winter’s elements.
Once you’re in a good area, pick a place to set up. According to Ellig, if you can’t hunt on or near a food source, your next best option is to set up on a trail between thick cover (aka the bedding area) and a food source.
To save their energy and avoid unnecessary movement, deer bed close to food. Setting up on a well-used trail boosts your odds of intercepting a buck on its way to eat, drink or rest.
Although many hunters prefer hunting from elevated treestands, ground blinds are a tremendous late-season option. Trees shed their leaves in fall, leaving hunters exposed in their lock-on or climbing treestands. Hunters can try to conceal their stand, but brushing in a ground blind is much easier.
Ground blinds also shield you from harsh weather. Plus, you can move your legs to circulate blood flow without being spotted. Primos believes deer notice when blind windows are opened and closed. He recommends hunters leave the blind’s shooting windows open when they leave.
If you opt to use a ground blind, practice shooting your bow from a sitting position, as most blinds aren’t tall enough for standing. For practice, try shooting when you’re wearing all your winter layers. This ensures your bulky wool hat or puffy camouflage jacket won’t interfere with your bowstring or peep while you shoot.
Primos said deer often move more during the daylight in late season, because it’s warmer during the day and there’s less hunting pressure. Although it’s hard to endure lengthy hunts in cold weather, doing so might help you fill your tag.
“If you ever find a successful whitetail hunter, they’re the one who can spend the most time in the stand,” Ellig said. “A lot of it is just a numbers game. The person who can stay there when it’s cold is going to be a successful hunter in the long term.”
If you can’t sit all day, or if you only have four hours to hunt, Ellig and Primos recommend hunting in the afternoon. It’s usually warmer, and you can get to your stand more easily.
“Don’t just think you are going to go out to a food plot and kill a deer,” Primos said. “You still have to be stealthy, quiet and use scent-free products to be successful.”
He’s right. Although late-season bowhunts give you another opportunity to fill your tag, they’re still challenging. In fact, some might argue late-season hunts are more challenging because deer are wary of hunting pressure.
That said, remember the basics like considering the wind direction, using scent-free products and keeping your presence in the woods to a minimum. If you focus on the basics and stay patient and persistent, your late season hunting efforts might pay off. Good luck!