How To Kill A Buck After The General Gun Season

How To Kill A Buck After The General Gun Season

As a teenage bowhunter growing up in Minnesota, there was nothing I dreaded more than the general gun season. The woods that I haunted all season long became someone else’s, which bothered me a lot. I didn’t think other hunters deserved the deer that I worked so hard to mostly not kill.

It was a stupid way of thinking but not overly uncommon. I don’t know too many bowhunters who are excited about the general gun season wherever they live, especially if they are still trying to fill a buck tag after the orange army has marched across the land.

In my early years, it was nearly the kiss of death to my season to not fill my buck tag before the firearm opener. I knew the odds of a late-season buck were slim to none, so there was always a sense of pressure throughout October if the arrows weren’t flying true (they often weren’t) or the bucks weren’t cooperating (they also, often weren’t).

If you find yourself in this situation, it can be tempting to hang it up for the season. However, not hunting isn’t the solution. I found out, through a hell of a lot of trial and error, that there are ways to salvage your season. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to acknowledge that you probably have to start over.

Wherever They Are, You Should Be

One recurring theme in my hunting life that I truly pay attention to these days is that fresh sign is my key to good hunts. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s not. Arguably one of the worst tactics hunters can use is to try to force a hunt to happen where they want it to occur. The box blind on the food plot might be great for late-September bow hunts, but if you’ve worn out your welcome, you’ll waste your time in late November or December.

Gun season is the biggest reset out there for most hunters. This coincides with the late-season, food-driven reality of deer, but that’s nothing compared to a whitetail’s desire to not get shot.

If you’re sitting on a buck tag and planning to either bowhunt or muzzleloader hunt after the general gun season, the best thing you can do is scout. Forget your trail cameras, and get out there to look around. The downside of post-gun-season deer is that they are cagey, and there are fewer of them left. The upside is that they are often concentrated, and that means there will be sign to work with somewhere. The easiest way to find it is to go look for it.

There is also something worth remembering here—you’re not looking for buck sign. You’re looking for deer sign, which will mostly consist of tracks and beds. The bucks and does will often be in the same spots, so forget about focusing on just locating bucks and try to find as many deer as you can.

Break Your Routine

If you want to find fresh sign, then you have to go where you probably don’t want to. This is a rule that applies to pressured deer, as well as elk and other critters. The does and bucks that hole up in the soggy cattail slough aren’t much different from the cows and bulls that spend their late-September days on steep hillsides covered in dark timber and blowdowns.

Think about the hillsides, overgrown homesteads, swamps, sloughs, and other patches of cover that should hold some survivors. Go look at them, and then remember that what you did in the earlier season probably won’t work now.

Found Them, Now What

As I get older and encounter more pressure on the properties I hunt, I often find myself waiting on the right conditions. Even when I find a concentration of deer, it might take days for the conditions to warrant a foray in to hunt. I spend a lot of time sitting Plan B spots until things are just right.

This is hard with limited time, but figuring out how to actually hunt specific spots is one of the skills that really matters. This is even more important when you’re working off of fresh data on deer that are jaded to the point of zero tolerance for human presence.

If you find a concentration, figure out if you can hunt them mornings or evenings. Plan out your entrance and exits, and then obsess over the conditions. Maybe you need some serious wind to get in, or you have to get up super early to slip in and let things settle down long before first light.

Post-gun-season hunts are tough. You first have to re-find them once they’ve gone to their sanctuaries, and you have to figure out how to hunt them when they are at their cagiest. It’s not easy, but it is possible. And the plus side, if there is one, is that most of your competition will have given up by now.

This leaves just you, the deer, and whatever time is left on the game clock.

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