With fall coming to an end and winter opening the door to some of the harshest times for Whitetail Deer, how can a hunter maximize his success? Hunting pressure, changing food sources, and secondary ruts all play a vital role in how you prepare your hunt. In the South especially the buck to doe ratio is heavily skewed with high numbers of doe. This means a secondary rut takes place in early to mid-December. Seems like a great opportunity right, not so fast. With this secondary rut, the does are not frequenting their fall food source haunts anymore, instead, they are hitting heavy cover browse and food plots in the late evenings. With the heavy hunting pressure these deer have already experienced, getting an opportunity during shooting hours can be quite the chore. So, what do you do? You must think like a deer. At this point of the season, most daylight movement is occurring in thick heavy cover where deer feel safe. Privet thickets, pine thickets, clear cut overgrowth all provide suitable safety for deer to move and eat in a relatively small area awaiting nightfall and the safety of dark to move to more prime feeding grounds. All this info should play a role in how you hunt to be successful.
Minimize Your impact
Hunt your stands less frequently to minimize your human impact in the areas you hunt. Change it up. This time of year I hunt my thick areas. I know deer feel safe in these areas, and while they do not provide a lot of shot opportunities, sightings go way up. I have 2 to 3 shooting lanes in these areas because being prepared for that shot is key! No quick naps during these hunts, because as soon as you see a deer you better be prepared to take that shot the first opportunity you get. I also ditch my calling and scents during this time, as I believe deer have become so weary, especially in high-pressure areas. In less pressured areas I hunt (such as private hunting grounds), I don’t mind doing a little calling and have had some success with bucks still hoping to find one more unbred doe.
Find the food
To be successful you must hunt the food that the deer prefer. Heavy browse that is available in old pine plantations can be great since there is cover and food in the same place. If you don’t have that option or have an option to bait, you should put your bait in the thick areas, providing 2 things late-season deer are looking for safety and food. Mind you once you take a deer out of one of these areas like this, the other deer take heed that safety is no longer there and often go dormant for several days after a harvest. Food plots in the evening are also great for deer activity. They will frequent these areas if you have them, same as cut agricultural fields.
Sometimes you get lucky and catch a buck who just can’t wait any longer to check out the doe in these fields, though my success is usually much lower than going into cover to hunt. As always alleviating pressure on these areas is key.
One other high success technique is hanging a new set/stand in an area you do not hunt. This could yield an opportunity on deer who do not sense hunting pressure in this area, and as always, your first sit will likely be your most productive so maximize it. Deer are so tuned in with their environment that pressure is inevitable.
Utilize the weather
Hunt those post-frontal conditions where deer are on their feet more. Utilize the solar and lunar hunting times to be in position during the most opportune times. Older bucks tend to know that hunters are often not in the rough weather conditions of cold and rain, and they find comfort in moving during those times. Two very large bucks I harvested were killed during a light cold rain, and moderate wind as a cold front moved in during the midafternoon.