You may have noticed a lack of deer sightings in some of the areas you hunt lately. With the rut coming to a close, daylight deer movement has slowed back down to its pre-rut patterns in most places. The hunter pressure seems to be greater for muzzleloader season than in years past. The allowance of any legal firearm in zone 3 has meant that our deer have not gotten a break since the start of firearm hunting in November. Public land deer especially, are extremely wary and cautious right now. In short, we are officially in the late season.
It’s not all bad. There are still some great opportunities to punch a tag. The number of other hunters in the woods will likely steadily decrease over the next several weeks. If a cold front moves in the deer will be moving during daylight and it can be a great time to be in your treestand. There are some things that you will want to keep in mind while hunting late season though.
- The natural cover of the fall is pretty much gone. Trees are bare and deer can now see much further. This is a time when you will need to use extra caution when setting up. Make sure you are in a tree with lots of branches or one that is surrounded by other trees. Wear full camouflage when possible. Keep movement to a bare minimum.
- Forget about morning hunts. For most properties, the lack of cover means that you are very likely to spook deer if you are moving through the woods before daylight when they are probably on their feet. Take advantage of the opportunity to sleep in a couple of extra hours and focus on afternoons and evenings. Try to be in your stand no later than 2 pm when possible. This will help ensure that no deer spot you while they are staging up in nearby cover.
- Be more conservative. Don’t go into a location unless the wind is right. Set up farther from bedding areas. You are much more likely to get busted trying to set up near beds at this time of the year than any other. Stick to transition zones and food sources.
- Seek out food. If there is still standing food on a property you hunt, find it, and set up near it. If a cold front moves in, the deer will suddenly put a big emphasis on eating. This is their way of ensuring that they have adequate fat storage for the winter. If the crop fields near you are all down then identify and locate some natural food sources that deer are likely to visit.
- Stay quiet and practice good scent control. The thinner air as temperatures cool down will carry sound and smell much further than before. Metal clanging together or other unnatural sounds may reach deer a long way away and cause them to alter their travel route.
Late season is certainly different than hunting the early season or rut. You need to be mentally prepared to see fewer deer, deal with potentially frigid temperatures, and reduce errors that you could have gotten away with earlier in the year. If you stick it out, you may get a chance at that buck you’ve been chasing all season. You know what they say, “You can’t kill them from the couch.” Bundle up and get in the woods.