When most people think of late-season bow hunting, they think of sitting in freezing cold temps, with ten inches of snow on the ground, all while chasing highly pressured bucks. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
Certainly those conditions can hold true, but at the same time patterning deer has never been easier. Deer are on strict daily schedules which have them moving to food from cover almost like clockwork. Find the food and you’re in the game! At least that’s what most articles will tell you about hunting the late-season.
Well guess what, most of us don’t have an unpressured piece of ground to hunt with a five acre standing bean field flooded with deer night after night. Truth is, late-season is challenging. Less hunters in the woods is one favorable aspect about the late season, but of course it also means less deer due to the recent firearm season. Here are some late-season tips for the Average Joe out there who doesn’t have a standing bean field to hunt over.
Find the Food
It’s not too difficult to find the main food source during the winter months. By now, most of the acorns have been consumed and ag fields have been harvested and worked under, leaving only a few, if any, high quality food sources for the deer to seek out. Throughout much of the Midwest, standing crops, cut-but-unplowed grain fields, and food plots provide deer with high energy food for the winter. If you’ve got any of those present on or near your property, that’s where I’d begin looking for a spot to hang a stand or place a ground blind.
It gets quite a bit more difficult to pinpoint regular deer movement when there’s not a main feeding destination. If you’re hunting big timber areas where agriculture is non-existent, then chances are you will not see large deer numbers or regular patterns associated with, say, a standing bean field in Iowa. Nonetheless, there’s still preferred feeding areas, it’s just that they come in the form of preferred woody browse. Clear cuts, patches of dogwood (red brush), briar, and other young woody growth provide the best food for whitetails during the winter in heavily forested areas. One tip to use is if the woods look nice and pretty and easy to walk through, chances are deer won’t be spending much time there because there’s neither food nor cover.
It’s Not that Easy
Just because you found the food doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk. Now is when the real work begins. If you’re like me, chances are you like to kill deer, not just watch them. In my opinion, this is where late-season proves difficult . . . especially in farm country. Getting “bow range close” is extremely challenging if you’re set up over any food source over 5 acres in size, but do you really have any other option if this is where all of the deer are?
Like all things deer hunting, the answer depends on the situation. Well that’s helpful, you might say. This is why I’ve outlined a few hunting scenarios below.
-3 Late-Season Scenarios-
Scenario 1: The Tree Liner
Here lies a pretty common hunting scenario for many of us Midwesterners: a big, cut corn field attracts all the deer, but two or more sides are bordered by thin tree lines and those just so happen to be the ones with favorable wind conditions. Thus, tree stand locations are severely limited.
What to do:
Tree lines are tough to hunt during the late season because there is absolutely no cover up in the tree, which causes your silhouette to stick out like a sore thumb with even the slightest of movements. Unless you have a burly oak, or a multi-stemmed cluster of trees to hide yourself in you may want to hit the ground instead. If you hate sitting on the ground, take some time to build yourself a backdrop to hide your silhouette when you’re up in the tree. One way to do this is by strapping an old Christmas tree to your tree or fixing cedar bows to from a backdrop. If that’s not an option, I’d recommend tree hopping during every sit to keep the element of surprise in your favor. A lot of times, ladder stand are the best tool for this scenario because most of the trees are crooked, thus, preventing you from using a hang on stand.
Scenario 2: Food Surrounded By Open Hardwoods
Here’s a tricky one because most of us would be tempted to sit right along the edge of the field to catch a good look at whatever comes out to feed. However, unless they come walking out from underneath you, you’ll probably never get a shot. Not to mention, the deer may never show up until after dark due to the distance the field is from bedding.
What to do:
Instead, treat the open hardwoods as their staging area. Find where they are entering the open woods from thicker patches and set up between the food and bedding. Depending on the size and layout of the hardwoods, try to get in off the field edge 100+ yards or so for the best chance of catching a daylight mover. This type of setup will also allow you to get out cleanly as the deer will just be passing through.
In big timber tracts, clear cuts are the equivalent of crop fields with the exception that deer will often bed down right in them because they are thicker. Here, I’d recommend sitting near the very edge as they are typically used as travel corridors.
Scenario 3: Feeding Field on Property Line
It’s fairly common to have permission on a farm where the edge of a field is the property boundary. This makes it difficult to hunt deer that are coming off the neighbors to feed on your property.
What to do:
Here, the best way to get close is with the use of a portable blind. By portable I mean anything from a bale blind, pop-up blind, or even better, a homemade blind on a trailer. If you know that’s where you’ll likely be targeting late season activity, get the blind out in plain view as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter if it’s not in the perfect spot, you just want deer to be used to seeing it in or near that feeding field throughout the season. Spend a few nights glassing from a distance and then move the blind to a good spot based on your observations and go in for the kill!
This can be a killer tactic for hunting any large food source. Just beware, you’ll want someone available to clear the field for you at dark. If you don’t have someone to pick you up, place a remote controlled coyote call 75+ yards from your blind on the walk in and sound it off when you’re ready to leave.
Late season hunting is certainly no walk in the park, but success can be achieved. Harsh weather conditions and highly pressured bucks combine to make some undoubtedly tough sits. Persistence is key, it’s just a matter of how much you want it…and how close the food is.