Trusted tactics for late-season deer

by Tom Armstrong | December 3, 2015
season deer - deer in snow

Love and food…two things on a deer’s mind late in the season. For deer hunters, focusing on these are your best bet for success.

With late fall’s dropping temperatures and waning rut activity, deer hunters may think that magical time is behind them, when love-struck bucks ran carefree through the woods in search of hot does.

With hunters having dates like Remembrance Day circled on their calendar as the peak of the action, some may think their best opportunity has passed by now. On the contrary, late November and early December can offer some of the best deer hunting around.

The cold hunt

I’ll often retreat to a ground blind with a heater inside, making all-day sits a possibility. Stand-hunting is also a great tactic this time of year, but make sure you dress for it; nothing cuts a late-season hunt short like cold weather

As the fall wears on, there will be some bucks tired and done with the rut, but there are still sure to be bucks on the prowl, searching for the last remaining receptive does, or does coming into a second estrous.

If a doe isn’t bred during her first estrous cycle, (usually during the main phase of the rut) she’ll come into estrous again 28 days later; there’s sure to be bucks searching for these receptive does.

Often these are the big, mature bucks in it for the long haul. Later in the season, you won’t see the frenetic chasing, fighting, and calling you may experience at other points during the rut, but there will undoubtedly be rut activity in the deer woods.

This can happen well into December, and hunting this second rut shouldn’t be overlooked.

Oftentimes, the best way to target bucks chasing these receptive does is hunting these does. If you can hunt food sources were does are congregating, or travel corridors from thick bedding areas to feeding areas, these are great places to find that buck that’s still grinding away, looking for that last remaining ready-to-breed doe.

Calling can be an effective tactic this time of year, and even rattling has its place; it might not always work, and might turn some bucks away, but those mature bucks that are still in the hunt might come straight into your rattle. Doe and estrous bleats are safe bets.

Calling them in

Last fall, my wife shot her first whitetail with a crossbow during the last week of November — a big, mature buck that came straight into the call, minutes after a doe estrous calling sequence. He came upwind to the synthetic estrous hanging 15 yards from our blind, searching for that doe.

With bucks spending weeks manically running around, chasing does and fighting, they need to replenish that spent energy from the rigors of the rut, and are often active in daylight.

Another major focus for deer during the late season is food. With bucks spending weeks manically running around, chasing does and fighting, they need to replenish that spent energy from the rigors of the rut, and are often active in daylight.

Finding and hunting food sources can be an incredibly effective tactic this time of year. Whether you can find farm fields not covered by snow, late-season food plots, or even feeding sites you’ve established, hunting food is a great late-season approach.

season deer - Harvested deer

Deer seasons

In Thunder Bay where I hunt, typically by early December bucks are focusing on food again, and I’ve had a half dozen different bucks visiting one food source. It varies some, depending on the year, but if we have cold weather and snow in early December, deer hit the food hard, and I’ll hunt fields, late-season food plots, or stands where I’ve been feeding with corn or oats.

With other parts of the province having deer seasons that run to the end of December, it offers an even longer period to target deer on late-season food sources.

All-day sits (as unpleasant as they may be) can be key to success this time of year. With deer actively feeding in preparation for winter, or with bucks still chasing does, they’ll be active all day long.

With cold temperatures, long waits can be unpleasant.

Despite the cold weather, and possible lack of motivation after a long season, the last few weeks can be one of the best times in the deer woods; don’t hang up your bow or gun too soon.

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