Know Where Deer Go in the Latest of the Late Season
Whether you managed to make it through early season, archery season, rifle and muzzleloader season with a tag still tucked snugly in your pocket or you’ve picked up a leftover late-season one to fill last minute, there’s no time to waste – the late-season clock is ticking. With just days (or weeks, if you’re lucky) left to hunt in most areas of the country, and the weather continuing to get whiter, wetter and colder, the sooner you get those late-season deer tags filled, the better.
But after making it through three or more months of relentless pressure from hunters, is it even worth the effort? And, if you do layer up, toughen up and go at it, who’s to say you’ll even find a killable animal? Where should you even start? Where are the survivors hiding?
Surprisingly, the answers are more straightforward than you’d think. During the latest of the late season, a little bit of deer knowledge and time spent poking around your preferred hunting spots can go a long way. And, naturally, that means breaking out your trail cams one more time.
Trail Camera Tech
Regardless of the type of cameras you use, traditional or wireless, now’s the time to amp up your scouting again. First, there are a few things we suggest you keep in mind.
While traditional cams take fantastic pictures and videos, both day and night, they do require you go retrieve the SD cards every time you want to review the pictures each one has captured. As you know, the more time you spend going in and out of an area you plan to hunt, the greater the chances are that you’re educating the deer you’re checking in on – something that might have a negative impact on your upcoming hunt.
Wireless or cellular trail cameras on the other hand, can be hung in sensitive or hard-to-access locations and checked regularly – any time, from anywhere. These newer trail cams eliminate the need to return to the camera each time you want check it, reducing your odds of spooking deer from the area.
Patterns are changing – again
Throughout the pre-rut, rut and post-rut phases, deer habits continue to change according to their needs. In fact, at this point in the season, bucks are no longer focused solely on breeding and have something very different in mind – surviving winter.
Because they go into the rut in the best shape they’ll be all year and come out of it in the worst, bucks will spend their post-rut days, which also happen to fall in heart of the coldest, worst-weather months of the calendar year, focused on food sources.
Corn is king
By not eating like they should be and need to be, the rut really takes a toll on bucks physically. So, post rut, animals are focused on recovery, which means they’re eating a lot.
Since naturally occurring food sources are in short supply, this means deer will be frequenting agricultural food sources, like corn and bean fields, and areas where things like acorns are plentiful. This means that focusing trail cameras on transition areas near those quality year-round food sources is a great strategy for locating and patterning bucks that have survived early-, mid- and initial late-season hunting pressure. Late-season food plots, if you have them, and other easy-to-access food sources are also good places to hang trail cameras during the winter months.
And, because by now winter is in full swing, while they work to recover, deer are also trying to conserve as much energy as possible. Following the rut, deer have lots of body fat and body mass loss to make up for if they hope to make it through what’s left of winter. This means their preferred bedding areas will be in close proximity to food sources.
What to look for: fence posts, feeders, tree lines bordering prime winter feeding locations, high-traffic areas, natural funnels between known food sources and bedding locations
At this point, the bucks that remain have survived early season, archery season, rifle season and muzzleloader season. Chances are they’ve also experienced lots of hunting pressure and have become increasingly sensitive to any human presence in the immediate area.
Ultimately, the more pressure that’s been put on the animals throughout the previous months, the deeper they move into a property and the more difficult-to-hunt terrain they look to inhabit. So, if you’re serious about finding late-season survivors, start thinking about super-thick wooded or brush-covered areas (the tougher to access and tougher to navigate for humans, the better) in the spot you plan to hunt. This time of year, these are ideal places for hanging trail cams too.
In addition to increased hunting pressure the last few months, there’s also a real lack of quality cover. The corn has been cut, leaves have fallen off trees and plants have all died, making these thick, tough-to-access areas the best places for deer to go to feel, and stay, safe.
What to look for: thick tree groves or grass-/brush-covered areas, dips, valleys and other low-lying areas, tough-to-navigate and tough-to-access locations (with or without a visible path in or out)
Check for traffic
Of course, high-traffic areas are another good place to stick cameras. And, during the winter months, these areas are even easier to locate, since the ground is covered with snow and tracks are highly visible. Once tracks are located, it shouldn’t be tough to identify where deer are coming from and headed to as they travel this corridor.
Again, these high-traffic areas are likely to be found between food sources and bedding areas – two other places hanging trail cams will lead to big-time payoffs during the winter months. Keep in mind, given their current physical states and the general bad weather that’s common this time of year, deer won’t be traveling far from their beds to eat, drink or do anything else.
What to look for: tracks, scat, rubs, hair and other deer sign