The late season and food go together like bacon and eggs. Ask big buck killers about the most consistent time harvest big deer and the major will answer LATE SEASON...if you have the food.
There is a drop in human insult during the cold months left to hunt. While you aren't hunting un-pressured deer, you are hunting deer that feel a renewed ownership of the woods.
Bucks that didn't bed within 200 yards of food during bow season may now feel safe bedding less than 50 yards from food. In fact, harsh weather may cause them to feel obligated to be as close as they can to food. Because of that drive to feed, collecting intel for now and for years to come is basic; scout and hang cameras in as many food sources as possible.
The timing of food consumption is as important to your success now as it will be in years to come. Trail cameras can play a huge role this time of year as deer are in a state of recovery.
A Mixed Bag
After scouting all the food, boots on the ground intel can get overwhelming. You'll never be able to hunt every marked waypoint, and most locations will have enough deer sign to make your head spin.
This is the time when a mixed bag of cameras is what you need. In your first year of hunting an area, cell cams are a good way to plan where you want to be hunting immediately. A cell camera will help catch an early shift to a particular food, whereas SD card cams will help you build history over the years.
Over a few years of collected data, you'll understand where to place your cell cams to get the most benefit. The food that sees the most action is the variety to narrow your focus. But year to year, things are constantly changing. It always helps to keep that mixed bag of cameras alive to trend the changing patterns.
The late season is the best of all times of year to hunt a buck over a large food source. Again the lack of hunting pressure and their need for nutrition makes them more vulnerable. Despite the hunger craze, mature bucks still have a strong survival instinct. That can make hunting major food sources a little tricky.
Look for isolation cover for the best result with your camera and your hunt. A small plot linked by two tracks between large crops is a good example. There could also be enough isolation in a large field with varied terrain. Place your cell cams in the lowest spots you can find. Any bend, corner, point, or curve will make that low spot more appealing because it can give a buck a false sense of feeling hidden and a thermal advantage in the evenings.
If you aren't planning to hunt when you hang the camera, wait to hunt the spot until after a few days of pictures. Watching for two or three days will tell you if the deer are coming out to the food later or earlier every day. Keep tabs on cold fronts. If a weather front is coming, hunt that spot at least an hour before it arrives. Even if deer movement has been creeping toward darkness, a front will bring them to the food despite the time of day.
The Left Overs
Although you'll find less sign in leftover patches of food, this food is likely the culprit of yielding more bucks to truck beds than you think. Even the good hunters can walk right past "the leftovers." An overlooked example is as easy to find as an overgrown green briar next to a service road. Sure, it may be a short section that might only be able to support a deer or two, but you're only going to be shooting one deer at a time anyway.
Greenbriar, oak sapling browse, and red oak acorns (check out this article to learn how to identify oaks! ) are some of the best foods to get a crack at a late season mature buck. A creative ambush or camera post is important in places like the green briar patch next to the road. With a lot of foot traffic, you should devise a plan to avoid hunting at a prime time for hikers. The reality of theft and damage when setting up a cell cam is annoying, but taking small precautions (hanging them high and using locks) can help.
As for leftover mast crops that saw many hunters during bow season? Well, the late season has some human barriers in the form of snow and ice. Those red oak flats a mile away from the access and pounded with hunters during the rut will probably be void of people if they have to drive, hike, or climb through snow.
Oak saplings, in a clear-cut, could be called late season candy. Bucks treat them like a field so expect evening movement. But you shouldn't be surprised by sporadic action. Clear-cuts make bucks feel safe all day, so it wouldn't be rare to see a good buck in broad daylight.
The reason for the success in these areas is, again, how they can make a deer feel hidden. Next to that road in the greenbriar, deer can keep an eye on people. When deer feel safe, you need to be where they want to go.
These leftovers are only a small selection of late season foods. During your scouting and hanging of cameras, think about what mental and physical barriers other hunters have to beat. Knowing that will keep you on your toes and, likely, in sight of deer.
Like most phases of a hunting season, late season food can dry up. Watch your cell cam data closely. Less daily action might mean the food is depleted or its appeal is ending. When acorns rot, or most greenbriar leaves and oak sapling buds are eaten, deer will move on to the next source available.
Your cell cams will keep you ahead of the game by predicting where deer might show up next. If action is fading on one cam, and fresh on another, you can place bets that the movement is the start of a new food pattern. This isn't the time of year to be afraid to try new things. It's the time of year to put all your chips on the table and bring home the bacon.
A Few Quick Tips For Running Late Season Cells
- Check for firmware updates—a must for a smooth running camera.
- Use LITHIUM batteries. They are expensive, but so is going through multiple cameras because of corrosion. They also are more resistant to low temps.
- Solar panel. A solar panel may be a bigger profile, but a camera that's batteries die early isn't helpful.
Author: Aaron Hepler, Exodus Black Hat Team Member