El Nino or Not, Late-Season Food the Key to Buck Success
With the end of late deer season in sight, camping out near food sources offers the best odds to tag out, even during unseasonable weather
Right about now, in a standard season of filming deer hunting action for Outdoor Channel programming, it should be time to get the Merino wool thermal underwear out for most late season hunts.
Except this isn't your normal year of deer hunting, with a virtual super El Nino flooding the U.S. mainland east of the Rocky Mountains with record warmth and little in the way of snow cover.
But mild temperatures or not – and the tough late-season hunting conditions that such weather can bring – doesn't change the equation for success according to several show hosts who are still hard at it during the final weeks of deer season.
In fact, late-season deer hunting is really pretty simple, according to some.
"Food, food and food," laughs David Holder, co-host of Raised Hunting. "During this part of the year, our hunting tactics seem to change a bit as we now focus and sit right on the best food sources we can find."
Fellow Iowa resident and Outdoor Channel hunting personality Kandi Kisky, co-host of Whitetail Freaks, readily agrees.
"Food is critical to post-rut hunting," she said.
According to Kisky, even with the season winding down, hunters can't throw caution to the wind and wade right in to a food source and hope for the best.
Instead, they need to do their homework, have all of their “I”s dotted and all of their “T”s crossed before moving in for a late-season harvest.
"Glassing and using your spotting scope (to find bucks and the patterns they are on) is never more important than right now," said Kisky.
She added that there is one more weapon that she and husband Don rely on as they try to tag a couple of late-season Iowa giants – their Browning trail cameras.
"Running our trail cameras at this time of the year (is a key)," she said. "This time is the most important time of the year (to gain valuable Intel). To know that they are there is half of the battle."
So too is putting a blind over a high-energy food source, one that will cause deer to stream in to pack away the high-quality calories needed to face a winter storm and cold.
Holder said that natural foods – when they can still be found – will obviously work. But perhaps even better are high-energy late-season food plots provided by hunters.
"The bucks are worn down, and in most cases, have delicately weaved their way through gun seasons," he said.
In other words, they are survivors and they are doing their dead-level best to survive the rigors of winter with its cold weather and lack of food.
"Their entire day is spent resting and recovering (right now)," said Holder. "But when the right weather patterns occur, it can force them to their feet and to the food during daylight hours."
And that, according to Holder, is plenty of reason to politely beg off attending the office Christmas party or a pre-New Year's Eve gathering in order to head for the woods.
"That can give you one last crack at a big boy," said Holder. "The right weather I am referring to is cold and snow. The combination makes for difficult browsing and makes food plots and agricultural fields great places to target deer.
"And that includes some of your best bucks (of the season)," he added.
When the cold weather does arrive, Holder says the right gear is paramount.
"It needs to be warm yet still light enough that you're still able to function in it," he said. "For us, we rely heavily at these times of the year on Double Bull blinds and Under Armuor winter clothing to make it through the worst possible conditions."
Mark Drury, co-host of THIRTEEN on Outdoor Channel, notes that even with the right food source, plenty of Intel and gear that will help a hunter tough it out as they wait on a giant buck, there are still a couple of key considerations to have in mind.
"Make sure that your access (routes to your blind) are on point," said Drury, who has enjoyed an epic 2015 season of success. "If you don't do this, you can spook just one deer and it can lead to spooking an entire herd. You've got to avoid the domino effect (during late season hunts)."
Drury adds that hunters should wait for the weather to be just right, even in the late season.
"I'd say only hunt on cold fronts and when the (barometric) pressure rises above 30.00 inches to maximize your time afield," he said. "And also hunt on sunny days, they are better for daylight (late season) activity than cloudy days."
But whether there is a cold front on a sunny day or not, focus those final deer season sits around a good food source and hope for the best.