In my last blog I touched on how locating and hunting lightly pressured areas can yield huge results, especially when it comes to hunting late season deer. I have two particular tracts of land that I wait until December to hunt. They aren’t prime hunting areas, nor are they huge acreage-wise, but pressured deer quickly find them during December. Another aspect of hunting late season deer is to find staging areas and utilize them in order to capitalize on a deer’s cautiousness. I coupled both of these techniques yesterday and harvested a nice buck just before dusk. Here is how I did it.
I was hunting an area with a small soybean field to the north and a pine thicket to my south. Under early season or rutting circumstances, the soybean field would have been my main focus point. Unfortunately, December bucks are not the same deer we hunted just a couple of week prior. They are skittish, smart, and usually wait for the cover of darkness before hitting a field to feed. For this very reason, I was facing south, to the pine thicket, and knew that any deer coming to the soybean field would “stage” temporarily within the pines until dusk arrived.
Staging areas may seem like unlikely places to see deer, but if you study the topography of particular stands of timber and pay attention to the habits of the deer, you can figure them out. For example, we know that button bucks are the first to walk out into a field. They are usually followed either by other yearling bucks or does. After that, a younger buck may show up and right before dark is when the mature buck typically arrives. Have you ever wondered where the larger buck was waiting at all that time? Also, how many times has a buck stepped out into a field and was not taking the same trial to the field as the other deer? Instead of waiting for a buck to walk out into the open, which may not happen during legal hunting hours, you should get into the woods and figure out where he is staging at. I used this methodology to design a late season food plot for a landowner who wanted to nab a skittish buck using a staging area. The plot was small, but was near a larger food source. Trail cameras revealed the buck would use the staging area while other younger deer were already in the large agriculture field. He later shot that buck in the small food plot. Not many hunters would ever think of hunting a small ½ acre food plot a quarter mile from a large picked corn field, but it worked.
A similar case unfolded yesterday evening as three does arrived and milled around in the dense pines before making their way to the soybean field. With five minutes left of legal shooting light I noticed light-colored tines contrasting with the dark colored bark of the pines. I discovered through my binoculars a nice 3.5 year old buck. He wasn’t a massive antlered buck, but his body convinced me he was older than his antlers suggested. The buck had no intentions of entering the field until darkness and had my stand not been oriented the way it was, I never would have had a chance at him. I decided to take the first ethical shot he offered me, which was at 45 yards, and broadside. He dropped in his tracks.
It’s never too late to shoot a buck and my hunt yesterday is proof of that. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results. When it comes to hunting late season bucks, don’t use the usual or “insane” tactics that worked earlier in the season. Mix it up and take a more strategic look at your hunting area.
My article Late Season Success is featured in the latest issue of Wildlife in North Carolina and offers a more in-depth look at hunting post-rut bucks.