Bow Hunting Late Season Bucks
The flood of buck pictures on Facebook has ceased. The gun shots have stopped and orange hats have returned to their long dark year in a box. You may be getting nervous with that tag burning a hole in your pocket. Fortunately for you, this is one of the best times to bow hunt! Sure some bucks have been shot, hopefully not your mature shooter…but there are still a lot left out there. Late season and the post rut are when bucks develop a pattern again, exploiting this during the late bow hunting season is easy…if you know how and where to look.
With the cold biting wind and snow setting in, the buck restricts his movements back into his core area…and yes he still has breeding on his mind when the chance is given to him. The cold and hunting pressure have pushed his pre-rut home range expansion back into his small and safe core area. This makes him easy to pattern but hard to get close to, especially while bow hunting.
With a lot of body weight lost by fighting and breeding (approximately 20-30%), the cold temperatures setting in, and maybe even some deep snow to push through a buck will have a hard time ignoring food sources. Great early successional habitat filled with species like blackberries or black raspberries, a standing corn field, standing soybeans, or a plot of brassicas make extremely enticing buffets for the weary buck. Holding off your temptation to plant food plots for the early season or rut and instead focusing on the late season can draw deer to that plot from miles around. They become hotspots for deer activity. Both the food and the does/doe fawns feeding on it will bring monsters out of the thick white timber.
Last chance breeding
You wouldn’t pass up a chance to breed…right? Neither would a buck. While he might stick to what he knows (food and cover) in his core area during the late season, a fresh scent of a hot doe will get him going again.
This “second rut” starts and gets hunters fired up again, but what is different this time? While the majority of a second rut is un-bred or late does coming in, some (depending on your areas sex ratios) are fawns. If fawns reach the crucial weight for your area (averages 65lbs. for the Midwest) before winter they will are able to breed.
What is better than a buck blindly chasing a hot doe? How about chasing a 7 or 8 month old fawn, with hardly any knowledge of hunters or their scent!
Crack at the nocturnal ghost
If you run trail cameras throughout the season chances are you have had one…that giant that will only come out at night. Year after year this buck plays it safe by waiting for the cover of darkness to fall before leaving his bedding area. He is the first out of the field in the morning being sure to get to cover before daylight, and the last to enter the field when the sun is setting.
Brutal cold temperatures and snow are the only thing that could possibly kill him this late in the game, and now is the time for it. If the buck is smart enough to move only at night, you can bet that he will be smart enough to know that he needs to feed and travel during a portion of the daylight hours to sustain his body through the upcoming months.
By now bucks are extremely sensitive and they won’t tolerate sloppy hunters. They have been pressured all season long…maybe even shot at a couple times. Giving them space and hunting smart is the best way to approach the post rut while bow hunting.
Paying attention to wind and scent control is only the first step. Your entrance and exit into a stand or food plot is crucial. If you can’t sneak in without busting deer, you have to force yourself not to hunt that spot. You also need to think of your disturbance throughout the entire hunting season, not just the last month. If you give into the obsession to check cameras and hunt over your food plots throughout the early season and rut you will over pressure your stands. That being said… this is your last chance, so what are you to do?
With everything you now know about a post-rut/late season buck’s movements and his thinking behind it…what are your options?
You can either play it safe by sticking to your afternoon food source hunt, or you push in deep to his core area, trying to catch his daylight movement out of his bedding area. So….which is it?
Why don’t you let the professional decide?
No not a biologist or TV show host…a trail camera. They are always right. Setting out trail cameras is your best option. Setting out cameras over the food sources and funnels/highway runs outside the bedding areas leading to those food sources will reveal when and where to hunt. If he moves in the last 20 minutes of light past your camera outside the bedding area he isn’t reaching that food source in time, forcing your hand to go all-in. If you catch him in the food source then you can play it safe and with a couple afternoon hunts you will get your shot while bow hunting the late season.