Last-Chance Bucks | Outdoor Life

Last-Chance Bucks

Adjust your tactics for winter whitetails.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

The pre-rut, rut and post-rut are history. Bucks have lost as much as 35 percent of their body weight during the frenzy and are facing the dead of winter with dangerously low energy levels. Instead of mating, hunger and survival now drive the herd. As for you, it's the bottom of the ninth and you're deerless.

Late-season bowhunters have several strikes against them. The weather has turned cold, the deer have been pressured and time is running out. But the end of the season is when Dale Larson shines. The Kansas bowhunter knows how to seal the deal at the last minute. In fact, five of his late-season harvests cumulatively eclipse the 1,000-inch mark. Larson knows that just as there are disadvantages at this time of year, there are also advantages.

Find Food and Water
With food scarce, if you find a good source of mast, waste grain or available crops, you've hit pay dirt. This scarcity has deer movement more concentrated now than at any other time of year. Deer take direct routes to and from feeding areas. They no longer wander trails, browsing for food as they go. So the first ingredient in Larson's late-season recipe for success involves finding these food sources.

"Check the obvious," Larson says. "Late-season deer are opportunists. Their food source might be as small as isolated woody vines, locust pods, browse made available by winter storm damage or other, less desirable mast left over from early season.

Finding a late food source is only half the battle, however; you've got to find water, too. "The simplest way is to do your preseason homework," says Larson. "Check out the property prior to the season for water. Keep in mind that a lot of water sources will be frozen late in the winter, so moving water is your best choice."

Hunt From the Ground
Once Larson has zeroed in on the patterns deer are following, he closes the deal by hunting from the ground.

"Late season is prime time for staying on the ground. The flexibility of hunting low allows you to make on-the-spot adjustments to changing wind or travel patterns. It's much easier than moving a tree stand." When hunting from the ground, however, you have to consider things that there's no need to worry about when hunting from a tree. Larson opts to set his ambush off the beaten path. Late-season deer are more concentrated, meaning there are more eyes and noses to detect you.

"Set up too close to a trail and you'll be busted," Larson says. "I see it all the time-hunters insist on staying with the same stands they used early in the season. These were set when deer were less concentrated and there was more natural cover.

"Hunting these stands is the quickest way to ruin your last chance for a good buck. Most hunters don't realize it, but the reason they see so few late-season deer is because the deer see them first."

To avoid this situation, Larson typically sets up another 20 yards or more farther off the trail than he would early in the season. "By season's end, deer are very conscious of hunters. Getting too close guarantees failure," he notes. "That being said, I'm also not a proponent of long-range shots. But because you're now pushed back to remain concealed, you have to be more proficient with your bow. You have to be comfortable with the second, third and fourth pins. You can no longer rely solely on that early-season top pin."

[pagebreak] Keep Hidden To conceal himself better, Lars
on will use a commercial blind or even build his own. "If you go without a blind, let your camo do its work and restrict your movements to when a deer's line of sight is blocked by a tree or the terrain. This is tough, but not as hard as you might think," he says. "Always pay attention to your shooting lanes. I recommend using natural ones. Keep trimming to a bare minimum."

As for the use of manufactured blinds, Larson notees that there are two mistakes hunters often make. "First, they have a false sense of security. Hunters think they're invisible, but nothing could be further from the truth. You've got to keep your window openings at a minimum and move the same as if you're in a tree stand," he says. "Second, everyone knows to place branches around the blind to break up its outline. But almost everyone forgets to cover the bottom edge. If it isn't broken up, it shows a distinct line that doesn't look natural. It will spook deer."

Quick Setup
Being quick and being quiet are crucial to making the right setup in whitetail country. The Cabela's Lightning Set Hunting Blind does just that with its Lightning Hub, which allows setup in just 10 seconds with a single pull on the umbrella-style system. Breakdown is just as easy. The blind is made of water-repellent polyester with a mesh roof vent and separate WeatherShield fly for rainy days. Five windows of shoot-through mesh offer easy shots in all directions, while the Black-Out interior keeps your movement hidden. The blind weighs 12 pounds and comes with a carry bag and stakes. ($156; 800-237-4444; www.cabelas.com.)

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