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Late Season Whitetails
Written by Tony Kuehn

Every bowhunter I know has encountered that time of year when the rut is over, winter has begun and the bowhunting season is winding down. Perhaps you shot a nice buck early and you are wishing to fill another tag before the season is over. Maybe you are just going through bowhunting withdrawls from not being in the woods for a while. If you are like me you just happen to like hunting in the snow. Whatever your reason, some of us just can't get enough of hunting.

There is no doubt about it late season hunting is tough. A winter deer herd is a lot different than in early fall. Deer are especially wary since they have been pressured for many months now. The cold conditions often keep them from moving much, unless they really have to. The rut of course is long gone. By mid-December even the young does and those in estrus for the third time are finally bred. Bowhunters take on a different attitude at this time of year as well. Most of the serious folks have already filled a tag or two. The part-timers have concerned themselves with other activities such as ice-fishing, skiing and snowmobling or just moved South with the snowbirds. So what is a guy to do if he wants to just get out one more time? I suggest you get together with anyone with your same late-season desire and give it one more try. Late season trips just might end-up being some of the finest days you have spent hunting. I know mine have been.

Late-season usually means you will have most of the woods to yourself. Granted, the deer may be more difficult to pattern but you have built up three or four months of knowledge too. By now you certainly know where the best trails are, remaining food sources, water, cover and the bedding areas. Yeah, things might change due to the weather, but all is not lost. You might even have access to areas that you can't even get to at other times of the year. A frozen swamp is always easier to cross than that muddy wet variety. Fresh dry snow can be very quite to walk on and you will be surprised how close you can get to deer while wearing snow camo.

A number of my hunting partners and I have been very successful at this time of year. That success isn't always measured in huge bucks either. Where I come from any deer shot with a bow is a trophy (especially in December season!). I rarely will turn down an opportunity to put a nice tasty doe in my freezer. Antlers are nice, but you can't eat them and two does will usually equal the amount of meat from a large buck. Sometimes that mild rut stench and old tough meat turns me off anyway.

What my hunting companions and I have found is that it takes some work to be successful but it sure beats sitting around watching football or bad TV re-runs. You probably will need the exercise before the holiday season is over anyway. Our late season outings usually begin with a meeting to pre-plan the hunt. Maybe even at the indoor archery range (sometimes in full winter dress!) We pour over our notes from the season, take a look at maps, talk to other bowhunters and get as much information as possible. Afterwards we decide upon a strategy. If it is cold and windy we may decide upon a slow stalk or a drive. If it's nice and sunny with stable weather conditions we may take our chances on stand. Or it may end up being a combination of all three.

Keep in mind that sometimes during late season the deer are totally nocturnal and won't move no matter how long you stand there. At other times they may only move during the warmest part of the day to conserve all their energy. You just have to use the information you have gathered and use your best judgement in deciding what to do.

Personally my best luck has been using one or two stalkers and two or three standers in wood lots 120 acres or less. The stalk usually takes place through a small tract of cover. Sometimes it's a brushy area other times cattails and canary grass. The idea is to gently push the deer movement, not to make them leave the area in a big hurry. Shots at running deer with a bow is a bad idea anyway. The stalkers move with the wind at their back and attempt to push the deer to the standers (in trees or on the ground). A variation of this technique is stand swapping. After a few hours on stand, the first stander moves to the second standers position, preferably moving through deer cover along the way. The second stander travels to the third hunter's position and so on. This can go on throughout the day in a number of woodlots. If the weather is really cold it can keep everybody's spirits up as you are warm from moving around and will probably see deer. Take a look at the photos enclosed and you can see the happiness on the faces of the successful archers and their friends who helped them out. Sometimes there is an argument over who gets to stick their hands into that warm body cavity during field dressing!

OK so some people prefer bad TV re-runs. However, I can still return home after the hunt and clog my arteries and wreck my liver with bad food and drink, because someone once showed me how to work the auto-record on the VCR. Besides how the heck else am I gonna justify paying for that snow camo?

 

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