Late season can be one of your very best chances at a mature buck all year, but that’s only if several criteria are met. The most important of those criteria is simply having a mature buck on your property that’s moving in daylight.
Attracting a big buck to your land can be as simple as having food, but how do you get him to show up during shooting hours?
First and foremost, it’s going to come down to hunting pressure. If you share a hunting property with others, this is a significant challenge. If they’re friends of yours, you might be able to develop a group plan to ensure that you all are hunting only on ideal days.
If you’re lucky and hunt alone, all that’s required is some self control. Deer in the late season, especially mature bucks, are more sensitive to hunting pressure than at any time. They’ve been dealing with it for months now. You need to operate on the assumption that you may only have a few chances to hunt him before the big boy starts catching on.
With this being the case, you need to make sure those few hunts are on days when the odds are in your favor. Try to avoid hunting except when major fronts push through, like a big cold front that drops temps and delivers snow. Plan to hunt the day of and a couple days after if you can. Other factors, such as a high barometric pressure or an early rising moon, can serve to make those days even better.
In my opinion, you should strongly consider ditching your morning hunts. Daylight activity during late season is typically much better in the evenings, and you’re less likely to spook a deer if you set up in the afternoon. Keep your evenings productive by avoiding those risky mornings.
Since mid-November, I’ve hunted one of my Michigan farms only five times total. They’ve all been evenings, and I think that’s a big part of why the buck I’ve been hunting there is still a daylight walker. These hunts all coincided with cold fronts or snow events.
Develop an Entrance and Exit
When you finally do get those ideal days, make sure you’re entering and exiting your hunting location without educating any deer. This is mature buck hunting 101, but it’s even more important now than earlier in the season. When you head in to hunt in the afternoon, be careful that your wind isn’t blowing into bedding areas, and also be aware that deer are typically bedded closer to food sources more than usual. Make sure that you’re not going to be spooking deer off the edge of the food when you climb into your stand.
Secondly, when you leave in the evening, make sure you wait until any nearby deer move on, or plan a way to spook those deer before you climb down. A friend helping you out by driving to you with a truck or ATV is best, but I’ve also done some impromptu coyote howling and been able to clear a field.
Last year, as I’ve mentioned before, I swindled my wife into picking me up most evenings with my ATV. It’s made a huge difference in how deer are reacting to my hunting pressure, as I’ve seen less of a dip in activity after subsequent hunts compared to years when I spooked deer walking out.
Scout with a Purpose
Finally, if you’re going to be scouting in any way, it needs to be very stealthy. If you don’t already know exactly where to hunt, try observing an evening or two in a location where you won’t be educating deer. Don’t go in for a kill until you know exactly where to go.
Don’t go walking your property looking for sign this time of year. Instead, either observe or use cameras. If you’re using cameras, be extra careful with how frequently you check them.
Pull cards sparingly, and make sure you’re not spooking deer with your presence or odor when you sneak in. In a perfect world, you’d use an ATV, truck, or bike to check those cameras.
I really only check cameras every two weeks on my aforementioned Michigan property this time of year. When I do, it’s been at midday with a favorable wind. I never step foot off the ATV, I wear gloves when handling the camera, and I spray down the camera after I’m done switching cards. As soon as I’m done, I hustle out of there as quickly as possible.
Deer can be as predicable as ever in December and January. If you’re able to nail down scouting, the hunting will come easy.
Feature image by Captured Creative.