Shoot Now or Let it Walk for Another Year!
If we were playing football, this would be the two minute warning. In much of the country, the Whitetail season is winding down to its final days and minutes. If you haven’t wrapped your tag around something at this point, you may need to either change your tactics, your goal or both.
If your main goal at this point in the season is simply putting some meat in the freezer, you will need to focus on the main travel trails and food sources where there are many deer. For you, does and possibly even doe fawns are worthy targets. In areas where there is snow on the ground, this should be a relatively easy goal, especially if you have a rifle or smokepole. Find a heavily used trail or field you have seen deer using, take up a downwind position in range of the weapon of your choice, sit, and wait. They will come.
Already put meat in the freezer, but have yet to tag that trophy buck? You definitely have your work cut out for you. Even the second rut will have wound down by this point. The amount of time left will determine your strategy. The one thing even the biggest trophy buck can’t ignore this time of year is his stomach. The colder the weather, the more each deer will have to eat simply to maintain his current state. After running does for several months, expending tons of energy, stress from hunting season and cold weather, bucks will be looking to put on pounds quickly.
If you have access to an easily available, high-calorie food source such as soy beans or corn, this is the time to post along the secondary trails in heavy cover leading to those fields, at least 25 yards back into the brush. If you live in an area where baiting is allowed, this is the time to use it effectively. Most educated bucks will not visit a bait pile during daylight in the early season or, quite often, even during the rut.
Cold weather changes all of that. If your state still has a late firearm or muzzleloader season, set up your bait pile between 50 and 75 yards upwind of your stand. If using a bow, you may want to use a ground blind or popup blind so you can remain effectively out of the wind. Many of the newer models come with or have a cover for snow, otherwise, you’ll need to set it up in cover and camo it effectively. For many of my late season hunts, I use a camouflage sleeping bag pulled up under my armpit for additional warmth. There are also some great products out there such as the heater bodysuit that can help extend your time in the bitter cold. Bundle up well, and load up on chemical hand warmers, as the longer you can sit still the better.
If you are down to the last days (or even hours) of the season, you may have to go after the deer where they are. Find a good track and follow it, keeping a good view of the terrain ahead of you and being prepared for a quick shot. Call some of your buddies and organize a drive. Known bedding areas can be hunted—either the edges or from the inside to maximize your chance of seeing them—I once harvested a shooter 6-point by hunting from his nighttime bed and taking him when he circled downwind. If you spook deer on the last day, they’ll have months to forget. The most important thing to remember… it’s guaranteed you won’t fill your tag sitting at home on the couch watching TV or lying in bed under the covers. There is still a great deal of good deer hunting to be had, and with these adaptations you’ll maximize your chances.