If any of you bowhunters didn’t get the buck of your dreams during the early archery season, don’t despair! The late-season hunts can be great for a bowhunter to get the drop on a monster buck.
By PHIL PHILLIPS
The Colder, the Better
I’m a Midwest hunter for the most part, but I also hunt a lot in eastern Colorado. The longer you hunt into the post-rut period, the colder it gets. Take advantage of that.
Cold weather will cause deer to feel the urge to get their bellies full. Basically, the more miserable you are, the better your odds. In Iowa, Kansas, Illinois and eastern Colorado, you’re getting into freezing weather, but that’s when you’ll find those trophy deer. If you go to the South, all bets are probably off because deer can be as nocturnal as they want to be.
Because bucks have used all up all their energy during the rut, and the cold zaps out all the rest of their energy, they’re forced to move to find food. So I change from focusing on trails bucks used when chasing does during the rut and instead hit all the crossing trails where bucks are going for food. I also determine the ones close to the bedding areas and I set up my stands there. In Kansas, winter wheat is a primary deer food source. So I use winter wheat patches to find my deer.
I also use a lot of trail cameras. As things are progressing, I’m getting some indications where the bucks are at. Big deer aren’t going to change their patterns when they’re looking for one thing. They make it pretty easy. I don’t use scents at all during postrut. I want to leave no scent in the area to give them any indication. Using no scent during post-rut is the best. That way, it doesn’t give them any reason to be alert at all.
I prefer to use tree stands. But in some places, such as a lot of spots in Kansas, it’s not possible to get close to bedding areas from above because of the terrain.
During post-rut you will catch them usually very early and very late. During the rut they are extremely nocturnal and you won’t find them at their food sources mid-day. The postrut forces them to feed, even in daylight, so you can catch them in daylight hours.
The biggest mistake I see in post-rut hunters is a lot of guys will still hunt thinking the deer are still doing rut activities. They’ve seen bucks in the field doing the same certain things for a two- to three-week period. So I’ll see guys sitting in the wrong places.
Again, I switch to hunting crossing trails that parallel feed sources from hunting doe trails during the rut. Does are always taking advantage of food sources because bucks cut them off during the rut.
Follow the Food
I love hunting late season over a good Imperial Whitetail clover field. During the post-rut in December, I go back to my food plots because the breeding season is over. Generally after a couple of weeks of post-rut, the buck’s head back to the core area — that is, if there’s a good supply of food.
The bucks know what’s best for them and what they need after a long, hard rut — food. They are worn out and hungry and they tend to let their guard down just a little. All they’re worried about is putting some food in their bellies to get ready for a harsh winter.
After the first week or so (the later the post-rut, the better) I will move to the buck trails and get as close to the food plot as possible. Once I find the food plot or food source the bucks are using it’s just a matter of time because they’re going to be there every evening until it’s gone!
If it’s the very first part of post-rut, the bucks are generally on a wideopen search for the last doe in estrus. During this time you might see a buck on your property one evening and the next morning see him 10 miles away. Bucks are on the move 24/7.
As for a doe, once she’s bred, it’s just like any other time of the year: She doesn’t want to be around any mature buck. Why? Because mature bucks are stronger and mean to them. On the other hand, she’ll tolerate a young buck to a certain point because she’s more dominant.
When setting up to hunt a food plot, I usually set up on doe trails 15 to 25 yards inside of the woods. It seems like the bucks stay around the does the first week or so after the rut just hoping to find one coming into estrus.
I use both Rivers Edge tree stands and Double Bull ground blinds, depending on the circumstances. Each stand site is different. Keep in mind that in some cases you might be able to be completely concealed only 12 feet high while in others you may have to be twice that high. Of course, the lower you can be, the easier the shot. And a note on ground blinds. If you’re going to use one, make sure you get it out there two to three weeks ahead of time to let the deer get used to it.
As an archery hunter, I believe the best scent to use is no scent at all.Why I say this is simple. One of the hardest things in taking a whitetail with a bow is getting your bow drawn back. If a buck is coming in and smells something, the first thing he will do is lift his head and look for what he smells, and that means he’s on alert. It’s a lot harder to draw back on an alert whitetail.
Keep in mind you have to get in and out of your stand without spooking the deer. In addition to my Scent-Lok clothing, I always store my hunting supplies in a Scent-Lok fanny pack.