By Mark Kenyon
As I sit here, staring out the window at the winter wonderland displayed in front of me, I can’t help but think that tonight could be the night. If it’s ever going to happen, this is about as good a shot as I’ll get.
Possibly, the perfect late season hunt.
This afternoon I’ll be heading in for what looks to be one of my best chances at a late season buck here in Michigan. The conditions are right. The timing is right. The property is right. Everything looks right, but only time will tell.
With that said, before I head out into the blustery winter weather I see out my window, I wanted to lay out how and why this looks to be “the night”. Here is my blueprint for a (hopefully) perfect late season hunt.
Building Materials Needed
For a perfect late season hunt, you need a few things to come together, we’ll call them our “building materials”.
The first thing you need is a property with low human pressure. If you don’t have that, it’s going to be tough to see a mature buck on his feet during daylight, after months of being hunted.
Secondly, you’re going to need a good food source on your property to keep him in the area and to hopefully lure him out of his bed before dark.
Third, you’re going to need the weather to help you out with freezing cold temperatures and hopefully some snow as well. This will encourage that buck even more to get up and moving.
Lastly, you need to have a mature buck or two still in the area.
If all these pieces comes together, you can have yourself a great late season hunt. Rarely though does this ever happen by chance. Instead you must carefully plan it out, almost like a blueprint, with each piece building on the one before it. Ultimately, creating the possibility for a terrific hunt.
1. Low Pressure
First and foremost, during the late season you need a low pressure situation in which deer feel comfortable feeding during daylight. This can be a hard situation to ensure, especially in heavily hunted states such as Michigan. But, if you’re serious about killing a late season buck, you need to find a place that already has this, or try to create this situation on the property you hunt. In my case, I’ve had to make this a reality on the main property I’m focusing on. To do this, I left this property untouched since November 14th (day before the firearm season opener). For 3.5 weeks this property has been a sanctuary for the local deer, and my hope was that this would help allow a few mature bucks to survive gun season, and also result in deer feeling comfortable moving around here during daylight.
Low pressure also applies to the actual hunting I plan to do. When it comes to my hunt tonight, I have a low pressure access route planned that should allow me to enter my location without bumping any deer, and with my wind not blowing into any bedding areas. As for my exit, I have planned to have my wife drive my truck back into the main corn field I’ll be hunting near, which will hopefully move the deer off, allowing me to exit the stand, and hop in the truck without them ever knowing I was there. This safe exit will hopefully buy me a few more hunts (if needed), before the deer catch on to me.
The second building block we’ll need for a successful late season hunt is food. During this time of year, as we all know, deer are almost entirely focused on refueling after the rut. That means lots of chowing down. Late season hunts, therefore, typically must revolve around food as well. If you’re hunting area has a strong late season food source, you’re in the hunt. Popular food sources at this time include corn, soybeans, rape, turnips and other brassicas.
On the property I’ll be hunting tonight, there is cut corn and three food plots of brassicas and winter hardy oats. I’ll be hunting closest to a 1.5 acre Whitetail Institute Winter Greens food plot, which has proven itself to be a tremendous late season draw for deer on frigid, snowy days. I’m counting on that to be the case again today.
If you have a low pressure situation and good late season food sources, there’s a great possibility that you could have a good deer or two to hunt. But, given the months of previous hunting, it’s still most likely that most movement by these older deer is occurring after dark. That said, when planning a late season hunt, you need to carefully pick your time to strike. If you just hunt every night you can, you’re more likely to mess up your spot before you ever get a chance. Given that reality, I believe weather is the biggest factor that should determine when you make the decision to hunt, as it is weather that is the single greatest factor that can trigger a mature buck to move before dark. If you have below average, frigid temperatures, deer will be more likely to move early as they try to pack on extra energy to fend off the icy temperature. Throw in some snow, and you’ve got the recipe for great evening deer activity.
Tonight, I’ve got temperatures in the teens and a wind chill in the single digits. On top of that, we’ve got snow showers moving in as I type, with a few inches of accumulation expected. On top of that, I’ve got a perfect wind direction for where I plan to hunt. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The last piece of the equation is to actually have bucks in the area that you’re interested in hunting. Having these bucks on your property is really a result of the first two pieces we already discussed. If your area has been kept low pressure and has great late season food, there’s a good chance you could have a mature buck in the area.
In my case, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve kept this property essentially pressure free for almost a whole month. (I wrote more about this strategy in an article called “The Gun Season Sanctuary Strategy”)
I’ve also got great food, and as a result of the low pressure and good food, I’ve managed to hold two mature bucks on my property up to this point.
My top two hit list bucks, Leaner and Six Shooter, are still in the area. So the hunt is on.
The Final Product
Once you have all the necessary building materials, it’s just a matter of following the blueprint carefully and putting the pieces together. The late season can be a tough time to hunt, but if you have a plan in place, it can also be one of the best chances you’ll have all year at a mature buck.
Low pressure, food, and winter weather, when all together, can make for a terrific late season hunt.
Hopefully tonight, my carefully laid out blueprint can prove to be a good one. Hopes are high for that perfect late season hunt.