A yearling buck (above) and a mature 6-point buck (below). Notice body and antler size differences

A yearling buck (above) and a mature 6-point buck (below). Notice body and antler size differences

It’s officially the late-season in North Carolina. The days of testosterone-filled bucks roaming around in broad daylight are over for the most part. The deer are moving later and less frequent. This means even your best spots may have gone cold and resulted in only a few deer spotted, if any, each hunt.

You can see where this presents a problem. I manage a few properties for clients and the number one thing I tell them is to control their trigger finger during the last few weeks of the season. It seems that everyone is alright with waiting on that buck of a lifetime to step out when the season opens, and the rut is a great time to tag a buck, but the late-season is a different beast. This is the time of year when all management is put aside. Bucks that would have walked in November are shamelessly shot with the reason of, “it was nearing the end of the year.”

Even more so, usually yearling bucks are not the target. The ideal target is a buck, probably 2.5 years old. He is smart enough to have learned to pattern hunters but still young and dumb enough to risk his life for an early dinner. These are the bucks that almost any hunter would consider a shooter next year. After all, a yearling will eventually be a mature buck, but you only have a year invested in him. A 2.5 year old buck has only a few more days of hunting to survive and he will be a trophy deer.

It sounds silly, but you can erase a couple years of management with a few late-season trigger-happy shots. This even applies to hunters who may not own land but have leases or only hunt occasionally. That spike buck may be a decent 6-point next year.in this case, shoot a doe.

On December 31st, 2014 I soared a bullet over a buck that had a very distinct set of antlers. The G-3s formed a unique gap with his main beam. It was very easy to recognize this buck. He walked out into a soybean field and I watched him for a few minutes before finally convincing myself to shoot him. I somehow missed him at less than 100 yards and have never been more relieved. Fast forward to October 29th, 2015 and I shot that same buck as a 3.5 year old. I’ve never been more excited to have missed a late-season buck.

If you’re not going to manage your trigger finger the last few weeks of the season, you may as well not do it as all. The results of a few afternoons tagging any walking buck can put you behind the eight ball from a management perspective and undo much of the work you’ve already accomplished. To sum it up, if you wouldn’t shoot him in October…don’t shoot him in December.

Andrew Walters