Use These Tips to Tag a Late-Season Buck
The late season is a time to pull a last-minute fast one on that deer that’s been eluding you since September. Chances are you’ve swung and struck out. Maybe more than once. It’s also possible you’re just now finding time to get out there. Regardless of your circumstance, we’ve compiled eight tips from some of the best deer hunters from every corner of the country. Check them out below.
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1 | Find Food Close to Good Bedding Cover — with Phillip Vanderpool
Phillip Vanderpool, host of The Virtue, advises to find food that’s positioned close to quality bedding cover.
“These bucks are worn down from the rut, so it's time to really concentrate on food sources again," Vanderpool said. "Corn, beans and acorns are primarily what deer are concentrating on. Keep in mind these bucks aren't moving very far. They’re trying to build themselves up from the hard rut. I look for food sources close to good bedding areas where they don't have to move far.
“Morning sits can be productive, but get in the timber near thick cover,” Vanderpool continued.
“Slip into bedding areas early as the bucks may not move far from their cover [to feed]. Keep in mind that deer like to bed on the south-facing slopes to catch the sun rays when it’s cold. Always try to play the wind when [walking] in. Try to be as quiet as possible.”
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2 | Plant a Kill Plot — with Michael Lee
In areas that you can, plant food plots specifically designed for the late season. Brassicas, standing beans, corn and wheat are great late-season options. Michael Lee, cohost of The Backwoods Life, uses this tactic every year.
“Late-season food plots are key for success,” Lee said. “Get in the stand early in the evenings and be patient. The big bucks will show up right at dark many times. Hunt the travel routes to the food sources and tight to bedding areas. You can catch those big boys slipping in and out or looking for a second-rut estrus doe.”
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3 | Think Thermal and Solar Bedding Areas — with Bernie Barringer
Different types of bedding cover are important for deer. Bernie Barringer, an outdoor writer and lifelong hunter, focus on two types during the winter.
“On sunny days, deer like to bed on south-facing slopes where they can protect themselves from cold northern winds and soak up the sun’s rays,” Barringer said. “They may get up and move a few feet throughout the day in order to stay out of the shade and enjoy the sunshine. I call these solar bedding areas.”
Barringer encourages hunters to focus on other areas, too.
“Thermal bedding cover is used during nasty weather,” Barringer said. “If it’s drizzling, snowing, overcast and generally crummy weather conditions, deer will tuck into thick cover where they can escape the cold winds and weather. These spots are normally found in creek bottoms or side hills with heavy underbrush. Find where they feed and locate the cover they are most likely to use based on weather conditions. Then it’s a simple matter to set up an ambush between bedding and feeding areas for a close shot.”
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4 | Afternoon Hunts Are King — with Jake Stocke
As is the case during the early season, afternoon hunts are better than morning hunts during the late season. Jake Stocke of Whitetail Freaks knows this all too well.
“Late season is all about food and evening hunts,” Stocke said. “For the most part, this is when we really hunt our food plots. Cornfields, bean fields, tall turnips and winter wheat are usually always good options. Deer are pretty well only traveling from bed to feed, so rather than hunting mornings, we hunt strictly evenings when the wind is right and catch the deer making their way back to the plots. Have a good exit strategy when you leave. If you don't kill on the first set or two you don't want deer knowing you're in the area.”
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5 | Find a Late-Season Rut — with Kevin Knighton
Kevin Knighton, cohost of The Backwoods Life, likes to chase the rut, literally.
“By the late season, many hunters are tagged out in their home state,” Knighton said. “This can be a great time to explore hunting in other destinations. Several southern states like Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and even Florida have zones that will be in full-rut late in the season. This can be a great time to hunt the peak [rut] in a new destination.”
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6 | Don’t Rush In — with Dan Infalt
Dan Infalt of The Hunting Beast is a big buck slayer and does it on public land and heavily pressured private land. And his advice is definitely something to remember, especially during the late season.
“During late season, crops are cut, leaves have fallen, grass is laying down, and there’s a lack of cover,” Infalt said. “Bucks have to seek out the few remaining pieces of thick bedding cover and can be a little easier to find than during the early season. However, the novice will rush in and set up right away and the same lack of cover that helped him find the bucks will get him busted.”
Bucks definitely use this to their advantage.
“Smart bucks will often bed in thick cover on the edge of a food source and watch it during the day, so they may see you set up,” Infalt said. “My best luck has come from patience. A day in an observation stand with a good spotting scope and/or binoculars will give you great intel about how a buck enters the food source, what trees it goes by, and where it is vulnerable. Often, your first strike is your best chance. Pick the wrong tree by rushing in and your hunt may be over before it begins.”
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7 | Add Some Cover — with Phillip Culpepper
Phillip Culpepper, a Realtree cameraman and video extraordinaire, recognizes the need for cover during the late season.
“An important thing during the late season, especially for bowhunting, is cutting branches or bushes to hang up behind you in the tree,” Culpepper said. “Do this so that you're not back-lit. Having some kind of back cover can make all the difference in the world.”
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8 | Midday Is Still Good — with Tyler Jordan
Tyler Jordan, cohost of Realtree Outdoors TV, has hunted his entire life and has done so all across the country. His tip is to not forget the midday shift during the late season.
“In my past experience, late season is the best time to capitalize on midday activity,” Jordan said. “You’ll need a heavy cold snap to make this work, not just frigid weather, but significant enough to where the deer will hunker down to conserve energy. Refueling is critical for bucks during this time of year to recover from the post-rut. They are more inclined to conserve energy during the coldest parts of day and feed during the warmest.”
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9 | Take Advantage of the Weather — with Jake Miller
Weather is arguably one of the biggest factors in all of deer hunting. That’s why Jake Miller, cohost of The Hunt, focuses on it very closely.
“If you live in an area that normally gets snow during the late season, finding high traffic areas and in-woods food sources will be no problem,” Miller said. “Follow the tracks and find where the deer are feeding. No snow? No problem. Focus on cold snaps and changing weather patterns to zero in on daylight activity. I always like to hunt late season when most people wouldn't even think about being outside. Miserable weather conditions and cold temperatures have paid off for me in the past. Hunt hard, but always hunt safe.”