Pro Secrets: Back Country Quest's Keefer Brothers Share Tips for Late-Season Bucks

Pro Secrets: Back Country Quest's Keefer Brothers Share Tips for Late-Season Bucks
Chris Keefer knows that rattling is an important part of hunting the rut. Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Chris and Casey Keefer are stars on the whitetail deer hunting stage. At ages 33 and 30 respectively, the brothers have hunted or guided 250 days a year, the equivalent of several normal lifetimes of studying trophy bucks across the U.S. and Canada.

Television programs featuring the Keefers have aired for years. Their current show, "Back Country Quest," which airs on the Sportsman Channel, involves both brothers traveling across North America to find and hunt trophy bucks.

Doing so has given them a tremendous amount of experience in trying to outsmart bucks in a variety of conditions.

With the final days of the 2013 hunting season winding down soon, the Keefers each shared three tips for late-season bucks, namely trophies. Because they've hunted many states, not all strategies apply to all hunting areas, of course. But no matter where they are, bucks that live long enough to get big have similar needs and must extract what they need from their environments — and hunters who understand what the bucks need and how habitat can provide those needs will find more success in patterning trophies.

See if you can put these tips to work in your hunting. Chris discusses food sources, bedding areas and fencerows. Casey provides insights for hunting timber thickets, watercourses and refreshed buck sign.

Chris Keefer\'s Buck

Chris Keefer shot this buck as it came to a late-season food source. Chris patterned the buck using trail cameras and by noticing that the buck chose where to enter the field based on wind direction.

Photo via Chris Keefer

First, Find the Food

'œThe first thing I do is hunt for the food source,' Chris said. 'œThe highest-quality food sources attract bucks that are trying to recover body weight once they are out of chase mode. I plant late-season food plots with turnips. Turnip leaves stick above the snow and sugars go to the ends of the leaves, creating a strong attraction to deer.'

Where food plots are not available, standing crops also attract deer. Chris said beans or corn serve the same purpose if a hunter can find or leave standing crops.

'œLeaving a portion of a soybean field unharvested is a great way to attract deer,' he said. 'œIf you have some control over a field, leave standing crops in an area out of the wind. You should also look for a hidden spot in a creek bottom or that has timber around it, so deer are comfortable eating all day. It's a different pattern than during the early season, when they come into a field in early morning or late afternoon.'

Cornfields may attract deer even after the harvest if crop residue remains. However, corn is not as nutritious as food plots and legumes.

'œHunt food sources during cold weather,' he said. 'œBut you don't want storm fronts moving in. Crisp, clear or overcast days are best. Finding a buck during bad weather is just luck.'

Photo via Dwight Burdette

Edge Close to Beds

'œFind bedding areas, then set up as close as you can,' Chris said. 'œAfter that, it's an all-day sit. In cold weather, deer are not always bedding down. They keep moving around to keep warm.'

The best time to get into a stand is early morning in case a buck has been moving during the night and is returning to warmer daytime cover. Chris prefers hunting from a tree stand for scent control. However, if a tree isn't available, he sets up a ground blind a week in advance to allow deer to become accustomed to its presence and to give any human scent time to dissipate.

'œYou really have to watch the wind,' he said. 'œIf you have to, park and walk a long way to come in from downwind and do anything possible to keep your scent out of the bedding area.'

Hunters should scout for beds in evergreens because their needles prevent snow from reaching the ground. They also break the wind. The best places to hunt are along travel lanes that lead into a bedding area.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Follow the Fencerows

Deer are fools for fencerows. Chris said these narrow strips offer safety for traveling or bedding.

'œFencerows are planted anywhere there is farm country, but are especially prevalent in the Midwest,' he said. 'œFarmers plant shelterbelts along them and fencerows with the thickest cover are the best to hunt. Deer use fencerows to stay warm and out of the wind and to keep from being seen when they are moving between food sources and bedding areas. They also bed in fencerows if they have enough cover.'

Sometimes, Chris wires the top fence strand to the middle strand to create a deer crossing. This technique works best when applied during the early parts of the season to allow deer to become accustomed to leaping the low hurdle. He looks for tracks to help him decide the best place to hunt. He usually uses a ground blind.

'œMost fencerows have low cover,' he said. 'œSo, using a tree stand is not often possible. A deer may move along a fencerow anytime. However, if the fencerow is very open and deer are using it to approach a field, it will likely be late in the day before an older buck will move along it.'

