Start with an Observation Sit
Have you ever sat out a night of hunting to watch from the sidelines? When you think about the amount of scouting you do before season, it seems kind of funny to abandon the scouting process of whitetails in season when you can actually hunt them. It’s more of a mental hurdle than anything because most hunters feel like they need to be hunting when they have the time to…not scouting.
It’s incredibly tough to knowingly sit back away from the action during one of the few times you have to deer hunt, but the reward is often worth it. Think of it as an effort to find out the most recent information in the deer woods. The key to observation sits is to act upon that information quickly. Observe, learn, and adapt.
During the late season, your focus should be on figuring out the hot food sources. Rather than spending every waking second hunting, setup and observe a potential feeding area from a point where you can see the majority of the edge you intend to truly hunt. Once you have the entrance, exit, and feeding locations pinpointed, hang a stand or place a ground blind the very next day and wait for that buck to follow the script from the night before.
One point to emphasize with observation sits is that you don’t necessarily need to be in a treestand. Observation sits can take place from anywhere you can see – your truck, a hillside, old farm equipment, hay bales, oil rigs, silos, etc. While you may not expect to kill anything during these sits, you should always bring your bow.
A set of binoculars will be your most valuable tool during an observation sit. Understanding where the deer are entering, exiting, and feeding in relation to the wind is critical to success. Many hunters will sit along field edges and see a pile of deer every night, but will never be within bow range. One simple night of glassing can help put you in perfect position on your very first sit. The key now is being willing to adapt, even if it means moving your stand only 20 yards down the edge. Far too many hunters are reluctant to move their stands once they are setup, especially in freezing temps. Whether your hunting situation has you bouncing from tree line to tree line or maneuvering around a 40 acre field, observation sits will play a critical role in getting within bow range of a late season buck.
Hunting Over the Feeding Field
In order to have success bow hunting over large feeding fields during the late season, you need to figure out where most of the deer are entering the field. Once deer get out to an open field, they tend to work towards the center where they can see any type of danger from a long ways off. If you don’t get in close to their entry trail, chances are it will be just another hunt where you see a lot of deer but never get a shot.
Again, observation sits are key, as is the willingness to pull a stand and move in based upon what you saw. Hunting large feeding fields is often a game of cat and mouse and by jumping around you keep the deer guessing and never allow them to pinpoint your location.
Utilizing a ground blind or bale blind during the late season can also be a great tactic when it comes to ambushing bucks. One main advantage to using a ground blind during the late season is the concealment factor. Sitting in a tree can be tough during the late season because there is absolutely no cover and you’ll often stick out like a sore thumb with the slightest of movements.
Another big advantage ground blinds provide is the ability to sit out in the open, which is often where the deer will be. It may take the deer some time to get used to the ground blind, so get it out early. Once they accept it and feel safe around it, get in there and put that big buck down!
Don’t Hunt the Edge
Yes, this may seem counterintuitive to the last point, but sometimes tucking yourself back in the timber is the better bet. Even though a destination feeding field will likely serve as the core playground of late season hunting activity, sitting directly over them might not be the ticket to getting an arrow in a mature buck. Most of the time we are tempted to sit right along the edge of the field to catch a good look at whatever comes out to feed. However, unless they come walking out from underneath you, you’ll probably never get a shot. Not to mention, the deer may never show up until after dark due to the distance the field is from bedding.
Instead, treat the surrounding woods as their staging area. Find where they are entering the open woods from thicker patches and set up between the food and bedding. Depending on the size and layout of the woods, try to get in off the main feeding field edge 100+ yards or so for the best chance of catching a daylight mover. This type of setup will also allow you to get out cleanly as the deer will just be passing through and you won’t have to deal with busting the entire field at the end of the night.
There’s no doubt that the late season can be a magical time of year to pattern a mature buck focused on gorging himself full of carbs, but the bottom line is the season is slipping away day by day. If you end up waiting until it’s too late to get aggressive or try something new, well then, better luck next year. Get aggressive this year and sneak in tight, if you end up busting the big one, its okay, just learn from it so you know how to handle the situation in future years. It’s the bottom of the ninth with two outs – what do you have to lose?