Late Season Whitetail Hunting…For the Dedicated Few
I have long been a fan of the late season pursuit of trophy whitetail bucks. As the snow and mercury falls the chances of putting your tag on a mature buck rise. Many whitetail hunters pack up their gear for the season after the rut is over. This is a huge mistake as they may be missing one of the best times to catch a giant buck on his feet.
I was always fascinated by late season deer hunting as a young man. I loved the fact that you could see where the deer had been in the snow. I would follow their tracks around the woods with my bow in hand hoping to walk up on one that would let me shoot at it. Of course, with virtually zero tracking skills and quite elementary hunting abilities this was a very unlikely result. However, I did gain a lot of knowledge about a deer’s behavior during this time of year; much more than I would have if I had spent all my hunting time in a stand.
The one lesson that I learned during these first few winters that I have carried with me ever since is the need for extensive scouting this time of year. To make the most of your hunting late season you need to spend more time scouting than you do on stand. If you have 6 days to hunt, then I would spend at least 3 days glassing and scouting for a mature buck. If you only have 2 days to hunt, then I would spend a day and a half scouting and hunt the last evening. It may seem crazy to waste your precious hunting time just looking for deer but if you don’t you may be off by a mile…Literally.
It is no secret that food is a driving force behind a whitetail’s movement this time of year. What many people don’t realize is that deer will travel great distances to find it. Sometimes if the need is great enough the deer will actually abandon their home core area to find a viable food source. One fall during my guiding career I witnessed this firsthand. I drove down this one particular stretch of road every single day during the fall and watched as the deer herd cleaned out a cut corn field 40 acres in size in less than 3 months. By January there was not a deer within a mile of this field. If you showed up to hunt this farm in January, you were in for a big disappointment.
I personally think that temperatures in the teens are optimal for getting a mature buck on his feet during daylight hours this time of year. However, I did kill a giant buck on a 57-degree late December hunt back in 05, so that is certainly not a requirement. If through your scouting, you have found a location where the deer are regularly feeding then it is time to make your move regardless of the weather. I would operate with extreme caution while accessing your hunting area as deer are very edgy this time of year and will tolerate very little. If the conditions are right for an ambush, then don’t hesitate. You may only get one chance at a given mature buck so make it count. If you are one of the dedicated few still chasing that trophy whitetail this season…Stay warm and good luck!
Last Updated: December 5th, 2023