Friday, December 5, 2003
Late Season Deer Hunting Strategies
Routine methods can prevent hunters from bringing home big bucks
by Tony Zappia, Outdoors Editor
First published: Sunday, November 30, 2003
If you are one of the many deer hunters still looking to place a tag on a mature buck this season, then let me suggest it may be time to switch gears and go into a different hunting mode.
Whitetail bucks survive by using their senses to alert them to danger. These cagey animals can smell, see and hear you the moment you step into their domain. Once the slightest pressure greets them, bucks' senses become more acute, and 99 percent of the time, a mature whitetail buck will waste little time vacating the area.
Bowhunters know one way to keep their profile at a minimum before going into the woods is to be as scent-free as possible. They use scent-free soap while showering; they dress with scent-free clothing; and they always set their stand with the wind in their favor. To fool a deer's ears, bowhunters place silencers on their bows, muffle tree stands and wear clothing constructed with soft and silent fabrics.
Do the unusual
Rather than waking up two hours before sunrise to get a jump on the onslaught of competing whitetail hunters, relax and take it easy. Sleep in. Better yet, if you're at deer camp, have your hunting buddies wake you for breakfast, then fill your belly with a warming meal and crawl back into your warm sleeping bag for a good morning's sleep.
Pressured whitetails know exactly what time your friends leave camp. They've played the game for two months now and just about the time the last man steps out of the camp, most respectable bucks will be dodging into the thickest, nastiest cover known to humankind.
In the north country, a successful late season buck hunter will have feet like ducks, legs like mountain goats and the stamina of a pack of wolves.
Find me a remote swamp, and I'll show you where pressured bucks live. Point out a steep mountain and sheer bluffs, and that's where you'll find deer sporting large calcium deposits atop their heads.
Tagging a pressured whitetail is extremely challenging. Wise hunters approach this time of year by concentrating on a number of other proven hunting tactics. First and foremost is a tactic many trophy hunters follow: Hunt a stand no more than twice. A big buck doesn't get big by just being lucky. Instead, bucks grow old by being smart and not taking chances. Once a buck catches wind of your presence, he'll soon be doing his Houdini imitation.
Next, as the season winds down, many hunters switch to a rifle sporting a lower-power scope. Let's face it, a high-power scope is fine for early-season field shooting, however, its magnification has very little use in a thick cedar swamp.
Many years ago, while hunting at Weller Mountain Club, I tagged a rutting 10-point buck as he was hot on the trail of a doe in heat. Sitting on watch at the edge of a thick cedar swamp, this buck appeared less than 10 yards directly in front of me. As I shouldered my rifle and looked through my 3x9 scope, all I saw was hair. So, I quickly pulled off the deer and moved the crosshairs back on the animal and fired. The shot hit the big buck but didn't put him down, but after 30 minutes of snow tracking, and with the assistance of my hunting partner, Peter McLaughlin, we eventually ended up with the buck.
If I had been carrying my lever action Winchester featuring open sights, that 10-point buck would have been anchored soon after showing himself. That wintry day was a true lesson.
Finally, most hunters spend an average of two or three hours each time they go after whitetails. There are, however, a handful of successful hunters who shoot big bucks each year by simply waiting them out. Any hunter who has traveled to a Western Canada whitetail hunt knows how effective this method can be. Whether you are perched in an elevated stand or ground blind, if you are able to sit a stand for the entire day for up to a handful of days, I'll guarantee you will get a crack at a late-season buck - especially if you find a primary scrape of a well-worn funnel near a bedding area.
This hunting method requires patience and warm, comfortable clothing. Some hunters keep warm by using a sleeping bag while on watch.
If you want to tag out this season and are having a difficult time seeing bucks, you'll need to switch hunting tactics. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.