Head to these five southern states for the latest of late-season whitetail action
In most places, deer seasons have been closed a month or two, and the hot action of the rut ended even earlier. Still, a good number of our camo-clad brethren are loath to call it quits. Even with the hype of another Super Bowl and a roaring fire to ward off the late-winter chill, they haven’t yet tucked away their rifles or hung their bows in the garage.
If these folks can keep hunting, you can too. There’s no need to tumble into a post-season funk or trade deer sightings for depression. There’s still plenty of deer hunting to do if you’re willing to make the trip. You may have to hire an outfitter, locate some public land, or call in a favor from a friend. But with a little effort, you can get back in the stand sooner than next fall. We’ll even help get you started. Take a look at these five February deer-hunting destinations that truly put the late in late-season.
1. Alabama: The Late-Season Gold Standard
Most serious deer hunters have heard of Alabama’s famed late rut. While surrounding states like Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi have some deer populations that tend to rut later than the standard early-to-mid-November routine, south Alabama is known expressly for a rut that doesn’t reach its peak until the very end of January and early February.
For this reason, Alabama enjoys one of the longest general deer seasons in the nation with a bow season that opens as early as Oct. 15 and ends with gun and bow seasons on Feb. 10. Depending on where you hunt in the state, you could actually hunt five separate Alabama ruts (from November into February). This is reportedly the result of restocking of the herd in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, when biologists pulled deer from different regions with different ruts. Those patterns persist today.
The best late-rut activity occurs south of Montgomery, where hunting private land is virtually always your best bet. If you don’t have a friend or relative with land, there are a number of outfitters who specialize in the late-Bama rut. Top public-land options include Barbour, Blue Spring and Upper Delta WMAs.
Everything is bigger in Texas, including the hunting seasons. Texas, with a bow season opening on Sept. 28, also offers South Zone special late-season hunts until Feb. 2. Don’t go if you’re looking for a trophy buck, however, as this late February hunt is limited to antlerless deer and spikes. This is a great opportunity for hunters looking to fill their freezer and maybe score some points with an outfitter or ranch that needs to meet management ratios. Few Texas-bound hunters roll into the Lone Star State looking to spend their hard-earned dollars on tagging antlerless deer. Fill that role, and you might find a fun place to hunt for years to come.
Public-land accessibility is thin in Texas: onX Hunt notes that only 2 percent of the 32,000-plus square miles in the South Zone is open to public hunting, and most of it’s in the form of block-management walk-in areas. The mornings and evenings can be cool this time of year, but temps overall remain tolerable, especially compared to the Midwest.
The Sunshine State, which has a giant south-to-north footprint, literally allows hunters to climb in a deer stand as early as Aug. 3 in the far southern reaches, and up in the Panhandle as late as Feb. 23. (A hunter in Florida can go straight from deer hunting to spring turkey hunting with only a two-week break in between.)
Nearby Alabama’s southern border, many Florida hunters take advantage of great late-season rutting in a state that boasts abundant public land. Dubbed the Redneck Riviera, plenty of sportsmen and women find their best hunting of the year stretches from late January through February as they take advantage of extended seasons on both sides of the state line. In Zone D, muzzleloader season lasts until March 1, with the regular gun season ending Feb. 23. Beyond the Panhandle, hunters in Zone B (wedged between the population centers of Tampa and Orlando) also enjoy a general firearms deer season through Feb. 23.
With Alabama radiating late-season rut action from its epicenter, surrounding states like Florida and Mississippi seem to benefit and allow their hunters to get in on the February action as well. While old-school Southern hunters relying on hounds and buckshot must put up both by Jan. 23, primitive weapons hunters (archery and muzzleloader) in the state’s Southeast zone get the chance to go after legal bucks from Feb. 1-15 on private land and select public lands.
While bucks in other parts of the whitetail’s range typically have begun dropping their antlers by now, the big boys from Alabama and into parts of Mississippi can be seen sporting racks well into turkey season.
With a standard firearms season that ends every year statewide on the first Saturday in January, Old Dominion has given urban archery hunters unprecedented deer hunting opportunities in an effort to reduce suburban yard damage and deer collisions in high-population areas. A special urban archery season opens Jan. 5 and runs all the way to March 29 (Yes, March 29 — that is not a typo).
Hunting there is largely a private-land affair, as there isn’t much public land open to hunting in these areas. But this season isn’t limited to one spot. Hunting is open near the beltway around D.C., outside of the state capital of Richmond, in the coastal cities of Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Suffolk, and scattered at the fringes of many other incorporated cities across the state. It’s open to both crossbow and regular archery equipment. Most bucks are dropping their antlers by now, but if filling the freezer or gaining more stand time is your goal, this is a great opportunity to make the most of it in someone’s backyard.
Stay Warm: If you do hit cold weather, make sure to pack accordingly. Arctic Shield makes great outer layers for tackling late-season temps. Their collections make choosing the right mix of clothing super easy. For late-season in the Deep South, consider their Classic Elite collection, which features their Retain heat retention technology, which locks warmth in without a lot of bulk.
Keep Watch: To monitor food plots or key travel corridors where bucks may still be lurking, you’ll want to rely heavily on your trail cameras. Place as many as you can afford in likely locations so you can optimize your stand time. Covert Scouting Cameras offers a number of bargain-priced cams for less than $150 each.