Late season whitetails – it’s all about food

Fifteen feet up in my favorite stand with the cold wind biting into my exposed skin, I sit quietly above a lone food source.  It is 18 degrees with snow on the ground and I consider this January, Ohio muzzleloader hunting at its best.

     Late season hunting can be some of the best if you can tolerate the climate and have food available.  Bucks and does are all about food sources and, when hunting near these, the action can be as exciting as at any time during the season.  Whitetail deer are more predictable at this time of the year.  Bed and food are what is on their mind as the mercury drops and sustenance becomes scarce.
     Consider my set up on this day:  the lone food source in the area and no less than nine trails worn down to the brown leaves spider-webbing out.  Deer were hitting it hard and coming in from all directions.  I am set up close to four known bedding areas and the trails indicate some additional bedding areas that were new to me.  The setup is perfect and the wind is perfect.  All I can do now is sit and observe while I wait.
     This is a great time to note how deer are using the area to move to food and also offers clues to where they are bedding both on your hunting area and on the neighboring properties which not accessible to scout.  These observations are critical pieces to the puzzle to understand how and why deer are doing what they do.  Much like the post-season scouting trips, I like to take every opportunity to observe the woods when snow is on the ground during my late season hunts.

Patience is critical during the late season.  Deer are moving later and later to enter food sources, especially if they have received hunting pressure.  The leaves are off of the trees and their movement is more exposed, so whitetail deer tend to move closer to the cover of darkness.   Today’s hunt would prove no different.

Hunting pressure on neighboring property had bumped the deer earlier in the afternoon.  Just prior to dark a small six-point cruised across the edge of the overgrown fields traveling 300 yards from his bed to feed at this lone food source.  I watched him travel in on a line down one of the well-used trails into the food source.  He made his way to the food stopping at 15 yards to feed.  Although I was passing on this young deer, it was great to see the pattern of bed to food come to fruition.

The young buck fed in front of me for 15 minutes and the entire time he was on high alert.  Eating a few bites, then looking sharply down his back trail into the hayfield.  He would repeat this over and over while he fed.  His demeanor was nervous because of the pressure and lack of cover.  Even at a young age, this buck knew danger could be upon him at any moment.   Little did he know that danger sat 15 yards away up in the large oak tree.

Finally, the buck moved on as the woods faded into darkness.  I removed the primer from my weapon, descended the tree, and walked out of the woods towards home.  No harvest, but another memorable hunt.

Good luck everyone!


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Author: Eric Hall

Afflicted with Whitetail OCD, I have been addicted to the Whitetail Deer since the late 1980s. It is an all-consuming and never-ending passion to learn about and ultimately preserve the heritage of whitetail deer hunting. Now I feed that addiction with the Whitetail OCD blog.

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