By Mark Kenyon
Food is king. We all know this to be true in the late season. If you find the food, you’ll find the deer. But is that easier said than done? How do you find the food? Specifically, how do you find the right food? The food that’s getting hit right now, the food that the big buck is edging into just before dark.
The answer is both simple and tricky. So today we’ll examine three tactics for answering this question for yourself. Find the right food, and you’ll find the deer. Here’s how…
Long Distance Observations: Nothing can compare to actually observing deer in action, and this definitely applies to identifying hot food sources. If you can see deer moving into a food source and feeding during daylight, you can obviously get a great idea of the attractiveness of that source, and what kind of deer are visiting it. Most of us make our observations while hunting, but during the late season it can sometimes pay off to take time off hunting and focus just on the observing part.
This time of year, deer are very adverse to any kind of pressure – given that they’ve been hunted all season. When you make your first move in to a late season location, it may be your one and only chance at a mature buck. That said, you better make sure you’re in the right spot at the right time. That’s where long distance observation can come into play. If you have the ability to set up at a long distance from a food source and observe it with a spotting scope or binoculars, you can identify if a mature buck is coming in and where exactly he is entering the food. Once you know this, you can accurately determine if the site is worth hunting at the moment and where exactly you need to be set up. Hopefully with this intel you can make a move and kill your buck on the first set.
Trail Cameras: Sometimes it’s not possible to actually watch a field or food source and this is where trail cameras come into play. Place a camera on the edge of a food source and place some kind of attractant in front to draw in any nearby deer for a picture. Be careful to do this is as stealthily as possible, preferably in the middle of the day or by driving your truck to the edge of the field.
Additionally, be careful not to go back and check your camera too often. I typically wait no less than 1-2 weeks before checking a camera. Hopefully though, when you check the camera you’ll be able to quickly determine if this food is actively being used and if it’s being visited by a mature buck in daylight. If so, it’s time to move in.
Another option to consider is the “plot scan” mode on many trail cameras today. It allows you to take a time lapse series of photos, which essentially will show you movement across an entire location – allowing you to see deer across an entire food plot for example.
Tracks: If the above options are still not working for you, you can always go old school and examine for tracks. When trying to identify frequently used food sources, it’s hard to go wrong with this tell tale sign. Search the edges of fields for popular entrances to food sources, indicated by worn trails. If you’re seeing a a lot of recently made tracks, and activity in the field or plot, you can expect that this is a current food source. But also keep an eye out for the unique sign of a mature buck. Typically the big bucks will enter in from a separate trail than that of the other bucks and does, and it will most likely be a little harder to identify. But when you see the long and wide track, with dew claws clearly imprinted – you’ll know that you’ve found that big boy. While this kind of tactic can be used in dry weather to some degree, wet or snowy conditions are much better for determining the freshness of tracks and the sex/size of those that made them.
Late season strategies almost always revolve around actively used food sources, but the action can quickly go from hot to cold. The key is to be in the right place, at the right time and observation data can make all the difference in determining both of those factors. Use long distance observations, trail cameras and on the ground sign to decipher the clues that point to the hot food source and you should be on your way to some great late season action!