Late Season Deer Hunting Tactics

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big bucks
Few factors will bring the big bucks out in the open like frigid cold.

Since deer congregate in and around the thickest cover available this time of year, a dense swamp or a brush thicket might be where you have to go to get your deer. Still-hunters working in this cover would do well to wear fleece to minimize the sounds of clothing rubbing against brush.

Presumably, since this is the very end of the season, you’ll be still-hunting through country that has become quite familiar to you by now. Also, you should know how and where the deer like to move in this area. Use that knowledge to your advantage on late-season still-hunts to pick apart the best country.

Naturally, the wind is the most important factor on a still-hunt. You never want to still-hunt with the wind at your back. That’s a waste of time.

When you’re moving through the woods, don’t just look for deer that are on their feet. Dissect the woods with your binoculars searching for bedded deer as well. Look for an ear, an antler gleaming in the sun, the rounded hump of a deer’s rump. These are the pieces of a bedded deer that are likely to be exposed for you to find.

Also, check out anything that just looks out of place to you. At this time of year, the woods are pretty barren. Walking through them, you’ll become skilled at determining how things should look. Fallen trees, brush and saplings, boulders, etc. all have a general appearance that you’ll be able to define as “normal.” Sure, every now and then, you’ll encounter a stump with a white spot on it that you’ll swear is a deer until you get your binoculars on it. When you see something that you can’t quite identify with the naked eye that looks out of place, stop and check it out.

One winter, a deer hunter was sneaking slowly through a pine thicket when he spotted a downed tree about 70 yards away. This tree had two odd protrusions that just didn’t look like anything he’d seen sticking out of a fallen pine tree before. So he pulled out my binoculars and inspected the tree. Turns out those two protrusions were the ears of a bedded doe.

He got down on one knee, pulled my muzzleloader to his shoulder and whistled softly. The doe stood to inspect the noise and he pulled the trigger. After a short tracking job, he was filling out my tag.

heater body suit
A Heater Body Suit will help you stay in the stand longer when it’s freezing out.

Driving Deer

For the most part, deer hunting in January is a bowhunting game. Some states have a late muzzleloader season and some even offer limited, late firearms hunting – usually with a shotgun. If your state offers either a muzzleloader or shotgun hunt in January, that’s the best time to put on deer drives. This isn't saying it’s impossible to drive deer to bowhunters – my friends and I have done it successfully a few times. But firearms hunting – even if it’s with a muzzleloader – is far better suited for deer drives than bowhunting, primarily because of the increased range of the weapons. (If you can only hunt with bows and arrows and you want to put on drives, just remember to have the drivers move at a snail’s pace. A running deer is a safe deer in bow season.)

Driving deer is a controversial tactic in many areas. Some hunters feel driving is bad because you might run the resident deer off of your particular hunting grounds. Well, I might agree with that point back in October or November, when there’s still plenty of hunting to be done. But this is January. Once this season ends, there is no more hunting until the following fall. If you’ve got good deer habitat, any animals you spook out of the area on a deer drive are probably going to come back once the season ends and the hunting pressure is gone.

Once you’ve deer hunted an area for a while, odds are you know the lay of the land. You know the funnels and the deer’s preferred escape routes. Subsequently, you know where to place your standers to get a shot at driven deer. If you don’t know the area too well, study topographical maps to figure out how and where you want to move the deer. Pushing deer into a funnel – a peninsula of woods that sticks out in a field or a thicket that necks down until it peters out in open timber – is your goal. Place a stander at the pinch point to watch for deer.

As was stated earlier, deer tend to bunch up in January due to the lack of suitable security cover and food. Count on finding deer in the areas that have both – lots of deer. A few years back, three buddies and I got together for a day of deer drives during my state’s late, late muzzleloader season. A group of deer hunters moved deer all day – and they even managed to kill two – before they headed for a large swamp surrounded by farm fields.

One of the deer hunters drew the coveted long straw and got his pick of places to set up as a stander. He knew exactly where he wanted to go. The swamp was almost a perfect square, but most of the area in that square was dominated by tall grasses that offered loads of cover to deer in the fall, when the reeds were standing up. By January, however, the grasses usually matted down due to snow and ice.

With minimal cover afforded by the wilted grass, the deer would stick to the L-shaped line of timber this time of year. He knew my buddies would start at one end of the timber, so he opted to stand at the other. And there was no doubt the deer were between us.

The deer hunter could see his partners’ hunting safety clothing off in the distance when they started into the woods. Barely a minute later, the deer started coming my way. One by one, 25 deer hustled through the thin stand of trees past my post. When a nice, fat doe stopped briefly to check her backtrail, I leveled my muzzleloader and squeezed the trigger. The rifle belched a thick cloud of smoke as the bullet struck home. There was no shortage of backstraps and steaks that winter.

For deer hunters, January is the end of the line until next fall. Don’t let those tags go to waste. Get out there, be aggressive, leave no trick in the bag and you just might punch one of those tags.

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