We all want to hunt bucks around the rut. It’s just plain… fun! The bucks are on the move; they respond to scents, calls and rattles; and you’re likely to see deer you never even knew existed on the property.
As exciting as the rut is, though, the late season has some big advantages over the rut, at least in terms of patterning bucks. About the same time deer are getting over their mating urges, they’re beginning to prepare for the colder temperatures and lean food times of winter.
They tend to group up again and frequent sheltered draws near winter food sources — places that offer a buffer against the wind but also easy access to food.
When the next deer seasons roll around and you start thinking about vacation days, save one or two for a late-season hunt. Also, consider taking advantage of your state’s late-season primitive hunts, if available.
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It’s 3:30 a.m. and the alarm goes off. You’re tired, but visions of a big buck help you sit up and rub your eyes. Then you hear it — howling winds and maybe even the dreaded patter of rain on the roof.
Many of us at this point decide it’s not worth the trouble and lay back down to blissful slumber. But that could be a big mistake.
Deer are just like us when it comes to bad weather — they avoid it as much as possible. If you have hunted the same area for any length of time, you probably know of several sheltered depressions, benches or thickets — these can be deer hotspots in bad weather.
While going out and sitting on your favorite stand in pouring rain all day is miserable and probably unproductive, consider making stalks to your property’s natural weather shelters. You can make a short day of your hunt since you’ll probably be cold and wet, but your odds of seeing deer are good — especially when you compare them to the odds of taking your trophy buck from your bed!
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Many hunters have experienced frustration when hunting during the full moon. There’s no question that deer movement seems non-existent sometimes, and that’s almost always true during the full moon.
The problem isn’t really that the deer don’t go to their normal feeding areas; it’s just that they don’t seem to move in their traditional early morning, late-evening pattern.
Researchers and many hunters are starting to realize that the best time to be in the woods during these slow periods is the middle of the day when many of us are eating lunch or taking a nap. Further, it’s surprising how many of the really big bucks are taken during the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. time frame.
The next time you’re facing a full moon or subdued deer movement, consider staying on stand through the middle part of the day. Or, if you’d prefer, sleep in until 9 or so and then head to the woods. You just might catch that big buck when he least expects you.
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Hunting is always more enjoyable with a friend, but it can also be more productive. Let’s face it, unless there is some heavy rut activity, there are times during the hunting season when everyone struggles to even see a deer.
It’s always a good idea to occupy a stand during the first few hours of the morning and the last few of the evening; but if you have a willing partner, mix in a mini-drive after a morning sit or before an evening vigil.
Sneak into a thicket or patch of woods along a good trail, and have your partner head in from the opposite end. Remember that the idea is to actually sneak-hunt, not just push deer. Take a step, pause and look around carefully, and then take another step. Also keep your ears open for the sound of approaching deer.
This is a fantastic bowhunting tactic, but it can work for gun hunters as well. Either way, safety should always be a top priority. Identify your target and look beyond it as well.
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Most deer hunters know how important it is to thoroughly clean their guns following rough weather, multiple shots, or just at the end of a long season. Copper fouling and powder residue will cause even the best guns to shoot poorly, and rust can ruin it for good.
What many hunters don’t know, however, is that it is critical to clean a brand new gun, especially if you hunt in cold weather. On many new guns, firing pins and other moving parts are coated with grease and oil at the factory. This excess lubrication can freeze in cold weather, possibly costing you the buck of a lifetime.
Take apart your new gun and remove the excess grease and oil with a gun cleaner/degreaser. When finished, lightly lubricate moving parts with a quality, temperature-resistant gun lubricant. If you’re not comfortable taking apart your gun, take it to your local gunsmith and have it cleaned.
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No one is sure of the exact purpose of buck rubs. Yes, bucks will rub trees to remove their velvet, but with velvet-drop being a fairly quick process (24 hours or less in most cases), and since most rubs are made long after the bucks have lost their velvet, we have to conclude that rubs serve some other purpose or purposes.
From a hunting perspective, rubs can certainly indicate that a buck is in an area, and if the rub is on a particularly large tree, you can even determine that a given rub-maker is a trophy — but don’t assume a rub on a smaller tree was made by a small buck.
