December 23, 2019
Bowhunting late in the season is tough. The primary rut is now in the rearview, and Mother Nature has her nastiest snarl on, as winter’s icy grip tightens. While conditions may not be ideal for bowhunting, now is still a great time to arrow your best buck.
Bowhunting in the late season is not for the faint of heart. The weather is often inhospitable, and climbing in and out of treestands or blinds is a slog for even the most dedicated archer. It seems like all the excitement is gone.
Sadly, many bowhunters hang their bow on a hook as the weather worsens. They settle into a cozy rocker with the remote instead of grinding it out in a miserably cold, uncomfortable treestand. Admittedly, there are some great games on now but, rest assured, this is prime time to be in the woods.
Some seven to 10 days after the close of the primary rut (depending on geographical location, of course) the “second rut” begins. It’s during the second rut when does who did not go into estrous during the “first” rut, do so. Hunters often overlook the second rut. Big bucks do not. When conditions are right, the action can be frenzied.
Mathematically speaking, there are far fewer breedable does during the second rut. However, this is to your advantage. As “in-heat” doe numbers decline, adventurous bucks are willing to venture out of their core area, traveling farther in search of remaining, unbred does. This explains why countless bucks, those which have never been seen before, are arrowed late in the season. It is now that these bucks will waltz right into your comfort zone without knowing you’re there.
During the late season and second rut, you’ll want to hunt for bucks around does (for obvious reasons). While that doesn’t sound like a complicated strategy, there are nuances to improve your chances of arrowing cruising bucks now, and the most important of them is to know where to find the deer this time of year.
WHERE TO LOOK
Late season finds does concentrated in two primary places: 1. bedding areas; and 2. late-season food sources. As the season winds down, look for more remote bedding areas. These may include areas you’d never consider hunting early in the year. Typically, these late-season bedding areas are the thickest, most impenetrable cover (to humans) on the property you hunt.
These are places where you couldn’t walk, claw or much less crawl through on your hands and knees. You probably know where these areas are; however, if you don’t, use a topographical map or a Google Earth satellite photo to narrow your search. While searching, look for areas closest to active late-season food sources.
As bowhunters know, hunting bedding areas is never a high-percentage affair. Getting in and out of stands or blinds unnoticed is nearly impossible. If possible, locate a transition area connecting the bedding areas with the food source and setup here.
If you’ve planted food plots that are still producing, by all means hunt near these if you see any sign deer are using them. In many geographical regions these will be clover plots. If agricultural crops, such as corn, have been left standing to help supplement the winter deer herd, locate these and hunt them.
Keep in mind that as the weather turns colder, deer will bed closer and closer to the food source. This is in an effort to conserve energy in transition between their beds and their food.
Do not overlooked other food sources beyond the obvious. Late in the season, select mast trees still produce. So be sure to check these, too. Often these are found in saddles and other low-lying areas like river bottoms. And, if you are hunting property with little pressure, be sure to check protective woodlots near agricultural fields.
THE SETUP: NARROW THE GAP
Two setup strategies pay dividends during the late season for bowhunters. Each is predicated by the amount of pressure the herd is receiving. First, if you are hunting highly pressured deer, move as deep into the property as you can, to places where access is limited to others by the terrain. Pressured deer will bed in the thickest areas: that’s where you should look for them.
Next, locate the transition areas and routes to the nearest food sources. Remember, these food sources aren’t always major ones that are easily identified. Scout carefully to figure out what the deer are actually feeding on, rather than what you think they should be feeding on.
Once you find a productive food source, set your stand close to travel paths. I typically use a climber as it allows me to stay mobile and adjust as the deer’s movement dictates. Rarely—and I do mean rarely—will you set up in the perfect tree the first time.
I make a conscious effort to hunt within 20 yards of travel corridors leading to food sources. When hanging your stand, make every attempt to keep the tree trunk between you and the deer, as remaining concealed is key with the foliage off the trees. Short shots are essential late in the season as the cold makes muscles stiff and unresponsive. Remember, give yourself a bit of bow room to shoot around the trunk.
If hunting private land with little or no pressure, set up on active food sources. These may be green fields or food plots that are still producing. They may also be standing agricultural crops. Here, too, keep shots short to increase your chances of arrowing a great late deer.
Sleight of Hand: Manufacture a Second Rut
You can“manufacture” a second-rut response from bucks by giving them a snoot full of estrous odor. Wildlife Research Center’s Premium Doe Urine with Estrus Secretions is concentrated, emitting a strong estrous odor that triggers a buck’s curiosity. To use, apply it to a wick and hang it within sight, preferably within 20 yards of your treestand or blind location. Keep the scent dispersal close, as chilly late season shots are considerably more difficult than warm-weather plinks.