© By Othmar Vohringer
During the rut bucks chase does day and night and there is no predictable way to determine where they will turn up next. After the rut is over bucks stay in one core area where they can find sufficient cover and food in close proximity. As an additional bonus bucks become more tolerant of each other and it is quite common that several bucks share one core area. But make no mistake late season bucks are no easy pushovers. Even at that time of year bucks are still weary. The bucks that survived the early and rut hunting seasons are skittish and have little tolerance for human intrusion in their core area.
While many big bucks have been taken by stalking them I don’t regard this as the most effective late-season hunting tactic. Granted there it is a special experience to track a buck in the snow and getting close enough to it to shoot it. A much more successful late-season buck hunting tactic is to set up a treestand or ground blind. To find a promising stand site some careful scouting is necessary. Look for a thicket, the thicker the better, in close proximity to a food source. If there is snow on the ground it is not hard to find well-worn trails leading out of the thicket to the food source. Hang a stand or set up a ground blind somewhere in between the two locations, possibly not to close to the bedding area (thicket). Make sure the wind is right and that the stand is far enough away from the thicket that the bucks cannot hear you approach the stand when you walk through the crunchy snow.
Another method that can be very productive during the late season is a well organized deer drive. However, I don’t like the deer drives where the “pushers” shout and bang sticks against trees to scare the deer out of the thickets toward the “standers”. I’ve taken part in such deer drives and always found it very difficult to get a clean shot at a running buck. A much better way is what I call, “nudging deer”. This method can be used with just two hunters. While one hunter is in his stand the other walks upwind of buck holding areas in a zigzag course. As soon the buck smells the pusher he slowly moves off, rather than running at full tilt from the approaching men. This deer drive method makes for much better shooting opportunities since the bucks will walk, not run, past the standers. This method is so effective that it can be used by bowhunters too. To make this tactic work some scouting is needed. When you scout look for terrain features with natural escape routes. Place the stand in these escape routes preferably on the narrowest spot where deer movement is constricted to a single trail. Such funnels can be a narrow strip of trees or brush connecting two larger wooded areas, a overgrown fencerow or a narrow creek crossing, even a broken fence line.
If you prefer to spot and stalk, your best chances are to walk along a south-facing slope inside the timberline. On warm sunny winter days bucks often lay out in the open where the sun keeps them warm to conserve energy. The late season is a great time to be out in search of a big buck. Dress warm and be prepared to hunt all day from dawn to dusk as bucks move around in search of food.