Early antlerless season is a distant memory, the main bow season is long gone and the firearms season is done and over with. Some area's are into muzzleloader season now but if you are a bowhunter at heart like I am than you are smack dab in the middle of the late archery season. The weather can make it a test of your endurance and will power and a deer herd that's both skittish and much smaller than it was a few weeks ago can make it an extreme test in patience and perseverance. Bow hunting the late season isn't for everybody but for those of us who can't get enough of chasing deer with the stick and string it's just another challenge to look forward to.
Bitter cold and snow can make late season hunting a true test of one's grit.
Personally I haven't had a whole lot of luck in the late season in terms of harvesting deer but I have been able to see deer and in the last few years have begun to really enjoy late season hunting. It wasn't too long ago that my season would end with my last gun hunt on or around December 30th every year, I've really only hunted the late season for a few short years now. I've been fortunate to learn new things year to year and my success during my late season hunts has gotten better and better from year to year.
We've been on a mission for the last few years to improve our property's late season effectiveness through projects involving bedding areas and food sources. Our landowner has also helped us over the last few years by continuing to plant former pasture land into crops which has increased the food sources around us quite a bit. Late season deer movement is largely focused on food sources so any increase in the available food on or around your property is a big bonus.
Our other goal was to increase the bedding and safe haven area's on our property to hopefully allow more deer to use our property as a shelter during the gun season. Our hope was that if we had some good bedding and some good food we could get deer to call our property home during the late season. If we could get them on the property we were pretty confident we could then have success hunting them as they moved from the bedding to the food and vice versa.
A big part of that plan this year was the addition of a new food plot. The plot we call The Plateau Plot is a bit over 1.5 acres in size and with the deer density in our area should be big enough to sustain browsing throughout the fall and into winter. We planted half the plot to purple top turnips and the other half to winter wheat in an effort to have food sources that would draw deer in through the entire hunting season and still provide the deer with much needed nutrition once the season ended and winter took hold.
The turnips in the Plateau Plot were to be a big part of our 2012 late season strategy but the plot didn't grow like we'd hoped it would.
Unfortunately the plot has not come to fruition like we'd hoped and while there is definitely some browse available in the plot it looks like it will not be the late season hot spot that we had hoped for this year. While that is certainly a bit disappointing it is certainly not the end of my late season hopes and dreams.
Where there is a will there is a way and I will find a way to get myself on some deer this late season. If hunting the runs to and from our plot doesn't pan out than I'll have to change up my initial strategy and will probably end up doing some "on the fly" stand set ups. With that in mind I've come up with some ideas that will hopefully pan out for me.
Alternative plan #1 has me sticking with the idea of hunting food sources and takes advantage of an area that in previous years was pertty much dead by this time of year. My father inlaws portion of our property, a 35 or so acre field that was just an old hayfield in years past, was replanted to winter rye this year. The farmers that leased the field out have turned the once boring hayfield into a neon green late season food source and I will certainly be paying attention to this area much more this year than I have in the past.
We are still seeing some signs of active buck behavior (fresh rubs and scrapes on December 1st) in the woods that border this field and this area will likely be used in a "on the fly" set up since we don't have much in the way of stands in this area.
Alternative plan #2 is largely dependent on the wind directions forecasted for the days I'll be hunting but if I can catch an east based wind I can try to sneak in and hunt our small Southline Plot from the ground. This plot is surrounded by thick cover on all sides and the deer tend to feel very comfortable feeding in this plot during daylight hours. Hopefully that level of comfort will allow me to catch some deer feeding during legal shooting hours. If I do catch one moving I will have a very exciting, ground level, eye to eye, up close and personal encounter to show for it.
This picture (taken 11/24 as opposed to 9/24) shows how comfortable some deer are in our secluded Southline Plot.
We haven't hunted this plot at all this year because the tree our stand was in blew down a few years ago and there are no other suitable tree's for a stand. We had a ground blind set up on the stand last year but didn't set it up again this year. This would be the epitome of a "on the fly" set up but with zero hunting pressure on the plot this year it may just work.
Alternative plan #3 will take me away from the food and focus on hunting the cover and protection that our property and our neighboring property to the north provide. This time of year the deer are definitely skitish and by now they have found bedding area's that provide them as much shelter as possible from hunting pressure. We have a multiple acre cedar sanctuary that we do not pressure at all during hunting season and hopefully it is now a main bedding area for several deer.
The south end of our neighbors property is not hunted at all and is another sanctuary for the deer of our area. The tall marsh grasses provide good cover and bedding and we see a lot of deer working in and out of the area during the season. The northern edge of our cedars and the southern edge of their property are separated by about 140yds of open woods and the deer will often move through from one bedding area to the other as they settle in during the mornings. We have one great spot already hung in this area but if the winds aren't right for that spot I may have to try an "on the fly" setup in this area and set up tight to the cover of the cedars. Hopefully this setup will pay off by catching a deer as it works its way to or from its bed.
Hunting the late season is a bit different than hunting during the rut and the patterns and deer movement that you followed back in October and early November may not hold true come late December.
Often times come late season you will hear people say that the deer are all gone or that they have all gone nocturnal. While that is true to a certain extent, the truth is that there are still deer out there and they still have to move to some degree during the day. They still have to get food and water at some point and will do it during daylight. You just have to find those new travel patterns and routines and get yourself in a position to capitalize on what you've found.
The late season isn't for everyone but if you're willing to do your homework, put in your time and deal with the elements it can be a very exciting, and a very productive, time of the year. It's not easy but that's what makes it fun.
Take care, and thanks for reading!