By Alex Comstock
As December winds down, if you’ve still got a tag in your pocket, right now can be the best time of the year to put down a mature buck. Someone that consistently puts down big mature bucks is Clifford Martin, owner of Whitetail Connection. Recently, Clifford was able to put down a great late season buck, and I reached out to him to gain more knowledge on his late season approach to hunting mature bucks.
Q: When late season hunting comes up, the first thing that is usually talked about is food. What kind of food sources do you focus on when it comes to late season hunting?
Clifford: Grains are normally my umber one focus for late season. Typically that is corn or soybeans. I normally put in a few plots of each, but even a farmer’s cut corn field can be excellent this time of year. I also plant some brassicas and they can also do well if the snow doesn’t get to deep for the deer to browse on them. With that said, grains are still the king from my experience.
Q: Are mornings worth hunting this time of the year, or do you recommend focusing on evenings?
Clifford: Yes and no…I normally don’t like to hunt much in the mornings. With the normal colder temps this time of the year, I have always felt most of the mature deer are headed to, or are already in their beds by the break of light. So I normally don’t want to educate or pressure my deer in the mornings and I will mostly focus on evening hunts.
Q: What kind of late season conditions do you find gets mature bucks up on their feet earliest? Temperature, barometric pressure, moon phase, etc. Is there anything that you see is more important than the others?
Clifford: For late season, my focus for movement has a lot to do with colder temperatures. A high pressure system seems to always trigger the feeding. A new snow in late season is always one of my very best times to kill a mature buck on food. I have also had good success with hunting the first south wind after a bunch of north winds.
Q: Do you find there are different ways in which you access your hunting locations now, rather than how you would earlier in the season?
Clifford: Yes I typically set up completely different for late season, opposed to how I do in early season hunts. The deer seem to also have changed their patterns a little and I also like to adjust to give me the best shot at a mature deer. A lot of reasons I feel I need to adjust is that deer start bedding in different areas with snow, cover, etc. This causes me to always end up tweaking my setups to put me in the best stand/blind location.
Q: Once the last month or two of season rolls around, deer have been hunted for quite a while, and have had to deal with some amount of pressure. How do you put this into play when hunting late season, and does it change anything that you do?
Clifford: Yes most people don’t understand how much pressure effects deer, and definitely mature deer. I run a lot of trail cameras, and I see how pressure really effects mature deer. During gun season, they will always get pressured in most areas/states so I am used to seeing my sightings of mature deer drop drastically during this time of year. But when it comes to our late season here where I’m located in Iowa, food is one of the best spots to harvest a mature deer after the gun pressure. It’s amazing how quick the deer get back on a feeding pattern after the cold and snow arrive during this time of the year, and by now the pressure has dwindled drastically.
Q: One thing that can keep some people at home this time of year is when it gets particularly cold. How do you go about withstanding harsh conditions and staying warm?
Clifford: I normally hunt ground blinds overlooking food late season. I really try to avoid any treestand hunting unless the temperatures allow me to, and then I still like to use ground blinds most of the time. With the colder temps it is easier to get burned out, lazy, and slow down on hunting. But if you focus on evening hunting, it’s much easier to get out into the rougher weather than it will be in the mornings for me personally.
Q: If you could give only piece of advice to the late season hunter, what would that be?
Clifford: Most times it takes a lot of effort to harvest a mature buck during the late season. It takes countless sits in zero degree temps and you will have to be a diehard to be successful season after season, year after year. So my best advice would be just keep putting in your time, even if you’re not seeing the deer you want to harvest. Most times it takes rough weather to push some of those mature deer to the food and sometimes it is the ONLY time they will make a mistake. Do don’t let the weather and temps keep you inside, and just be persistent, as it’s one of the best feelings when you get to pull the trigger on a mature deer that you thought was unkillable!
– Alex Comstock, WhitetailDNA.com