Late Season Deer Strategies
article by Dan Chason
January is the time that I am thankful that I hunt in Area 1 in Louisiana. For the most part we are highly jealous of Area 2 as their season starts early and we are all itching to be hunting, while our counterparts are able to get a two week start on us in Area 1.
However, that late start means we get a little more time at the end of season when the Area 2 gang has to go back to the stick and string, while we are in the prime time for deer hunting. Louisiana is notorious for two things: Late winters and balmy Fall weather. Personally, I despise deer hunting if I am swatting mosquitoes. There is something about sitting in a deer stand with a frost on the ground and the blind heater going that makes for a more enjoyable hunt. I cannot tolerate sweating and swatting while hoping to see a deer. The problem with a later season lies with only one issue: Deer have been pressured and you have to adapt.
There are two kinds of deer hunters that I have identified. One is the hunter that hunts deer in general and then there is me…the hunter that hunts ONE deer. Last January, I was hunting one good buck really hard and he, in turn, helped me become a better deer hunter. This particular buck was a toughie. He had become quite nocturnal and would not show up until right at pitch black dark. I knew there was only one way to harvest him. I had to find where he was bedding and adjust my movements where I didn’t bump him going to and from my stand and I had to play the moon phases.
I saw him in daylight one time and a switch flipped on in my head. This deer was broad side in a field, 75 yards away from me and it was 1 p.m. I wouldn’t shoot him. I just couldn’t take a pot shot at a deer that had messed up. A duck hunting group had pushed him out of some flooded woods and he was returning to his bedding area. I left him alone for three days. I never entered the woods where he lived and was confident no one else would since the area he was bedding in was thick and overgrown. I worked the perimeter of his bedding area when the wind was favorable and located his tracks. He had one hoof print that had a definite mark I recognized. I knew it wouldn’t be long before I would have my chance if I was patient.
There were many mornings I was tempted to go into his feeding area but I knew that the moon was not right. This buck fed at night except when there was a harvest moon. I had the right moon coming in two weeks, so I decided to wait and hunt him the day before, the day of and the day after the right moon phase. If I was going to have my shot, that would be it or I would only have a week to hunt him with a bow.
I loaded my gear long before daylight and parked my Ranger about a half mile from my stand. Instead of taking the well traveled road I normally took, I opted to put on my chest waders and wade the creek to come in on a good wind so he could not smell me.
I settled into the stand and waited patiently. I have to admit when it came close to noon, I was getting discouraged. I had seen a smaller buck and two does, but I had one deer on my mind. I was not getting down.
I had just about fallen asleep from boredom, as the few deer I saw were right at daylight and I hadn’t even seen a squirrel for hours. Suddenly, I heard a blue heron squawk and leave the slough that lays to the north of my stand. The distant slosh of water told me that something was approaching. I have to admit that my heart rate increased a good bit. A doe suddenly appeared and eased through the edge of the woods, walking towards an open field and stopped. She stuck her nose in the air and I saw her tail rise and fall. I thought I was in trouble but thanks to the Buck Bomb trail I had laid walking in, she soon put her head down and eased on towards the creek bottom. Behind her, I immediately saw horns. It was 1:22 p.m. and it was my buck.
On this particular spot, it is thick. I have learned that when bucks are pressured late in the year, the thicker the area, the better. That is why I opt for my .444 magnum muzzleloader. It carries a 265 grain headache and is not as easily diverted should it strike a small branch or limb. The buck stepped out, quartering away and followed the exact path that the doe had taken. I picked my opening and down he went. Not a wiggle or even a kick. The rifle had done its job and I had quite the sense of relief and satisfaction.
Late season hunting can be quite rewarding. The secret is to watch your scent, take mind of the right wind to hunt and never hunt the stand if the wind isn’t right. I am convinced that if I had hunted the normal morning and evening hunts, I would have never taken this buck. I am grateful and pleased that my game plan came together on this buck and cannot wait to take a poke at his brother. So when late season hunting isn’t putting meat in your freezer, watch the moon and change your tactics. I assure you that big bucks change their patterns and successful hunters must do the same to harvest that buck of a lifetime.