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Late Season Bucks


The calendar is winding down, many hunters are growing weary from the long season. Whether it’s because their freezers are full, the cold is getting worse, or just plain ole tired of hunting day after day, weeks on end with little or moderate success, as the last few weeks of the season wane, the woods are bare of more than leaves.

For those who are willing to stick it out this can be and often is the best time of the year to harvest a trophy buck. In fact a quick glance at the record book of South Carolina shows that three of the top bucks were killed in the latter part of December.

As the temperatures drop, the tactics need to change to get the buck of your dreams into your sights. This is where knowing your land well can be the death nail for bucks. As the rut is a distant memory, bucks are now interested in one thing – food. Many mature bucks can drop up to 40% of their body weight during the rut phase. This translates to about forty five pounds for a normal sized buck. That is a lot of weight to gain back at the worst possible time to do so. Find the food and you will find the bucks.

Generally most of the hard mast is gone by mid-December, browse is spotty, agriculture crops are a hit or miss proposition for most locales. But for the hunters who know where to look they can find the few remaining acorns, locust, and other hard mast. Areas with beech trees that are producing, or hickory or even the less desirable oaks such as blackjack, or pin oak will draw deer from long distances.

For the hunters who prepared for this time of year, now is the time to cash in on weeks of preparation that took place in July and August. During these months we were busy planting winter crops for the deer to feed on throughout the winter to sustain them and replenish their calorie intake. Brassica’s and cereal grains dominate the scene as the mercury drops. Food plots that are full of turnips, beets, oats, wheat, will benefit deer all winter. As will those of soy beans that were left for the wildlife. Of course clover will still be available in plots that were drilled into clover patches.

Brassicas have a transformation during the winter. The starches in the leaves turn to sugars when the frost hits. This allows them to grow large because they are bitter during the growing. Yet when the frost hits, they turn to almost pure sugar and the deer cannot resist them. The bonus of turnips is that when the leaves are all eaten, the tubers are edible and desirable also. Deer willingly dig them up and eat the turnip.

Besides the food, is being able to hunt in the cold of late season. Time and again, I take people hunting who give up after an hour and a half because they are freezing. Preparing to hunt on stand when it is cold in the south is a matter of layers, and not sweating. Here is a method I have employed for almost a decade and since following this regimen I have never been miserably cold and the coldest I have hunted was nine degrees.

It starts with your feet – antiperspirant placed liberally over my feet prevents sweating while walking to my stand. One pair of good wool socks and 600 grain insulated Lacrosse pack boots. Bottoms consist of a thin layer of long underwear, a pair of sweat pants, and insulated pants over these. Tops are long sleeve performance shirt, wool shirt, wool sweater, down coat. But without question THE most important piece of clothing is my balaclava. Wrapped around my neck is the key. If the neck is warm the rest of the body is warm, if the neck is cold, the rest of the body is cold. Keeping your neck warm, warms the blood flowing through the arteries that flow just under the skin of the neck. If these get cold, the blood is cold and tells the brain the body is cold. If these are warm, they tell the brain the body is warm. Lastly is a hand-warmer – muff style that you can slide your hands into with a pair of Hot Hands.

Even after all of this, the most critical part is not sweating while walking to your stand. To prevent this, I always carry my coat, knit cap and balaclava to the stand in my pack. This allows the heat to escape while walking. After getting settled into the stand, I will cool down some, and before I get chilled will put the layers on.

You cannot kill a buck that you don’t see because you are stoking a fire back at camp. Cold mornings are great opportunities to kill big bucks in the late season, they are looking for the sunshine to warm themselves, looking for food, and will be up and at it most of the day. Hunters who persevere will stand a greater chance of killing a buck this late season.