Is it really December already?
It seems like it was just a few days ago that we were welcoming in the start of another deer season, and now we’re already in the home stretch.
Man, that was fast.
If you’re still looking for your first taste of success this season, or just out to continue your luck in what has already been a banner year for you, it needs to be understood that in the late season, the game has completely changed.
This means that you’ll need to change as well, and approach the hunt in an entirely different manner unless you’re willing to rely entirely on luck.
Many hunters know no other approach to deer hunting than to sit in a deer stand overlooking a food plot, no matter what point of the season it is.
I’ve said numerous times in the past that this was a mistake.
Thanks to a cooperative study by Auburn University, our state’s Department of Natural Resources and the Brosnan Forest Conference Center down in Dorchester County, we now know for a fact that deer use food plots far more in the latter parts of the hunting season than they do early.
The problem is that this increased activity tends to take place during the night.
How do we go about taking advantage of an old buck’s need to replenish his body before the hard winter truly sets in? After all, throughout the rut he’s worn himself down tremendously while giving little thought to eating.
The answer is really not that complicated when you think about it.
Deer tend to follow the same routes both to and from their bedding areas and food sources, so common sense says your best chance to catch one during daylight hours is going to be somewhere along that route, as they work their way toward the food in the last hours of the day and from it at first light in the morning.
By locating both the bedding area and food source, you can easily find a good point to place a stand along this path.
When doing so, search out those remote spots that have seen the least amount of hunting pressure. Be mindful of where the sun will rise and set so that you’ll not be silhouetted and sticking out like a sore thumb, and you should be in good shape.
Not everyone has food plots planted on their hunting grounds, but the same tactics still can be used when the deer are living strictly off the native browse.
In wooded areas, look for any oaks that may still have a few remaining acorns scattered beneath them. The deer are sure to hit these spots first even if there are food plots around, and that will almost guarantee you a shot as long as you’re willing to put in the time and effort to wait them out.
You’ll also want to be mindful of everything that you see out there that might serve as a meal for the deer.
As unappetizing and unpalatable as it may look, green briar is actually a staple of their diet and can be found in abundance in this part of the country. It’s frequently seen in our many thickets, thus serving double duty to the tired, late-season buck, since he can both eat and bed right there without exerting too much energy.
A strategically placed stand somewhere along the edge of a thicket can be about as good of a “honey hole” during the late season as that heavy-hanging persimmon tree was during the month of September.
There’s no doubt the action there will be slower, but, as is always the case, patience is the key.
Give these few things some thought and try applying them to your next hunt this month. I’ll guarantee you that if you’ll just change a few things and try a different approach, you’ll surprise yourself with how many deer you’ll see.
Some interesting tidbits
The aforementioned study was conducted by Clint McCoy as a doctoral project and involved capturing bucks and attaching GPS collars to them.
Over the course of the three-year study, around 40 bucks were captured, which included about 10 deer in each age class, from 1.5 to 4.5 years.
The GPS units recorded each animal’s location every 30 minutes; more than 115,000 locations were recorded in all.
A number of things of importance were found along the way, including that much of what we’ve heard over the years was entirely untrue.
This included the fact that older, mature bucks don’t move any more than young ones, as the home range for both was only about 350 acres.
Typical daily travels tend to total around 2.5 miles per day for all bucks, except during the breeding period, or rut, when it increased by a mile.
McCoy also tested the old hunter’s notion that mature bucks are smarter than the youngsters.
The outcome here surprised me.
“To do this we created harvest zones around each deer stand on the property with a buffer representing the area around each stand in which a hunter could see and harvest a deer. Using daytime GPS locations, we found that all bucks, regardless of age, responded negatively to increased hunting pressure. By late November the chances of a buck entering the harvest zone during daylight hours were only a quarter of what they were when the season started,” McCoy said in a prepared statement.
The data concluded that all bucks tend to avoid stand locations for about three days following a hunt. That said, even after five days beyond use, the deer were far less likely to return during the day after a location was hunted just once.
This means that your best bet is always to mix up your use of hunting locations as much as possible to apply the least amount of pressure.
In closing, it should be noted that this study was made possible by applying funds collected from the purchase of doe tags.
This is just another prime example of how our money is being used to better the hunting opportunities for all of us.