BUZZER BEATERS

HUNT BIT­TER-COLD MORN­INGS FOR THE BEST—AND LEAST DIS­RUP­TIVE—SHOTS AT FOOD-ORI­ENTED DOES

Outdoor Life - - HUNTING - BY TONY HANSEN

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.

POST-FEED SETS

▶ 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.

AP­PROACH SOFTLY

▶ 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.

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