November 30, 2016
Like most deer hunters, the guys at Game & Fish/Sportsman kill almost all their deer each season before Thanksgiving weekend.
This is the case even though there are late-season deer opportunities here, and there are still deer in the woods.
For us, the on-the-ground truth is that between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day there are so many different obligations competing for our time that hunting is frequently the thing that gets squeezed. Family obligations, holiday events, Christmas shopping, travel, Friday night revelations from the middle-school kid that a "huge" project he's known about for weeks is suddenly due on Monday — and that doesn't even count trying to show up to work often enough to keep our jobs.
So the big problem with taking a late-season deer is simply getting the chance to go hunting. Successful late-season hunters are successful because they plan ahead and organize the various elements of their lives so that they can go hunting.
There are other problems, though, once you do get out in the woods. Three things make deer hunting harder than it was earlier in the year. First, with the rut over (in most places) deer are not moving as much. Second, with acorns and most agricultural crops a distant memory, foods sources are less plentiful and less palatable — deer respond to having fewer easy calories available by spending less energy moving around. Third, the weather is colder, which deer respond to by seeking thermal refuge — and by moving around less.
In other words, deer have three reasons to expend as little energy as possible to move around as little as possible. Funnels and travel corridors that previously were good stand sites might now be in parts of the woods that seem deserted.
But the good news is that these same characteristics of late-season deer give the careful hunter two advantages.
First, the deer spend more of their time concentrated around their bedding areas, and they will choose their bedding areas based on proximity to food and thermal refuge. Find thick bedding cover next to a good late-season food source, and the deer will be there.
If you have a late-season food plot (or there is an agricultural field with food in it) explore the nearest thick cover and try to determine a good stand site that allows you to see deer going between the food and the bedding area.
Deer will sometimes bed in the middle of a cutover or brushy field this time of year, especially if the weather has been dry. While upland hunting with my dog we fairly often jump deer — if you are hunting into the wind they won't stand up until you and the dog are right on top of them. You wouldn't think that deer would bed in such an open place in belt-high grass and brush. But they choose places where the low cover blocks cold wind and still allows the sun to shine on them. If the area has dead grass and is dry, the deer are in as warm a bed as they can find, and as long as they are in their beds, nothing can see them.
The second advantage a hunter has is that whether the deer are bedding in the woods or in a field, every few hours they stand up and often move around a little even if they don't leave their bedding area. This is particularly true on property where reduced hunting pressure has caused the deer to relax. If your stand site puts you in a position to see the deer when it stands up, all you have to do is dress warmly and be patient. If you can do that, you can end your season with a bang.