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Harvesting Trophy Bucks Late Season


Being a Missouri resident the harvest of a trophy whitetail buck during the months of December and January by means of archery is one of the most difficult feats any hunter may encounter. This is not only true in Missouri but in any of my neighboring states inclusive of Illinois, Iowa, etc. Despite the Midwest’s continuous production of the largest whitetail bucks in the country, there is a period during late season wherein an archer must employ different strategies with the proper equipment to have a chance at filling his or her archery tag with a record book buck.

During the time period after late muzzleloader season in mid December there are many reasons why the tagging of a trophy whitetail buck becomes more difficult. 1. Many bucks are already harvested by hunters thus the number of trophy bucks available for harvest in the woods is simply decreased. 2. Many mature bucks that still exist in the woods are spooked due to the seasons pressure are chiefly nocturnal. Of course when a buck goes nocturnal there is no legal means by which one can put a tag on him. 3. The rut is over thereby bucks that are left for the taking are exhausted and often times minimize movement in an effort to recover from a full season of chasing does. 4. Late season hunts often are accompanied by bad weather conditions which also minimizes movement. For all the aforementioned reasons, the late season archer in pursuit of a trophy whitetail buck has a very tough task before him.

Like it or not we MUST talk about the proper hunt apparel for late season hunting. You’ve got to have specific equipment to take to the field this time of year. The following information is vital. First and foremost because of weather that late season hunting is accompanied by, it is absolutely paramount to possess the proper cold weather gear to combat low temperatures and exposure to the cold elements of Midwestern winters. Most often times average insulated clothing purchased at discount supply stores isn’t enough to keep hunters comfortable during winter outings. My recommendations as a dedicated whitetail enthusiast include cold weather gear offered by Walls and Artic Shield. The smart late season archer begins with a base layer of quality clothing. For me the base layer of clothing is the least important of the layers of clothing the hunter will wear during a cold weather hunt. Normally I wear tops and bottoms of long underwear along with a quality heavy duty sock. This layer is then covered by my Walls camo cargo pants, button up shirt, and camo or dark colored turtleneck. I find the turtleneck to be very important as much body heat escapes around the head and neck area. A freezing breeze on the back of a neck can force a hunter out of a treestand setup hours earlier than planned.

