The finality of the closure of deer season can bring varied emotions upon bowhunters and gun hunters, including me. For those who have had a wildly successful season, it may not bring much of a negative reaction. For others who were not as successful, or who didn’t tag a deer at all, it may bring a complete letdown.
For these people, much effort has been expanded in pursuing the whitetail of their choice, whether it be their first deer or a trophy. Many hours also have been spent trying to figure out the best location for treestands, and for some hunters 100 hours or more have been dutifully spent perched on their little platform overlooking the deer woods. Now it’s over; what do you do?
Fortunately, hunting doesn’t have to stop with the end of deer season. You simply go into different types of hunting, ones where you no longer carry a bow or gun, but very exciting ventures afield nonetheless. I’ll share some of these styles of hunting, all of which will keep you fired up all winter and into early spring.
Scout During the Post-Season
There is no better time to scout for whitetail deer than right after the deer season closes. All the trails, rubs and scrapes are still very evident from the frenzied activities of the fall rut, each giving you valuable clues about the movement patterns of the deer in your region. And the great thing about post-season scouting is that there is no pressure on you like there is during the archery season. You don’t have to worry about not walking trails, stinking up bedding areas, or spooking a big buck out of the deer woods. You can stop and study every detail as long as you want to before venturing on.
This is a very relaxing way to spend your free winter days, and almost without exception you will learn many interesting things about both your deer woods and the deer in it. Incidentally, something I recommend while scouting your territory is carrying a topographical map.
As I walk, I mark on my topographical map all deer trails, scrapes and rubs as I find them. This leaves nothing to memory, and enables me to visually review my scouting discoveries later on at home. I also mark any strategic terrain configurations I discover which would be a good location to ambush a deer. These include inside corners, funnel connections such as small streams or fencerows, saddles, hilltop field funnels, and breaklines, among others. I place a notation in each spot designating what I think would be the best stand locations, and the wind direction required to effectively hunt them.
This brings up another important point: Always carry a compass with you when scouting. By doing so, you can stand in a hot looking location (compass in hand) and determine the best possible wind direction for hunting the site. This is invaluable for the archer because he/she requires close-range shots at relaxed deer in order to be successful.
When scouting in familiar territory, also look for any conditions which may have changed in your region. For example, maybe a tree has fallen across a deer trail and altered the whitetail’s movement patterns. Likewise, a tree falling over a fence can create a low spot the deer will use, changing the way they move from place to place. In other words, consider all sign you see, and how it influences the manner in which deer travel about. Try to determine bedding and feeding areas, too, and guess the times whitetails might use each section of the land.
By doing this, you will get a general idea in your mind of how deer use each tract of land you will hunt. This is not to say you won’t still have some lingering questions in your mind, such as: How many deer are actually left in my hunting area? Are they really using these high-odds travel corridors like I think they are? Is there a great buck left, or did he get killed?
I recently discovered a hilltop field funnel in a region I hunt. Basically, a deep gully runs down to a valley below, and to avoid going up and down steep hills, the deer simply use the top of the hill where the creek heads up near a pasture. A great trail runs through this funnel, one allowing me to position a treestand 20 yards away. It’s a great spot, one I confirmed was good before I ever hunted it.
I placed an infrared motion detector camera on a small tree near the hilltop field funnel. This allowed me to record deer movement 24 hours a day in this location. I can honestly say using infrared motion detector cameras to record deer movement has opened a whole new style of hunting to me. It gets me out in the field during winter, gives me something to look forward to each week, plus, at times, the pictures tip me off to a good buck in the region that I wasn’t aware of.
"Yes, seeing is believing, and while you will enjoy the pictures you get from hunting with an infrared camera, nothing beats holding a cold, hard antler in your hand."
You will experience similar results, I’m sure. While these cameras aren’t cheap, two or three hunters going in together to purchase one keeps the cost per individual down to an affordable level.
