November 30, 2023
The benefits of a mobile bowhunting setup receive the most focus during the rut-packed periods of October and November, but the greatest tactical advantages provided by a mobile approach aren’t witnessed in those prime months of whitetail bliss. They shine brightest when temperatures are at their lowest, food sources are at their scarcest and hunting pressure has reached its fever pitch, having a major impact on the natural movement patterns of the entire deer herd in a given area.
The waning days of the season can be cold, windy and brutally slow. Those final days are also your last chance of filling a tag and, as it turns out, are some of the best times for employing a mobile approach. Staying mobile now allows you to react immediately to fleeting patterns that emerge suddenly and quickly disappear.
OBSERVE TWICE THEN STRIKE
If I’ve learned anything in my years of trying to make the most of the final weeks of deer season, it is this: Intense gun-season pressure has an immediate and lasting impact on deer movement. I’m sure this varies depending on the amount of pressure an area receives, but here in my home state of Michigan, I fully expect all semblance of natural deer movement to come to an end around 9 a.m. on Nov. 15. It will not resume in any appreciable amount until sometime the following spring.
That date marks the start of Michigan’s gun deer season. It’s an event that brings heavy hunting pressure to the woods and continues for 16 days. In many areas of the state, the pressure doesn’t end with the closure of the firearms season. It simply continues for another two weeks during the “muzzleloader” season, in which you can use firearms including shotguns and rifles chambered for straight-walled pistol cartridges.
The prolonged pressure essentially ends all natural deer movement. The only time any sort of patternable voluntary movement returns is when the snow begins to pile up, temperatures plummet and food becomes a life-or-death focus. This food-focused movement pattern can be exceptionally consistent, but it’s also immensely fragile. One misstep can destroy a feeding pattern and blow the area for the remainder of the year.
This is why I always, without exception, give an area at least two observation periods before moving in to hunt. Using trail cameras and long-range surveillance, I spend a couple of evenings observing a food source—usually some type of agriculture—and pinpointing where deer are entering the field. When it’s time to strike, I take a mobile setup (whether it’s a saddle and sticks or some form of cover for a ground-based scenario) and hunt immediately. No more scouting. No hanging a stand and giving it a day. This is a straight-up mobile attack, and there is no other way to take advantage of the opportunity.
HUNT AND REFINE
Hunting these late-season food sources can be tricky because you absolutely cannot tip off the deer that you’re onto them. This means finding a way to exit a location in the evenings without blowing deer off the food source.
This is easily the No. 1 struggle I have with late-season hunting, and it’s also a problem that mobile setups help to alleviate somewhat. You still can’t be sloppy with your entrance and, most importantly, your exit, but mobile setups allow you to quickly rotate locations in the event you make a mistake and tip off deer to your ambush site.
Regardless of whether I’m alerting deer or not, I still like to mix up my hunting locations when trying to get on a late-season buck. Such moves are often dictated by the activity I observe during an outing. As much as I try to land on the mark for the first sit, it’s not uncommon to be off just a bit, requiring a move to get into range.
With mobile setups, moving is a simple chore. I’ve even made in-hunt moves from time to time. This is a risky step, of course, but if you have a mobile system that you can take down and deploy quickly and quietly, it’s possible.
PLAY THE GROUND GAME
I find myself more likely to hunt from a ground setup during the late season than at any other time of the year. This is partly because the deer seem to hang out more in areas with limited options for treestands once gun season arrives. I have often wondered if this behavior is because the deer have learned that treestands are a threat or if it’s just coincidence. Regardless, ground setups play a much bigger role for me in December and January than they do in October and November.
Another reason for an increased ground game is the ease of setup. I can brush into a fencerow or clump of brush much more quickly and easily than trying to find a suitable tree and climbing into an elevated position.
My mobile ground system is basic indeed. I rely on a couple of pieces of die-cut camo material that easily stashes in my pack along with a handful of zip ties. When I find a location I want to hunt, I use the material to help fill in a natural ground blind. The zip ties make it easy to attach the material to limbs, bushes and whatever else is handy. I try to use conifers for cover whenever they are an option. If you’re able to tuck into a stand of cedars or pines, you will be amazed at what you can get away with even when uber-jittery deer are close. Being mobile and carefully planning your late-season setup will put you in range.