My outer layer of clothing is a company that is second to none as Arctic Shield provides a product that I have literally never gotten cold in despite sitting in everything from freezing rain to high winds and snowstorms. In 1999, ArcticShield launched its first product – Boot Insulators – with tremendous results. Using a heat retention technology called RE-tain™, ArcticShield now offers an entire line of apparel that keeps you warm from head to toe. ArcticShield’s exclusive RE-tain™ technology utilizes a multi-layered thermal barrier that captures and returns up to 97 percent of your body heat. This method is more effective than thick traditional insulations that only slow body heat loss. This cold-weather clothing is innovatively thin and unbelievably warm. Artic Shield offers many products however I utilize ArcticShield® H3 Series
Relaxed fit for added comfort
6 outer pockets with storm flaps
1 inner pocket
Removable hood
Windproof, waterproof, breathable, moisture management
Fabric: Tricot shell; Tricot lining with Quiet RE-tain™
Colors: Mossy Oak New Break-Up®, Realtree Hardwoods HD®
Sizes: M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL
Relaxed fit for added comfort
4 outer pockets with storm flaps
Adjustable quick-snap shoulder straps
Adjustable leg-cuff closures
Storm-flap protected leg zippers
Windproof, waterproof, breathable, moisture management
Fabric: Tricot shell; Nylon lining with Quiet RE-tain™
Colors: Mossy Oak New Break-Up®, Realtree Hardwoods HD®
Sizes: M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL
This combination is nothing short of a weapon against the harsh weather conditions pronounced upon today’s modern day late season archery hunter exposed to cold temperatures. By the way I thought before I went any further with this article I want to emphasize that I hate articles solely focused upon promoting product. This is not my intention. I truly outfit myself with the recommended product and have found nothing close to producing the desired results that Artic Shield and Walls have provided to the American Outdoorsman.
In conclusion of gear needed lets get to covering that head and hands as well as feet. It seems these are the 3 most vital areas of importance. For your feet get some good LaCrosse Cold Weather Pack Boots. It seems with hands that no matter what glove you choose there is no saving your hands from the cold weather elements. My recommendation. Buy the new Heat Max glove/mitten combo that has compartments to hold the Hot Hands shake up heat packs. In fact it’s the only way of keeping those hands warm. Heat Packs actually are inserted into the gloves to provide warmth for up to 8 hours. These can be found at Be sure to purchase plenty of heatmax hot packs while your on the site. They last for years with proper storage and have become a common tool of cold weather hunters. The hood of the parka from Artic Shield won’t be enough to provide proper head gear thus gear up with a quality stocking hat, barclava, or full ski mask.
Most importantly don’t wear the Arctic Shield bibs and parka into the stand location. Wait and put it on when you arrive at the hunt location. If you don’t by the time you arrive at your ambush site you’ll be soaked with sweat and with the slightest of breezes you will freeze your behind off. I always roll up my bibs and parka into a tight roll like sleeping bag and then tie them as a roll with a cord or piece of rope. Then after I arrive to my treestand site I “suit up”.
Normally in the Midwestern states the peak of the rut occurs between the dates of November 1 and November 20. Any does that are not bred during this time period come back into heat 30 days later. Therefore it is possible does that came into heat really late in the year could be in heat late December. While its an oddity it is possible and I’ve seen it happen. Some call it the 2nd rut. If your experiencing a 2nd rut during your late season hunt then the hunter needs to take advantage of hunting topographical advantages like funnels, spiderwebs, active scrapes, etc. Here are some topographical advantages described for the harvest of a trophy buck late season to hunt only if the hunter determines he’s seeing a 2nd rut.
Spider Webs: Whitetails often travel dense fence rows and ditches in route to food, water and bedding areas. It has been my experience the denser the fence row or ditch, the more heavily traveled it will become. A spider web is a location where two or more dense ditches or fence rows intersect. The more ditches and fence rows that intersect, the more likely you are to intercept deer travel while hunting these areas. The key to locating a successful spider web lies in its density, length and quantity of intersecting travel routes. The arms, ditches and fence rows of the spider web need to connect to timber, bedding areas, water or food sources. To be consistent, sufficient cover must rest in the arms of the spider web. Whitetails receive a sense of security when traveling along dense arms, as they can remain hidden from predators more effectively. When hunting from stand locations positioned in spider webs, I have obtained the following results:
Number of hunts from spider webs 14
Successful hunts 13 Unsuccessful hunts 1
Success Percentage 92.8%

Funnels: I am partial to funnels. During the 1998 season, I harvested three mature bucks in funnel setups. A funnel is a natural or man made piece of topography that pushes deer into a travel route which has been decreased in size from the surrounding terrain. Various types of funnels exist. The traditional forest funnel is a piece of timber that dramatically decreases in width resembling a bottleneck or hourglass shape. A terrain funnel occurs when a piece of terrain is present that makes deer travel difficult. For example, a 90 degree ridge or a big body of water forces whitetails into a funnel area. A field funnel occurs when the width of a field dramatically decreases in width and then increases again. When hunting from stand locations positioned in funnels, I have obtained the following results:
Number of hunts from funnels 45
Successful hunts 38
Unsuccessful hunts 7
Success Percentage 84.4%

Corners: Field edges are tough to hunt. My theory is whitetail usually enter fields from the corners. Upon entrance from a corner, animals can view the entire field quickly at one time rather than looking in all directions for danger. When hunting from stand locations positioned in the corner of fields, I have obtained the following results:
Number of hunts from corners 46
Successful hunts 40
Unsuccessful hunts 6
Success Percentage 86.9%

Shelves: When hunting ridges, one must look for two types of topographical advantages. Shelves occur along sides of ridges. Although I have minimal experience hunting shelves, some hunters insist mature animals frequently move along shelves to avoid the dangers presented by high and low elevation travel. When hunting shelves, I have obtained the following results:
Number of hunts from shelves 8
Successful hunts 6
Unsuccessful hunts 2
Success Percentage 75%

Ridge Ramp Corners: The second type of topographical advantage worthy of attention on ridges, occur on ridge bends and corners. In the bends and corners of ridges, erosion usually decreases the angle of elevation thus creating a ramp. These ramps make deer travel less difficult, thereby enhancing whitetail travel up and down steep ridges. I have obtained the following results from ridge ramps:
Number of hunts from ridge ramps 40
Successful hunts 32
Unsuccessful hunts 8
Success Percentage 80%

