The rut is over. You still have your buck tag. The deer aren't moving much, and the weather is getting darn frigid. No one can blame you for calling it quits. However, the bow season remains open through December and even January in many states. There's still plenty time to get within bow range of a trophy buck. How do you kill a streetwise buck that's been harassed by bow and gun hunters for months on end?
Illinoisan Dan Perez, host of the Whitetail Properties TV show, concentrates on food sources after the rut. Perez has put down about 50 Pope and Young-class whitetails over seven states, most in Illinois and Missouri.
The big whitetail bucks that Perez sees in the summer and early fall often disappear when the rut urges them to roam. Those that elude arrows and bullets from other hunters during their wanderings return to their home area after the rut.
"They're worn out and hungry when they come back," Perez says. "Those big old bucks are the first ones at the dinner table."
This is when Perez scouts secluded food sources that can't be viewed from roads. He does this from a distance because the bucks are especially intolerant of human scent and intrusion after months of being hunted.
"When they're not bothered, late season bucks will slip out to feed earlier in the evening than they did prior to the bow season," Perez says.
Perez has taken late season bucks that were feeding on harvesting leftovers in corn and soybean fields. However, most of them meet their end in food plots that Perez planted earlier in the year.
"I love Whitetail Institute's Imperial Whitetail Clover, but clover will dry up if it's a bitter winter," Perez says.
To ensure that his food sources attract bucks late in the season, Perez drills winter wheat, rye, or oats into his existing clover plots in August. Should the clover dry up, one of these grains will still be available.
Turnips, a high-energy food source, are another excellent option. Deer swarm to turnips when it thaws after a freeze.
Once he finds where a buck is feeding, Perez usually doesn't rush in and put a stand there. He scouts with binoculars and trail cams until he knows exactly where to set up. The buck will continue coming to the food source as long as it isn't pressured.
"It's not a race," Perez says. "The buck needs that food. It'll keep coming back as long as you don't disturb it."
Several years ago, Perez spotted a massive 10-point Illinois buck in a cut bean field on December 20. The big boy was running with a tall 8-point that would score in the 140s. Perez stayed back until he determined where the bucks were entering the field.
Since there were no trees for stands that would put Perez in bow range, he set up a ground blind. After two weeks of hunting from the blind, Perez got a shooting opportunity on the evening of January 14. The season was to end the next day.
Three does passed by Perez's ground blind. Then the tall 8-point showed up. Perez was holding out for the big 10-point when he saw what looked to be an oversize doe. Then he noticed that the "doe" had bloody pedicles at the base of his head. The 10-pointer had just shed it antlers. Perez shot the 8-pointer at 15 yards.
"Another hunter killed that big 10-point buck the next season," Perez says. "It scored in the 170s."
A late season bowhunt isn't always a lengthy process. One day in December Perez spotted a 150-class, 10-point buck in a field of cut beans. He immediately got permission to hunt there, returned the next day, and killed the buck.
"It's a lot easier to get hunting permission late in the season," Perez adds.