Once you obtain one, keep in mind deer travel patterns vary depending on the time of the year. For the most accurate information on how deer move during hunting season, you can’t beat putting your camera out right after bow season closes. At this time, deer are still holding to somewhat normal fall movement patterns, and you can capture them going through funnel areas you have marked as prime treestand locations. This will pump your confidence level sky high. Deer movement in the summer can vary from fall and winter movement patterns to a great degree since the whitetails do not have any hunting pressure on them then. Always keep this in mind.
Motion detector cameras, by the way, have wide-angle lenses. This means you need to position the cameras close to trails, scrapes, etc. in order to get close, full-frame pictures. I like to use trees 10 or 15 feet away from where I think the deer will pass through. This gives me good quality pictures. If I want a more general overview of how the deer use the region, I’ll back the camera up to 20 or 30 feet to capture more of the terrain.
By moving your camera around, you will be able to capture pictures of individual bucks, and get an idea of how many antlered deer are left in your region. By positioning the camera near winter feeding areas, you can also get a general idea of how many doe and fawn remain in the region as well.
Yes, seeing is believing, and while you will enjoy the pictures you get from hunting with a infrared camera, nothing beats holding a cold, hard antler in your hand.
Last spring, just before I reached my camera, I reached down on the deer trail and picked up a small shed antler. It was exciting to find, and my two hunting buddies who were with me at the time -- Henry Reynolds and Anthony Moore -- soon came over to admire the find. Within another 200 yards, both Henry and Anthony started yelling and running. Somewhat in shock, I watched as their frenzied movement stopped near a barbed wire fence. There, they reached over and picked up a matched set of shed antlers. One side contained 5 typical points, while the other side had 6. Numerous small non-typical points were starting to sprout on the sheds that had fallen from a 3 1/2-year-old buck’s head.
Being the great buddies that they are, they gave the sheds to me. Knowing this great deer was in my region last fall certainly gave me an extra dose of enthusiasm. Yes, antler hunting is one more method of hunting which is extremely rewarding. Keep in mind, however, it isn’t easy work. In fact, one year I wore a pedometer when I was shed hunting a national refuge with an excellent deer herd -- and it still took an average of 12 miles of walking to find a shed! Still, it’s well worth the effort.
Here in southern Indiana where I live, my records show antler hunting starts getting productive around February 16. Antlers from older deer may fall off earlier, hitting the ground in late January, and antlers may remain on yearling bucks at times well into April. Despite this, as mid-February rolls around, there are enough antlers on the ground to give you a good chance of finding one. This time-frame differs depending on the region of the United States you live in, naturally, so you may want to talk to hunters who shed hunt in your region to get the best starting date for your locality.
Regarding where to look, it varies from region to region, depending on the weather more than anything else. Indiana has rather mild winters, so we might find a shed antler anyplace -- on a deer trail, in a feeding area, or even in a deer’s bed. Because of this, the way we antler hunt is to cover every square foot of our hunting region. This means we take two or more people, then make a pass through a field or woods, staying about 30 yards apart. When we get to the end of the field or woods, we turn around and make another round. This goes on all day.
This requires a tremendous amount of walking, oftentimes requiring us to crawl through brush, and even climb up and down steep hills. By using this method, however, we don’t miss many shed antlers. If you hunt sheds using the wander here and there method, you’re going to miss finding more shed antlers than you'd ever believe. When walking an area, be especially mindful of fence and stream crossings. Because deer jump fences, and oftentimes bound down into a stream, the sudden shock of them landing will often jar the somewhat-loosened antlers from their head. This is why Henry and Anthony found the matched set of sheds near the fence.
In colder climates, deer normally yard up, and finding sheds in these northern states is somewhat more predictable. Evergreen trees, such as pines and cedars, provide a great wind break for deer and several sheds will be found there when it’s an extremely cold, windy winter. Many times, too, sheds can be found on the south end of a woods where it joins a field. This is true because whitetails will come out there in the evening to bask in what sun there is before going to a feeding area.