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Chris Keefer\'s 173-inch Iowa Monster

One of Chris's most memorable hunts took place along a fencerow. He was hunting in Iowa when he arrowed a buck that taped out at 173 inches.

'œWe were hunting a cornfield terrace with a bunch of cedars,' he said. 'œHe was feeding and moved from the corner of the field along a fencerow. We kept watching him through a spotting scope until we could no longer see him because he bedded in the fencerow. A farmer was moving cattle and there was lots of other human activity. But, I kept watching that spot for seven hours.'

Chris set up a tree stand in a cedar tree in the fencerow, 60 yards from the field. Eventually, he saw the buck stand up. He ticked some antlers together and made bleats with a call. The buck came along the fencerow to investigate the sounds, offering Chris a 40-yard shot.

Photo via Chris Keefer

Tuck Into Timber

'œWhile deer use timber for bedding and travel, they also stay inside them because of the protection from the cold,' Casey said. 'œIt can be 10 to 15 degrees warmer than in the open. They travel inside timber stands and use them as staging areas.'

Inside thinner timber, Casey finds thickets of plums, cedars, pines or any other tree or shrub that offers deer the ability to move undetected. He looks for thick cover in places that farmers cannot till along hillsides in bottoms. He also looks for clear-cut and hinge-cut areas, finding many hunting hotspots by driving roads. Often, he locates several pockets of cover linked by deer trails. He may watch a thicket 45 minutes if he sees a deer duck into it, trying to see where the buck comes out on the other side.

'œI hunt the timber from a tree stand,' he said. 'œI find a place where a main trail comes in and goes out. I scout the thick areas by walking right through them or by watching for deer movement from along the edges. I shot a deer in Kansas that scored 154 after I saw him walking along the edge of a thicket. He was farther away from cover than I would have expected. I tucked in underneath a cedar tree when he went back into the thicket and walked through it, making his way to a field. I was using a rifle so I did not have to get any closer. I waited until he got to the edge of the field to shoot.'

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Casey Keefer\'s 186-inch Giant

Casey shot a 186-inch 7x7 buck in Kansas after locating his bedding area behind two harvested cornfields, between the cornfields, the buck was maintaining rutting signposts.

'œHe would walk 250 yards across the first field then hit his scrapes and rubs in a patch of timber before coming out to feed in the second field,' he said. 'œThere were does feeding in both fields, so he was likely coming into the second field to look for a doe in heat that was feeding there.'

Photo via Casey Keefer

Duck Into Ditches

'œDeer use ditches to travel back and forth between feeding and bedding areas,' Casey said. 'œDitches and small creeks give them places to duck into so they can stay out of sight.'

Most of the time, a ditch that provides a good travel corridor has vegetation growing alongside, but seldom has a good tree for setting up a stand. Therefore, Casey primarily hunts ditches from ground blinds.

'œA ditch that has running water usually has several deer crossings,' he said. 'œI set up a blind at a crossing at a location that will prevent a buck from detecting my scent.'

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Seek Second-Rut Sign

'œIf your hunting area has early-born fawns, some of them could be coming into heat,' Casey said. 'œThe last weeks in December, you should hone in on the doe bedding areas, benches, and saddles where you saw buck sign earlier in the season.'

Bucks are in desperation mode and will not expend the amount of energy they do during the primary rut. Whereas the hottest primary scrapes and rubs may have been near open areas and feeding fields earlier, the best scrapes to find during the late season are away from open areas in heavier cover. A hunter may have thought a buck he was hunting has disappeared or been taken by another hunter. But, all of a sudden, the buck is freshening the same scrapes and rub lines he was using before.

'œUnlike during the rut and pre-rut, I don't rattle antlers or bleat,' he said. 'œChances are that any encounter between bucks is not going to be a full-blown battle. The bucks' main concern is food. They are not out roaming for does. I just sit back in a stand or ground blind and wait for them along a corridor that has fresh buck sign. I pattern the deer, finding the middle ground between where they are bedding and where they are feeding.'

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Check out this interview with Chris and Casey Keefer as they talk about why it's great to be an American sportsman:

Find out the best places to hunt trophy bucks in your state on the Game & Fish Deer Forecast! Just click on your state and select "Trophy Bucks."

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