The rut is tapering out and it seems the deer are not moving like they were during those few magical weeks of the whitetail breeding period. It’s not time to put the gun away just yet. Even though the rut has ended there is still excellent hunting to be done in the late season.
Late season provides an excellent opportunity to bag a big buck or add some meat to the freezer before the season ends. It’s just going to take some changes to your hunting strategy.
Deer are much easier to pattern during this phase of the season, the challenge lies in timing your hunts with their schedule without giving away your hulking presence.
In this article, I will discuss 5 tactics to improve your late season whitetail hunts. We will also take a look at the best calls and scents to use during the late deer season.
So, what exactly do I mean when I say late season? Some hunters might lump everything directly after the primary rut on through the season as late season. We will define the late season for this article as starting four weeks after the primary rut. For most parts of the country, this will be in the first two weeks of December.
Deer in late season
During the tail end of the deer season, most deer have abandoned breeding and moved on to finding a consistent food source. The remainder of winter is ahead of them and they have just been through a grueling period of chasing and breeding that is taxing on their bodies, especially the bucks.
This is without a doubt, the most important deer behavior to plan around in the late season. They need to feed hard and consistently so mapping out deer feeding areas is of the utmost importance.
I buy into the second rut. I don’t have a pile of data showing that this occurs at the frequency of the few weeks of the primary rut, but I do have some anecdotal evidence from my time in the woods and the stories from other hunters.
All the does are not going to be bred by the time the primary rut ends. This is especially true if the female to male ratio is skewed heavily in the does favor. One-year-old does usually begin their first estrous cycle later than the more mature does so the beginning of the late season might see some breeding activity.
Deer in the deep south will actually just now be gearing up for the rut, but for the majority of the American Whitetails, the primary rut is going to be done or winding down.
What all this means is that you have several different strategies that you can utilize during this period and we will go through five different tactics that can increase your chances of bagging a late season deer.
5 tactics to improve late season hunts
1. Limit your hunting footprint
These are very, very wary deer at this point in the season. This is especially true if they are in a heavily hunted area. For all the tips from here on, you really need to limit the chances these deer will have of being alerted to your presence.
You also need to practice good woodsmanship, being aware of the wind direction and your course to and from the stand. Do not want to cross heavy travel lanes from bedding to feeding areas and always stay downwind of where you think the deer are moving.
You will not be able to stay hidden from every deer in the woods, but you can definitely minimize the amount of deer that are aware of you.
One way to lessen your footprint in the woods is the use of a good masking scent. There are several great masking scents that are readily available and can help keep your scent from drifting into the deer bedding areas.
Both masking scents come in spray bottles and are safe to use on clothing and gear. They are also available in detergents and body washes for the more paranoid, I mean cautious, hunter. Both are also guaranteed to stand up to wet environments while retaining their masking properties.
and ConQuest Scent Stick is a new and increasingly popular masking scent. It is unique in that it is not just a masking scent, but smells of deer bedding areas. This not only masks human scent but also helps calm deer that are in your vicinity.
All three of these masking scents can get the job done when used properly and paired with smart hunting.
2. Look for food and bedding areas
While there might still be some mating going on through the first part of December it is at a much lower rate than the primary rut. Your best chance at putting a deer between the crosshairs is to figure out where the deer are bedding and feeding.
Deer will bed in areas that provide plenty of cover and up next to rises that will block the north and northeastern wind. Not only will deer bed in these specific topological areas, but they will also bed relatively close to the nearest major food source.
During this time deer are craving high carb foods. Having food plots planted with winter grains, beans, or other winter foliage can really make late season hunting more manageable. Standing or recently cut crop fields will have very high deer traffic and will even pull deer from other properties in the surrounding areas.
If there are no standing crops the deer are going to be browsing hard in the woods. This will make it more difficult for locating deer and you will need to really focus on deer bedding areas and their travel lanes out from them.
I wouldn’t rule out oak trees that had a high acorn yield either. This is especially important if your hunting area does not contain a food plot or harvested fields.
3. Hunt the right time of day
Late season deer will be on the move more towards the evening than in the morning as was the case early in the season. You should never rule out morning hunts and there are times when getting in the woods early can lead to some success
A significant cold or storm front is a great opportunity for a morning hunt. When the fronts move in deer seem to get nervous and will feed as early as possible regardless of the cool early morning temperatures.
Unless there are significant changes in weather, your best times to be in the woods are for midday and evening hunts. If there is still some breeding going on then you can bet deer will be moving during the middle of the day. It’s all about getting out into the woods as often as you can and seeing the movement for yourself.
Generally, the deer will remain in thick cover throughout the morning and then move to feeding areas through their habitual trails. If you can nail down the trails and funnels they move along, fencerows, steep gradients, or creeks, and sneak in without them knowing it, you’re likely to see some action in the afternoon hours.
4. Bring back the rut
We have mentioned that there will still be breeding going on, especially through mid-December. The bucks are aware of this as well and a young doe going through estrous will bring some of these wary bucks out from their cover for another shot at hooking up.
While you shouldn’t go about it with the same tenacity in the previous weeks, utilizing scents and calls sparingly can still be effective this late in the season. Don’t put all your eggs in this basket, though, nailing down feeding and bedding areas is the best scenario. Still, having a backup plan is always wise.
Doe estrous scents are your best bet in terms of attractants. and Code Blue Doe Estrous and and Tink’s #69 Doe-in-Rut are two of the most effective estrous attractants that are available to you besides the actual tarsal gland off the deer.
In terms of calls, any deer call used properly can bring in a curious deer, but in the late season, there are vocalizations that will be a better bet at bringing a deer in.
We lay off of the heavy grunting after the primary rut. Bucks are a lot less territorial and are beginning to merge back into bachelor groups. Grunts are best left to stopping a deer from leaving the gun range.
Using an estrous scent with some casual doe bleats has been our best strategy for bringing in bucks in the late season. Primos The Original Can Deer Call and Hunter’s Specialties Young Doe Estrus Bleat Deer Call are easy to use calls that imitate a young doe looking to breed.
5. Stay sharp
With the season coming to close and a couple tags still left in your pocket, it can be easy to be hasty and make mistakes costing you the chance for bagging deer.
This may seem like common sense, but a lot of deer have been bumped or missed because of poor planning and lack of patience. It’s a brief tip, but probably the most important one in this article.
Late season whitetail hunting requires preparation, self-awareness, and persistence to tag those final deer late in the season. The deer have been hunted hard and are much more skittish. They have also learned to avoid certain areas and times of day where they have recently encountered or caught the scent of hunters.
A lot of hunters hang up the gear once early to mid-December rolls around. There is a perception that your chances of bagging a buck become slim during this time period and it is absolutely incorrect.
You will find quieter woods, in terms of hunters stomping around, and hungry deer driven by finding food. If you implement these strategies into your own hunting philosophies you experience exciting hunts even after the rush of the rut.