Weakened from the rut, late-season bucks change tactics when the mercury drops and snow blankets the ground. Because they’re no longer concerned with locking horns or catching the fancy of a lady, their daily life becomes centered on eating and sleeping. Given their depleted fat supply, muscle loss, rut wounds and the like, mature bucks need to pack on the calories — in a hurry. If your wallet still harbors a tag, now is the time to pull out all the stops and double-lung a late-season wall-hanger. Here’s how.
Learn To Adapt
Obviously, food is the key, but what if patterning a buck and perching on the edge of a food source isn’t an option? Many of the properties I hunt, both private and public, have no groceries. My answer: locate heavy bedding cover in close proximity to a neighboring food source and start doing some recon.
Bucks will be on a strict food-to-bed regimen, so grab your optics and post up for an evening sit 300 yards off the food source. Again, be sure to concentrate your attention on a food source that is in close proximity to timber you can hunt. Your only mission — note where the bucks enter the food source from the huntable timber.
Upon returning home from your evening recon mission, pull up an aerial image of the block of timber you plan to invade. Use your evening reconnaissance knowledge and the aerial image to predict the buck’s route of travel to the food source. Typically, the route won’t be long, and since the bucks are weak, it will be one that provides them the path of least resistance.
You’re getting your ducks in a row, but only fools rush in. When invading a late-season buck’s home, the goal is one time in and one time out. Return to your evening perch a couple more times and note wind direction, the time the bucks enter the field, and the direction they enter from.
Hang It In The Dark
Eliminate the risk of blowing bucks out of their beds by hanging your kill stand under the cover of darkness. Because you don’t know exactly where the bucks are bedding, you run a serious risk of blowing them out if you try to do it during the day.
Turn your attention once again to the aerial image. Because it will be dark and you don’t want the beam of your flashlight acting as a disco ball, you’ll need to pick a few trees on the map and label them as possible stand sites. Focus on areas that pinch down or form a saddle. Saddles offer two things a mature buck looks for when traveling — the path of least resistance and stealth.
Next, plan the exact route you will use to get into and out of the timber without alerting the deer. This step is critical. Don’t cut corners or take shortcuts. Plan a trek that will keep you under the radar, even if it takes you far off the beaten path. If possible, find a trickling creek or stream and parallel it as long as possible. The rolling water covers game-spooking noise.
You should enlist the help of a buddy to hang your stand. Before heading out for your late-night stand date, be sure you and your companion take maximum scent-control measures. In addition, double check to make sure you have your safety harness, wind-detector smoke and some reflective trail-marker buttons to mark your route.
Keep an eye on wind direction when walking in and while hanging your set. If the wind gets squirrely and starts filtering toward the field, exit the area or get over a ridge or rise and wait for it to shift. Remember, this is a get-in-and-get-out type of mission.
Your buddy’s only job is to keep you safe while you hang your set in the dark. Take your time and let him hand you steps, rails, the stand and any other materials you need. It’s also important to communicate with your partner on where you need his flashlight to shine. Get blinded by a radiant beam and you might get a chance to test your harness. Hang the stand at least 20 feet high, as you’ll be much easier to pick off in barren timber. Now that your stand is hung, have your partner use his light to help you trim and find shooting lanes before exiting the area.
Pick The Right Day
Just because your stand is hung and your homework is done doesn’t mean you have to hunt the next morning. Become a meteorologist and start studying the weather. What are you looking for? A high-pressure system with a favorable wind direction and wind speeds between 10 and 20 miles per hour. Wind speed is important, as it covers noise and puts traveling bucks on lower alert. Bucks expect noise when the wind blows. On dead-calm days, any noise, whether it be a passing car or a cracking branch, puts bucks on high alert.
The weather is right and you’re looking to put the exclamation point on your late-season bedroom ambush. As you prepare for your early-morning departure, keep these scent-control tactics at the forefront of your mind:
- Gas up your truck the night before to avoid pre-hunt odors.
- Pay attention to your dinner. Stay away from greasy foods.
- Shower in scent-eliminating shampoo and body wash and dry off with a towel washed in scent-free detergent both before going to bed and when getting out of bed in the morning.
- If need be, reactivate scent-control garments in the dryer for at least 50 minutes and store them in a scent-free tote.
- Place your boots outside and douse them with a scent-eliminating spray.
- I know it is cold, but dress in the field before heading in for your hunt.
Get in your stand well before the break of day, and as dawn approaches, be on high alert. Bucks often appear without warning and will be very cautious as they make their way to bed. Be sure to range all of your shooting lanes and stay as still as possible while on stand. When you see your shooter, slowly reach for your bow and ready yourself for the shot. Take a deep breath, execute a perfect shot and put a late-season monster on the ground.
There’s nothing better to warm up on a bitter late-season day.