Finding Late-Season Whitetails

Without a doubt, the lions’ share of big whitetail bucks are killed during the rut each season.

Most bowhunters hang it up for the year when the gun seasons of late-November and early-December wreak havoc with whitetails. The usual bitter cold of December is another hard strike against bowhunters. With all these things against you, is it really sensible to hope for a “big buck” Christmas present? You bet it can be!

For many years I hunted the late bow season with vigor. Certainly, there were a lot of lean times, but every so often there were some great rewards also. Over the years, I came to focus all my December whitetail efforts around one approach — find the current, primary food source, and get on it. Let’s talk the basics of that approach.

Find The Food Source
As December progresses, suitable food becomes increasingly hard to find. As deer begin to prioritize the need for nourishment, they will begin to “yard up” near the best food source around. In areas where agricultural foods are available, you can bet that most of the local deer will migrate to the “hottest” crop near them. I have found winter wheat to be a prime draw because tender, green forage is almost impossible for deer to find in a natural food source at this time of year.

Consider setting up a bow specifically for cold-weather hunting. Possibly drop 10 pounds of draw weight, and 1/2-inch to 1-inch of draw length.

Over the years, most of my December bowhunting success has revolved around my ability to hunt in areas where bitter cold is the norm, very limited natural food sources are available, and in areas where winter wheat is available. In such settings, the more scattered the wheat field are, usually the better — this further concentrates more deer in a smaller area.

Generally speaking, the availability of thick bedding cover near the food source is the icing on the cake. Such utopian settings are rare, but they’re out there. It takes a lot of time and effort to find them. Whenever I find such a place, it’s a safe bet that a good population of deer will be concentrated there.

Find The Main Trails
My approach to bowhunting the area begins with a quick scouting trip of the feed field and surrounding cover. Snow is a bonus at this stage of the game, providing the ability to “power scout” a lot of ground quickly and accurately. I’m looking for main trails from feed to bed. At this point, a decision is to be made — whether or not to set stands up directly near these trails and hunt them immediately, or whether to set up “observation” stands at a distant to watch deer movement for a few days before moving into the “thick” of it. I prefer the latter approach, if possible. This route gives me knowledge and confidence in my ability to pull off a quality hunt or two. After all, isn’t one productive hunt worth more than 10 good tries?

During these late-season hunts, I’ve often seen bucks get “rutty” again when a local, late doe comes into heat. One time, in western Oklahoma, during the time between Christmas and New Year’s, I had a yearling doe that was in estrous, lead seven bucks in procession, directly past my tree stand. Five of the bucks were small-to-medium sized, though two were trophies. The third and fifth bucks were the two largest-antlered ones and I planned on shooting buck No. five. Drawing my bow as the fifth buck strolled by, my arrow fell to the ground, scaring all the deer away. Somehow, I’d failed to notice that my arrow wasn’t setting on the prongs of my rest properly, and when I pulled back, my broadhead had caught on the front of my bow riser, pulling the nock from the string. A 150-inch buck down the drain — talk about hard lessons learned!

Snow cover provides a great means to do some “power scouting.” Cover a lot of ground fast and see what’s going on in your area right now.

Late-season hunting requires me to carry a lot of quality clothing with me to my tree stand. Top-end footwear is a must and be sure to wear a good sock hat and neck muff. Warning — practice ahead of time to make sure that you can shoot effectively with all this garb on!

Good luck out there!

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2 Responses to “Finding Late-Season Whitetails”

  1. Avatar

    Chris Griffin

    Great thoughts to send whirling around in my head. I’ve hunted nearly everyday since the first Saturday in October. I won’t tell my wife it was all your idea. Oh wait. Yes I will!

  2. Avatar

    thomas kelley

    Good advice!