By Mark Kenyon
The late season can be one of your very best chances at a mature buck all year, but, that’s only if several criteria are met. The most important of those criteria is simply having a mature buck on your property and having him willing to move in the daylight. Getting that mature buck on your property this time of year is probably going to require quality late season food, but assuming you have that, what will get him moving in daylight?
1. Hunt sparingly: First and foremost, it’s going to come down to hunting pressure. If you share a hunting property with others, this is a significant challenge. But if they’re friends of yours, you might be able to develop a group plan to ensure that you all are hunting only the same “ideal” days. If you hunt alone, you’re a lucky guy/gal, and all that’s required now is to have some self control. Deer in the late season, especially mature bucks, are more sensitive to hunting pressure than at any time – they’ve been dealing with it for months now. So you need to operate on the assumption that you may only have a few chances to hunt before the big boy starts catching on.
With this being the case, you need to make sure those few hunts are on the days your chances are best. If your schedule allows, try to avoid hunting except when major fronts push through, ideally a big cold front dropping temperatures significantly and if that front brings snow, even better. Plan to hunt the day of and couple days after that front, if you can. Other factors such as a high barometric pressure or an early rising moon can all serve to make those days even better. And one final thing worth noting, in my opinion, you should strongly consider ditching your morning hunts. Daylight activity during the late season is typically much better in the evenings, and your much less likely to spook a deer heading in during the afternoon as well. Keep your afternoons productive by avoiding those risky mornings.
Example: Since mid-November, I’ve only hunted one of my Michigan farms 5 times total – all evenings – and I think that’s a big part of why the buck I’ve been hunting there is still a daylight walker. These hunts all coincided with cold fronts or snow events.
2. Carefully Enter/Exit: When you finally do get those ideal days, make sure you’re entering and exiting your hunting location without educating any deer unnecessarily. This is mature buck hunting 101, but it’s even more important now than earlier in the season. When you head in to hunt in the afternoon, be careful that your wind isn’t blowing into bedding areas, and also be aware that deer typically are bedded closer to food sources now than usual. Make sure that you’re not going to be spooking deer off the edge of the food when you climb up into your stand. Secondly, when you leave in the evening, make sure you wait til any nearby deer move on OR plan a way to spook those deer off before you climb down. A friend helping you out by driving to you with a truck or ATV is best, but I’ve also done some impromptu DIY coyote howling and been able to clear a field.
Example: This year, as I’ve mentioned throughout the season, I’ve swindled my wife into picking me up most evenings with my ATV. It’s seemingly made a huge difference in how deer are reacting to my hunting pressure, as I’ve seen much less of a dip in activity after subsequent hunts compared to years when I spooked deer walking out of my stands.
3. Scout light: Finally, right in line with the above two items, if you’re going to be scouting in any way, it needs to be very stealth. If you don’t already know exactly where to hunt, try observing an evening or two in a location where you won’t be educating deer – then only head in for a “killing hunt”, when you know exactly where to go. Don’t go walking your property looking for sign at this time of year, instead, either observe or use cameras. And if you’re using cameras, be extra careful with how often you check them, when you do it and how you go about that task. Check them sparingly if you can, and make sure you’re not spooking deer with your presence or odor when you do sneak in. In a perfect world, use an ATV, truck or bike to check those cameras.
Example: I’ve been checking my cameras only once every 2+ weeks on the aforementioned Michigan property, and when I do that, it’s been at midday, with a good wind and on my ATV. I never step foot off the ATV, I wear gloves when handling the camera and I spray down the camera after I’m done switching cards with a scent eliminating spray and Nose Jammer for good measure. As soon as I’m done, I hustle out of there as quick as possible.