When the season’s is at 4th and long most hunters punt, despite the multitude of great bucks still in the game. Here’s how to score in the final quarter, even on the last day.
“You guys can sleep in tomorrow if you want,” said guide Josh Cobb, my host on the eve of Iowa’s late muzzleloading season. “What???? After traveling half way across the country, I’m gonna sleep in on opening day.” As I would learn, winter hunting takes different tactics and strategies than early season. Then Cobb added, “I’ve been seeing a 200-inch buck recently. If I can spot him, we’ll make a plan.”
The Iowa snow cover crunched with each step making a deer drive the best tactic for the morning. Cobb jumped several bucks on this drive, yet only one crossed my path within range. Ironically, two weeks later, a hunter would stand against the same tree and take a dandy 165-inch, 10-pointer. Right place, wrong time.
Second Season isn’t Second Best
“Clients from Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and other high-pressure states think you must bag a deer in the first five minutes or the hunt is over,” said outfitter Jim Aller, only partially in jest. “Hunting the big farm country of Kansas and the Midwest is very different than back East. Personally, I think the second week of the season is the better week and that’s when we almost always kill our biggest bucks.”
After the shotgun season closes, Kansas offers a late archery season like many states across the country. “That’s the only chance the guides and I get to hunt and honestly, it’s a really good time,” says Aller. “The deer are bunched up near food and you can pattern them pretty darned well. The days are shorter, you don’t have to get up as early and you can virtually hunt a food plot all day long. The weather is cold, but not unbearable especially with the newer insulated clothes.”
Phillip Vanderpool took a Boone & Crocket buck with a muzzleloading rifle in a second season and is quick to point out how to adapt to winter deer hunting. “If it’s second season, you want to concentrate on food sources right off the bat,” says the Hunters Specialties Pro Staff hunter. Interestingly, he prefers to hunt different areas in the morning and afternoon.
“Deer don’t move very much or very far in late season because they are conserving as much energy as they can,” Vanderpool says. “I try to catch deer moving from a bedding area to a food source but that’s difficult in the morning in crunchy snow or ice. Unless you can get to a morning stand without spooking deer, you are better off waiting until the afternoon.”
Expect the Unexpected
Second season bucks are motivated by conserving energy, food, and mating in that order. No one, (to my knowledge) has text messaged a survey to the herd asking, would you rather: A) Take a nap, B) Do lunch or C) Chase women? However, when a snow storm hits, deer are likely to just lay low initially and may “yard up” in the Northeast. A prolonged cold spell will bring deer into food plots and to other food sources if available.
Don’t forget the rut. “If you see a big buck in the open in late season, there’s usually an estrous doe involved,” says Josh Cobb, mentioned earlier. “After the bucks have been chased a while, they hang pretty close to cover.” A healthy deer population with an adequate food source will produce fawns that breed as yearlings. These youngsters come into heat in December, January, even February and may force a buck to get his A-B-C priorities out of order.
Successful second season hunters adapt strategies from the pre-rut and rut including rattling horns and deer calls. If you find fresh scrapes, rubs, and other rut signs, rattling and doe bleats can be extremely effective. Without signs of breeding activity, use them in moderation. Most importantly, be out there. As the late Yogi Berra once said, “It isn’t over until it’s over.”