There still might be love in the air for some bucks in the Deep South, but for the rest of you diehard, late-season whitetail hunters … it’s all about food.
Whitetail bucks are in repair mode and trying to recuperate from more than a month of hard charging. Researchers estimate a whitetail buck in prime breeding age burns more than 20 percent of its body fat to propagate the species. If they burn more than 30 percent, death can occur within a few percentage points, so they desperately need to pack on pounds in case winter takes a drastic turn for the worse. This is where late-season hunters can profit. Hunt a food source and you could ironically cross paths with a mature buck that has dropped its guard to survive.
1. Scout for the best food in the neighborhood. Whitetails browse daily on more than 20 varieties of vegetation for their digestive system to work, but when the thermostat stalls, they look for high-energy foods to produce heat. Think corn, soybeans or turnips. If you can’t find those, look for any green spots protruding above the snow and other vegetation that hasn’t been killed or buried in the snow.
2. Look for a midway ambush site. Although a mature buck will be forced to feed for survival, it doesn’t mean it will do it in broad daylight. You’ll still only have a couple of minutes of shooting light, if you’re lucky, to get the job done. Find funnels and edges near food where you can get close to bedding cover without bumping a buck. These deer have been hunted for 3 or more months, so don’t bump them. They’ll go undercover in the blink of an eye. Get as close as possible and then watch the route for a hungry buck.
3. Use game cameras for backup scouting. While you’re watching a top ambush spot, have your game cameras monitoring other likely locations. Mature bucks don’t get old by dropping their guard occasionally. They’re on their best game every day and one way to see another birthday is to switch routines. Even though you might have a solid pattern on a big buck, get ready for it to change patterns and visit another food source. Your game camera can help you narrow options when a buck suddenly becomes a no-show.
4. Get ready for frigid temperatures. Late season means bone-chilling cold. You might experience the subzero climate of the North Country or the invading chill of Southern humidity. Shop for a great insulation layer and top it with a waterproof outer-layer. You might even want to use ground blinds in the late season as a windbreak and to hide the warmth of a portable propane heater.
I dread the conditions of late-season hunts, but the payoffs can be big—like in the form of big antlers. Stay warm and hunt hard.