If you are trying to fill your tag in December or beyond, sorry if things have not gone according to plan...Keep your head up it happens to some of the best whitetail hunters across the US. Hunting in the late season brings unique and different challenges but it also offers some great opportunities. Late season whitetail hunting requires fresh perspectives and tactics. Here are some strategies to take into consideration.
Tempering Your Expectations
Being realistic in the late season can be your best friend. By now, deer have had just about everything thrown at them besides a kitchen sink. The rut has all but ended and most firearm seasons have passed. This is the best time of year to let a busted up or younger buck walk. That buck’s chance to survive and make it to the following season has grown by leaps and bounds. A doe provides meat too and can offer the same excitement when you hunt them. Practicing conservation and implementing deer herd management is always a sound plan.
Testing Your Woodsmanship Skills
Locating deer bedding areas and understanding sign are critical this time of year. Deer trails should be extremely apparent by now as they have become bare ground. Fresh snow makes trails even more evident. Scouting immediately following fresh snow is the best sign possible. Trails that come out of cover represent the likeliest places for a bedding area. While setting up on bedding areas seems logical, resist the urge and find their food sources. Devise a plan on how deer are transitioning from bedding to the food source. Utilizing a quality trail camera like the Exodus Lift II or Trek can pay off big time. You will know exactly when the trails are being used and the direction deer are traveling.
Here are some simple rules to follow for late season food sources.
- Cold: Corn and soybeans offer the highest calories. Deer burn calories in order to stay warm. Find the grains and you will find deer.
- Unseasonably warm: If you are lucky enough to have food plots or anything that is still green nearby, use it to your advantage.
- Wildcard: Never discredit mast crops. Acorns and other naturally occurring food sources are still abundant. Deer are still attracted to these and will stage here prior to moving into an open area.
Time to Get Tough
Everything changes or reacts different in cold weather. You and your equipment are no different.
Feet and hands sweat and get colder. Wearing a moisture wicking sock underneath a heavier wool sock is the beginning of a smart routine. Rubber boots do not breath. Switching to an insulated, breathable boot and wearing a boot insulator completes your system.
You do not need to wear a heavy pair of gloves or flip up mittens. A merino glove along with a quality hand muff is more than enough to keep your hands warm. Sitka’s incinerator muff and their merino gloves are the best I have ever used.
The art of layering for core body temperature regulation is more important than ever. Cotton offers no insulation help whatsoever. Avoid it. Rather look for clothing that offers wind blocker, PrimaLoft or wool as insulating properties. When it turns cold, wearing several base layers, a mid-layer, a vest and an outer-layer is crucial for core heat retention.
Do not forget about your head. About 10% of your body heat is lost through your head and face. Finding a hat that offers a wind blocking membrane and utilizes a quality insulating property is key. Wearing a neck gaiter covers and protects your facial area. A neck gaiter can usually be pulled up to cover the side of your head as well.
Adding air activated warmers helps to keep you hunting longer. Adhesive toe, foot, hand and body warmers are good to have around. Several companies offer battery powered clothing options as well.
Metal clanks and creaks louder. Wrapping metal that may make contact with your equipment in hockey tape and using an odorless oil on moveable metal parts are great ideas. Moving zippers as slow as possible helps to make less noise.
Deer you saw up until mid-October are likely to be returning soon. A deer’s pattern rarely changes. If a deer survives, you can almost count on them returning to the areas they frequented in the summer and early fall. I see this begin happening typically around the end of December. Using an Exodus trail camera is the best and least invasive way to keep track of the deer returning to the areas you hunt.
Utilizing Other Resources
Hunting in a blind by yourself or with someone else and using a heater is a smart choice. Young hunters do not deal with the cold very well. This is an excellent way to bring them along over the Christmas break. Everyone in the blind can stay warm, get away with some movement and bond over our hunting heritage.
Unless you are a caveman, you are using trail cameras. They are one of the single greatest tools at a hunter’s disposal. Exodus cameras will not let you down even in the coldest of conditions. Cold weather can affect your batteries though. The normal batteries you were using are not rated for extremely cold temperatures and they can burst. Lithium batteries are rated down to -20°F and will give your camera the peak performance you expect.
If there are houses near where you hunt, the neighbors recognize your vehicle. Ask them to help you. I have found knocking on doors, introducing myself and asking questions about what they are seeing to be one of my best resources in the late season. Most hunters never consider this. I have given out my phone number and stay in contact throughout the season. Some even message me when they see a big buck in a field or walking into the area I hunt. This is some of the best information you can get.
When the temperature is below 10°, this is your best chance. Deer will be moving and you should be hunting. Deer tend to be at or near the edge of that field you have been walking through. All the foliage will be down now therefore your entrance and exit strategies are critical. Try to use heavy cover or evergreens to your advantage. Move slowly and stealthy so you make as little noise as possible. This seems like a no-brainer, but with dead leaves, snow and ice on the ground if you move fast, you might as well use a bullhorn to announce your presence. Moving slow will also help keep your body temperature down. You will sweat very little if at all.
Should you hunt in the morning, evening, all day? In the late season, I have found evenings offer the best opportunity to fill my tag. I have had limited success in the morning. The best time to hunt is when you have the time to hunt. Your scouting and Exodus cameras are essential when deciding.
The mental grind required to fill your late season tag can be exhausting and test your resolve. Your dedication, perseverance, patience, and preparation are all tested. Some extra work and planning will be required. It can also be one of your very best chances to fill your tag as deer can once again become predictable. While some hunters avoid the bitter cold, challenge yourself. It could turn out to be one of your most rewarding and satisfying hunting experiences.
Author: Exodus Black Hat Team Member Geoff Guzinski