The deer started moving earlier than I thought they would, even for January. This time of year evening feeding begins well before sunset. Many thousands of calories are burned by deer each day to stay warm; therefore replenishing those calories starts early and keeps going all night. It was a bit after 3 p.m. when the first doe slipped through the timber to the edge of the cut cornfield.
As I watched, there were many more deer following her, single file, down the trail to their dinner spot. Since it was so early and the wind was in my favor, I decided to let the whole herd enter the field before picking a shot.
No less than 15 antlerless deer hit the corn and put their faces into the 3 inches of fresh snow. The closest deer was at about 45 yards and the farthest was well over 100 yards out, probably closer to 150. I began to develop a plan.
It was the last two days of the Illinois firearm deer season. This January season is to fill unused tags with antlerless deer only. I had two permits and thought I could fill both tags on this herd, but knew it would be tough with my .50-caliber Thompson/Center Pro Hunter muzzleloader.
Plots ‘Two-Fer’ Strategy
I decided my best chance would NOT be to shoot at the closest deer first. Instead I would shoot at one of the farthest deer first. My thinking was that this plan might give me time to reload and still have a chance at one of the closer deer as they left the field.
I slowly raised my rifle and put the crosshair of the scope right along the flat line of the distant deer’s back. That way if the bullet dropped at that distance it would end-up right in the boiler plant. I shot and the sabot bullet did not drop much at all and broke the female deer’s back. She went down kicking snow in every direction.
This commotion caused a massive amount of confusion in the field. Deer were moving in every direction, but they were not sure what happened. I began my reloading process while trying to watch the deer move. The deer closest to me reacted to the sound of the shot while the deer near to the one I shot were slow reacting to it. I was now reloaded and looking for my next shot.
By now at least half the deer had already made it back to the safety of the timber. As I raised my gun all the deer in the field were standing still, but then as if flushed like a covey of quail the remaining deer scattered in all directions! Unbelievably three of them ran right at me! They stopped in front of me at 45 yards and I dropped a second deer. It was both very unusual and very lucky to have taken two deer from the same herd with a muzzleloader. It was very cool!
Many states, including Missouri and Illinois, have late seasons for antlerless deer only. Here are a few useful tips that can make putting those final pounds of sausage and steaks in your freezer a bit easier.
Hunt Near Food Sources
Remembering that food is key in the late season is crucial to your success. The rut has depleted the fat reserves of most mature bucks, and with cold weather, snow and ice cover imminent, food is all they are thinking about. All the deer on your property need to be close to food sources. These can include hardwood ridges with lots of acorns to grain fields to alfalfa to food plots that you have provided. Having stands close to these areas ahead of time will put you in the venison this time of year.
Knowing that food is the most important factor in the late season you must also assume that there is a good chance of snow cover during these hunts. With that being the case, deer know they can be seen better and that means they can also see you better. This makes still-hunting exceptionally difficult. I prefer stand hunting this time of year.
I like to get into the stand near a good food source plenty early for an evening hunt. Blaze orange is still required as in all gun seasons. The color is not as crucial as your movement in the stand. There is NO leafy cover in the late season so your movement can be seen for quite some distance. Slow everything down in the stand.
Many hunters like to establish drives during the doe-only season. This is a highly productive way to move deer around and see lots of animals. However, if you are not proficient at hitting moving targets, perhaps being a driver instead of a blocker would better suit your abilities.
Safety has got to be the primary factor when pushing deer. Blockers MUST stay at their assigned spots and drivers MUST follow their assigned routes. The only way to be safe during a deer drive is for everyone involved to know exactly where everyone else is supposed to be.
Follow these easy tips and perhaps next year you too can fill all your leftover deer permits and get some sausage in the snow.