Hey, bowhunters: Didn’t get the buck of your dreams during the early archery season? Don’t despair! The late-season can be great time for a bowhunter to get the drop on a monster buck. Here are some tips from veteran archers.
Best Time for Big Bucks
Editor’s Note: The late Jeff Murray was a super bowhunter and woodsman whose skills and insights helped many hunters throughout the years. We believe his knowledge still is valuable and wanted to offer some of his thoughts on late-season hunting:
The post-rut is a unique and special time of the year. Without question, this is the best time to tag a high-end buck. For those with nerves of steel, use this time to go for the buck of your life. But it takes a lot of planning and you have to know the deer are there.
The most common mistake post-rut hunters make is giving up. You think the rut’s all over, but about a week to 10 days later, the last few bucks go trolling. It’s short-lived but can be explosive. Hang tight and be patient.
Now, here’s the interesting part: You can have an area with no rut sign but still shoot the biggest buck because his core area might be a few miles away. The problem with looking for out-of-the way areas other hunters may have missed during the rut is you spend more time scouting than hunting. You can only know so much of a neck of woods. You may know five or six 40-acre hunting spots like the back of your hand, so that’s where you should concentrate my efforts. Pick all your spots before the season starts.
A good strategy is to have two types of stands — primary stands and backup stands. No matter what time of the year it is, these stands will work. Primary stands are easy to get to. They are typically in connection areas or travel corridors. Of course, you don’t want to walk through the areas deer are traveling, so you have to access these through the side.
These primary hunting spots work throughout the fall. The key at these stands is to preserve the element of surprise. You don’t want deer to know you exist. You want them to think this is their world and no humans are there.
Secondary spots are spots you shouldn’t have used at all. They are back-ups in case a primary doesn’t work. No one has a plan that works every time. These spots are harder to get to because they’re generally in thicker areas.
Back to the does. As the season progresses, does change their feeding habits. And they can make it very difficult for you when you’re trying to hunt by food sources. But it’s not a bad tactic if you are hunting in one-dimensional food habitats, such as agriculture.
The best way to hunt those areas is to get between doe bedding areas where bucks go from one doe bedding area to the next; as opposed to doe food sources, as they change so much. This forces you to be an expert on doe beds. Does always bed below bucks on the hillside. During the day, bucks will bed above does so they can smell them by licking thermal currents. Make sure you know which bedding area you are looking for — does or bucks.
Lastly, know your definition of a trophy buck. If you bigger deer are out there, hold out for them. But if the biggest buck in your area is a 130, don’t be looking for a 150. The definition of a trophy buck is relative to the largest bucks in your area. It’s always a great accomplishment to get one.
Late Season is Much Like Early Season
It’s pretty simple: After the rut, my wife Tiffany and I go back to hunting the way we do during the early season. The stands we use for late season are the same stands we use during early season. During the rut, we concentrate more in timber and in bedding areas or between them. But our post-rut strategy takes us back to food plots.
I’ve set up more than 70 food plots, each one ranging from 1 acre up to 25 acres. It’s a lot of food, and we’ve put a lot of time and money into our food plots. We’ve been here (in Iowa) for five years so most of the deer know where they’re going to go to get food.We get probably deer from five miles around.
When I lived in Minnesota I shot a real nice one in December. The guy’s land I was hunting on had some of his corn they harvested in spring. It was a no-brainer to set up near the corn stand. But the farmer rotated his crops so you never really knew exactly where the food was going to be year to year. With food plots, we always know where it’s going to be, and the deer get used to it. In late season, we concentrate on our cornfields or clover fields. The food is always going to be in same spot and we pretty much know where it’s going to be every year.
Throughout the entire year I use no scent. Especially in the post-rut season, you absolutely want to use no scent. It’s not that I don’t think some scent products don’t work, but no scent is always 100 percent effective.
During the late season, its seems like in the mornings the deer aren’t at the food sources as much. Knowing this, we’ll try and hunt their bedding areas in the mornings more. It seems like deer after the rut, are seen less during daylight hours and are found more in the timber in morning. During the evenings, the food source is where they’re at. After the gun season, they get pushed around a lot more.
Tiffany and I both shot a couple of really big deer during late-season last year. I killed a buck one morning and Tiff shot one the next evening during the late muzzleloader season. If you see a good buck during the rut but don’t get a good chance to shoot him, you’ll catch him again later at the food source. If you’ve seen a giant deer in your cam pictures, but you didn’t see him during the rut, your best chance of getting him is to hunt the late season.