Whether rubs are used by bucks to mark territory or if they are used as signposts to line the route to and from a bedding area doesn’t really matter to the hunter as long as he can use them to help determine where to hunt. When keying on rubs, look for a rub line — or a series of rubs lining a trail. The rubs most often will be spaced 20 or more yards apart, but form a definite “line.”
Rub lines are good indicators that a buck is hanging out in the area, and they also help keep your confidence up, which makes you a better hunter.
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More and more hunters are passing on small bucks in hopes of a trophy. What many newcomers to holding out are not prepared for, however, is to go through the season without taking ANY buck — but that’s what passing up smaller bucks often will mean.
If you decide you are going for a trophy, prepare yourself mentally for the strong possibility that you won’t be taking home a buck that day or even that season. Mature bucks are few and far between, and you just aren’t going to see one that often.
It’s difficult to resist the temptation to take that smaller buck in the last few minutes of daylight, but doing so ensures it will never grow up to be a mature buck, and there’s also the possibility that the real monster was just about to step out.
Brace yourself for the worst so you won’t spend the entire off season wishing you had taken the 6-pointer you passed up. Looking back with regret isn’t going to do you any good, and it won’t help you hold out next year. If you have a firm resolve before you head out, you’ll feel better about your decisions.
Also, if you’re worried about meat, take a fat doe at your first opportunity to take the pressure off.
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This is the time of year when many hunters hesitate to take a deer for the freezer because of the temperature. Indian Summer days can cause deer to spoil quickly, but there are things you can do to help keep your deer in great eating condition.
First, getting the hide off the meat is ideal because it holds in the heat. If you have a portable gambrel and some rope, get that hide off ASAP. When that’s not an option, putting some ice in the body cavity can save the day. Take a cooler that will hold two bags of ice and buy a few when you stop for coffee.
If you don’t take a deer you’re only out $2. It’s great piece of mind when you’re debating whether or not to take that doe for the freezer.
This is great advice! When it is so warm in hunting season, it makes it hard to bag a deer, but it is really hard to keep that meat fresh! It seems like early bow season has been a warm season for several years now. I know I have used ice in the body cavity to keep many a deer from spoiling. Forget the myth that a deer has to hang for days or else it will taste “gamey”. Butcher a deer as soon as possible when the weather is too warm, else the meat will start to spoil, and then will certainly be ruined by a “strong taste”!
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With so many great scent, grunt and rattle products out there, it’s tough to figure out the right mix. How much scent is too much, and how much rattling or grunting, or rattling AND grunting is enough?
The problem is that the answer could be different on any given day – it’s up to the deer.
With that in mind, though, it’s safe to say that more hunters make mistakes by overdoing it than the reverse. Choose your setups like you’re not going to have any scent products and like you won’t be doing any grunting or rattling.
Once you have a setup that should produce your deer, then use any scent elimination products (Tink’s makes a good one), and go easy on the attractants, cover-ups, grunting and rattling. Subtlety is the safer approach, especially at first.
Remember, there is no sure-fire guide. It all depends on what the deer want on a given day.
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Once you’ve located deer trails, look for tracks. If all the tracks are going in the same direction, follow the trail to determine where it goes. Depending on where the food source is, you might have found the main trail heading to the food source. It’s helpful to know how far deer are traveling from the bedding area to the food source. Deer sometimes enter a food source on one trail and leave on another. Other trails might be used both as entry and exit routes. You can study the tracks to determine what kind of trail you’ve found. If you’re hunting a field, set up in the morning on a trail the deer are using to travel from the field back to the bedding area. In the afternoon, set up on a trail deer are using to travel from the bedding area to the field. When hunting pressure gets heavy, it’s good to know where the deer are bedding, as they become nocturnal. If you hunt a morning stand near a food source, the deer might leave the field and be past your stand before daylight. If you hunt an afternoon stand near the food source, they might not come out until it’s dark. If you set up near the bedding area, you have a better chance to see morning movement back to the bedding area at first light. You also have a better chance to see an afternoon buck moving toward the food while it’s still daylight. If you can find two or three trails that merge into one trail, you know you’ve discovered a great place to put a stand. Also keep in mind that big bucks might not use the main trail. Look for less-used trails that parallel the main trail and watch for that smart old buck.
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