HUNT BITTER-COLD MORNINGS FOR THE BEST—AND LEAST DISRUPTIVE—SHOTS AT FOOD-ORIENTED DOES
It’s become a late-season dilemma: The final days of deer season are ticking by all too fast, and you’re still holding a pocket full of antlerless tags you had intended to fill weeks or months ago.
The weather is brutal, food is scarce, and the whitetails are skittish after running a multi-month gauntlet of zipping arrows and whistling bullets. Filling a doe tag with a rifle or muzzleloader can be tougher now than at any other time in the season. Doing so with a bow makes things even more challenging. Filling multiple tags? That’s where things get trickier.
Here’s a plan that goes against just about everything you think you know about late-season deer hunting.
TARGET THE FEED
▶ Let’s get this old cliché out of the way: If you want to kill deer in December and January, you need to hunt the best food source at your disposal. That’s obvious and sound advice, but here’s the curveball that will allow you to fill your doe tags without blowing every deer in the county out of your area: Don’t hunt right on top of food sources, and don’t hunt in the evening.
You’re targeting deer über-sensitive to hunting pressure. But the weather is sharp and deer need calories, so prime food sources will likely host a gob of hungry whitetails each evening. Shoot one of those deer and you’ll have filled one tag. You’ve also just made it much harder to fill additional tags because your shot—whether with a gun or a bow—will likely clear the field. If that doesn’t send them into hiding, tracking and retrieving the deer will. All of which sends a very clear message to pressure-sensitive deer: This field is not safe to visit in daylight.
▶ Rather than setting up on the edge of a primary food source, target transitional areas in the timber that run parallel to the feed. The goal is twofold. You’re looking to catch deer as they move back to bed after feeding in the post-dawn hour, or you’re targeting deer that are moving out to feed in the morning. And second, taking a deer in this peripheral zone won’t disrupt those food-to-bed patterns of the whole herd.
The key here is to understand that while evening feeding patterns are rock-solid and will draw the majority of deer, whitetails do feed in the morning hours as well, and that midmorning movement can be surprisingly good.
The big difference: You’re far more likely to encounter single deer in these peripheral stands.
▶ Spooking deer on your way to the stand isn’t just counterproductive—it can be a hunt-ending blunder that can throw patterns off for several days. Take a path that’s well protected from the primary feeding area. Wait until daylight and glass for deer before heading in. Go slow and stay alert. Any stragglers that haven’t headed back to bed are likely to stay in the field for an hour or more after sunrise, giving you plenty of time to get on stand. And those deer that bedded before daylight? Some of them will likely get up and move a couple of hours after sunrise, giving you a shot to fill a tag—or two—in stealth fashion.
A group of lateseason does staging in fieldedge woods.