Hunting late-season deer requires different approach

The deer remaining in the woods during the final two months of the 2015 season aren’t dumb. They have been smart enough to outwit hunters since the opening of deer season on Aug. 15. So if you’re going to be successful over the final two months of the season, you’re probably going to have to change your tactics.

“All the deer that are prone to mistakes have already been harvested. You’re dealing with the ones that have been educated and those that know their way around,” said veteran hunter Don Hammond, a former biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

Hammond recommends looking at new areas. That doesn’t mean leaving where you hunt, but instead of the open fields try looking for deer movement in areas with thick cover. That’s true whether you’re hunting private or public lands.

You need to move further off the road and deeper into the woods. Long, open expanses overlooking feeding areas may look like an appealing place to locate a stand, but the wise late-season deer are going to be in thick cover, especially deer on public lands that receive more pressure. You have to work harder to be successful.

Scouting is important, but don’t do your scouting on the day you plan to hunt. You are leaving scent and the deer will know you are there. They may be able to smell you without ever showing themselves.

“Position yourself between where the deer bed down and where they will be coming to feed,” Hammond said. “Those deer that are left know they shouldn’t go out into the open until after dark. You have to intercept them earlier. They will get up and start moving while it’s still daylight, but it will be back in the woods or the thickets. You have to look for the thick areas where there is heavy cover and they feel safe to walk. All it has to be is six feet high, brush, broom straw or any type of heavy weeds that is at least six feet high. Deer will use that as a travel corridor for daylight movement.”

Hammond said some oak trees are late in dropping their acorns, a favorite food for deer, and this can be a clue for late-season deer success.

“You need to be able to get to your stand in such a way that you’re not going to cross the trail where they’re coming to feed. When a deer comes to a crossing trail, they will stop and sniff the ground and the bushes around to see who or what has been by recently. If you cross the trail where they are going to be coming from, you might alert them to your presence and they will turn and go the other way.”

Hammond said he will still use grunt and snort wheeze deer calls but rattling calls don’t get as much response late in the season. Scents work well, he said, adding that a good way to get a buck’s attention is using a doe estrus scent. But if you are targeting a big doe, the estrus scent can spook mature females.

“I have a buck decoy but I use it only when I’m hunting the mature dominant bucks,” Hammond said. “It’s going to spook the 4- or 6-pointers. It’s only going to be attractive to the dominant buck that will come out to challenge (the decoy). When you put that out, you have to say to yourself, ‘I don’t care if I scare the does out of the area; I don’t care if I scare the small bucks.’ It’s committing yourself to looking for that one mature buck.”

Game cameras can be both a blessing and a curse, Hammond said. You get pictures that confirm the big footprints you’ve found during scouting belong to a big buck. Then when you see nice bucks, but not the one you’ve seen on camera, you have to make a decision whether to wait for the trophy to appear.

“Most big bucks will travel with one or more subordinate bucks,” he said. “Those subordinate bucks will precede them out to feed. If you really want to kill the big one, you have to sit there and watch them and wait for the big one to come out.

“Does are the same way. The boss doe, the matriarch of the herd, will stand back in the edge of the woods for 15 minutes after the rest of the herd has come out into the field. She will stand back there and watch to see what’s coming. ” TL

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