Logging Roads: My experience with whitetails has convinced me they are lazy animals by nature. They often take the least restrictive route of travel, especially when hunting pressure allows it. In an effort to make travel easier, whitetails often utilize old logging roads. Logging roads are also an excellent place to locate active scrapes. Logging roads can pay off during the rut. Remaining undetected, when traveling to and from stand locations is crucial, when in pursuit of mature whitetails. One can use these logging roads as a quiet entrance and exit in the timber. When hunting from stand locations positioned on logging roads I have obtained the following results:
Number of hunts from logging road setups 25
Successful hunts 23
Unsuccessful hunts 2
Success Percentage 92%

Low Spots: Low spots are created when the terrain on a given tract of ground abruptly decreases in elevation. Whitetails feed and travel in low spots to remain unseen by predators. On one farm, I hunt a 100 acre agricultural field. In the eastern section of this field, a small portion decreases in elevation by about five feet. Deer always seem to feed in this low spot to avoid detection. Deer travel waterways and gullies because the elevation of each feature is a means by which they can remain below the surface of the surrounding terrain. Low spot hunting can be phenomenal. I have little experience with this particular type of topographical advantage, but my hunting partner has utilized the low spot advantage for years. He has convinced me that low spots are supreme topographical advantages by harvesting many trophies from them. I have obtained the following results from hunting low spots:
Number of hunts from low spots 12
Successful hunts 9
Unsuccessful hunts 3
Success Percentage 75%

Especially on a snow covered terrain one must discover and spend time locating an active food source. Normally at this time of year the farmer has harvested his fields months ago and some fields are disc under. This presents a great problem for you and the whitetails you hunt. Most of the agricultural fields hold little to no grain or food source as they have been picked cleaned by the herd weeks before. This is where if you have thought ahead and have placed food plots for the herd your almost certain to obtain your late season shot opportunity as deer are literally starving at this point and will be forced to enter your food plot or die of starvation. Here at IMB Outfitters we literally have late season food plots that look like hundreds of deer have been hitting them daily. Turnips are a great late season food plot to plant. However for the less fortunate that have no food plot set out you must put the weapon down for a few days and literally backpack and scout your area for tracks and activity to determine where deer are going to feed. Snow always makes this search much easier as frozen ground tells little truth about deer movement as deer hoof impressions aren’t usually left on frozen ground. I have seen snow covered terrain look like petting zoo confines where late season whitetail foraging is occurring. This is what your looking for in the snow. It ought to be flat “torn up”. Anything less is not acceptable in the snow.
If no snow exists you might want to spend several evenings with optics watching grain fields to determine what deer are entering your area. At this time simply locate the herd and in the Midwest you’ve probably located a trophy buck. For example if an alfalfa field is yielding 40 deer a night but your not seeing a big buck enter with them don’t worry too much. He’s their somewhere with the herd feeding as they have few places to feed during the late winter months.
If you can locate the late season food source half the work is done. Now all you need do is setup a treestand location on the foodsource and wait it out in your cold weather gear.
Cold winter months bring winter storms that can kill the toughest of animals therefore during late season whitetails are sure to do two things to guard against literally freezing to death. They herd up into big groups and lay together to share body heat. This is why I tell you that on snow ridden terrain you haven’t found the herd until you find a ridiculous amount of tracks. The herd also finds the densest cover in the warmest areas to guard against the wind and catch what sunlight is available at different times of the day. For example in the morning animals may bed on Eastern sides of a slope to catch sunlight while during afternoon hours they may bed on western slopes to catch the sunlight. This may mean a mid day movement to a Western slope may be occurring in your area.
Mature whitetails will also pick the densest of cover not only to avoid wind but also because they are spooked from a season of hunting pressure. Locate the nastiest densest areas of briars, saplings, brush, logged treetops, etc for whitetails to be utilizing during late season. Remember you’ll need to find a way to access these areas without being busted by the herd. Choose quiet routes to access the dense areas or you will fail with the late season archery tag. Some of this is simply common sense. Ask yourself, “If I were a whitetail trapped out in subzero temperatures where would I try to survive until the Spring months?” Of course the answer is the densest cover you could find because it would block the winds and provide a shelter from the elements. You’d find me in a treetop surrounded by dense briars and cover. This would almost serve as a natural blanket from the barbaric winter storms and temperatures which literally kills some animals.
With all this in mind the late season archery hunter is looking for very dense cover near an active food source and praying for a snow covered ground which leaves the very clues you need to be successful.

Darrin Bradley

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