Evolution of the Late Season Whitetail Hunter
By Will Bowen | PUBLISHED December 7th, 2022
Well the best time of the hunting season has passed and I’m sitting here with a buck tag in my pocket. Some hunters would say “what a shame”. But not me, I love the late season and for many different reasons. Things like cold weather, very few mosquitos and snakes, and hungry deer increase my interest. In my opinion, the late season can be one of the most productive times to hunt, you just have to evolve to the current circumstances to get the most out of it.
So many things change in the late season from bucks’ patterns to my hunting mindset. You can’t hunt the late season the same way you hunt the early season or especially the rut. So many things have changed in a deer’s world and you have to accommodate those changes to be successful. So what does the evolution of a late season whitetail hunter look like? Let me explain it to you.
A Huge Focus on Food
A late season hunter must focus his efforts on primary food sources. Deer are trying their best to pack on the calories before the roughest part of winter and this goes double for bucks. After the rut, bucks are in pretty bad shape. They’ve just run a multiple week marathon with little to no regard for nutrition. So post-rut nutrition is critical for a buck’s health and possibly even survival. There is not really any better reason to focus on food than that.
What makes a good late season food source? Any left over row crop such as uncut beans and corn provide tons of nutrients for deer. So do late season green fields planted in wheat or brassicas. The key is to find big primary feeding areas with great amounts of tonnage, something that can provide food for a good while. Finding these spots on public land or small properties might be very difficult, but don’t discount hunting major travel routes to and from these places. Remember in the late season food is king.
Finding Good Cover and Thermal Cover
A late season hunter must not forget the importance of hunting close to good bedding cover. One extra layer to add to that this time of year is the importance of thermal cover, especially in the midwest and northern portion of the country where temperatures and wind can be frigid. Good bedding is important to bucks in the late season for a similar reason that food is. Bucks are worn ragged and need the best cover to keep themselves safe. They aren’t exactly in the best shape to fight off or avoid predators otherwise.
Thick patches of low canopy pines and cedars provide great thermal cover this time of year and cut wind greatly. For portions of the midwest and south, I like to focus on old cutovers for bedding cover. Cutovers provide tons of undergrowth for cover and large felled trunks for windbreaks. They are great places to target when hunting bedding. If you can find one of these locations in close proximity to food, you’ve found the golden ticket.
Understanding How Deer Respond to Weather
A late season hunter needs to become familiar with how deer react to weather changes. This can change depending on where you are hunting in the country. In the lower portions of the midwest and the south, cold fronts still incite deer movement and are key times to hunt. But in the northern regions extreme cold might suppress deer movement. In these areas mild warm fronts might get deer on their feet and ready to eat.
The key is to learn how deer in your area react to weather. This requires stand time and diligent mental note taking. Eventually you will recognize how deer react to weather and what weather fronts are worth focusing on. Just as weather can be a deer hunter's best friend it can also be a hunter’s worst enemy. Learning what triggers deer movement is a huge step in becoming a more efficient late season hunter.
Reassessing One’s Harvest Standards
Finally a late season hunter has to reassess harvest standards. How important is it to you to kill a buck? Are you just hunting for meat? These questions must be addressed. Oftentimes in the late season I will lower my standards for a shooter buck, especially if I’m limited to public land spots. There is nothing wrong with this. There is also nothing wrong with sticking to your standards and eating your tag. What works for you is what works for you and that’s all that matters.
Once again, you have to figure out what is important to you and not let the outside pressure affect your decisions. Like the Okayest Hunter Crew says, “it’s your tag, hunt how you want”. I agree wholeheartedly, and if a guy wants to shoot a six point in January after passing him in November, who cares?! Late season is for the hunters that love to hunt and any late season harvest is a trophy.
Don’t Give Up on the Late Season
Whatever you do, please don’t put your bow up when November ends. The late season is spectacular and is often a chance to redeem your early and midseason woes. If you are the type of hunter who really dives in and tries to hunt as efficiently as possible I hope the previously discussed points help. Late season hunters have to evolve out of midseason form, it’s a completely different ballgame now.