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About two to three weeks after peak breeding of whitetails has ceased some of the younger does that did jot come into estrous earlier, particularly six month old fawns in many regions, may come into a first estrous, and older does that were not bred earlier come into a second or possibly a third estrous. This may cause an increase in both rubbing and scraping activity as the bucks begin to travel their rub routes and search for late season forage, where they may come in contact with does or the scents the does left behind. Since the younger or subdominant bucks may have never ceased looking for does, the earliest of these activities may be attributed to the these bucks, resulting in what appears to be a pre-late breeding phase, which precedes the peak breeding of does at this time. The actual Late Breeding Phase peak may last two to three weeks, and in the northern states, it usually occurs in December. However, breeding may continue for a month or more before ceasing, with breeding continuing longer in the mid-latitude and southern states.
Winter Home Range Shift & Migration
Limited food sources and cold winter weather may cause the deer to migrate, or to move to Winter Home Ranges. I've seen this Winter Home Range Shift occur as early as mid-November if the weather turns cold, the snow gets deep, the natural food sources are gone, or agricultural food sources like corn and soybeans are picked. If you don't see any deer in you area, they may have moved or migrated. If they have you will have to start the scouting, glassing, patterning process all over again if you want to be a successful deer hunter.
The Late Rut Phase; and Late Rut Phase Hunting Techniques
No matter which rut phase you are hunting during late season deer hunts, the further you are from the food sources you are, without getting too close to the deer bedding areas, the better your chances of seeing deer during the day. Even though the deer may arrive at the food source well before dark, they are most alert near the food sources, where you may be detected. And, because bucks generally travel later than does, you will have a better chance of seeing them in protected areas, well away from the food sources, in the early afternoon.
Bucks are often still interested in breeding during these phases, but they may be tired after the rigors of the breeding phase, the may not travel as much and they will probably be wary as a result of the hunting season; so you need to use long rattling sessions to attract the bucks, but not so loudly that you spook them.
T.R.'s Tips: Right Place, Right Time
When you are hunting in the morning try to position yourself between night resting areas/early morning food sources, and daytime bedding areas. Your hunting sites should be located along trails leading to buck bedding areas so you have an opportunity as the bucks return to their beds.
I often see deer bed and feed in overgrown fields of brush and saplings on the downwind side of hills in the morning. They often stay in these areas until daylight, then, as the sun rises, move to areas of deeper cover. When this happens you can setup downwind or crosswind of the trails the deer use as they leave. You can also setup near known buck bedding areas, provided you get there before the buck returns.
The time to hunt late season bucks is when the conditions are right. When foods are scarce, or a preferred food is available; and when there is cloud cover and the wind-chills drop, expect to see deer earlier in the evening and later in the morning than normal. After a winter storm lets up, or it has been cold, windy, or there has been heavy precipitation for more than a day and a half, causing deer to miss two or more feeding periods, and then the wind dies down, or the wind-chill rises, expect deer to begin feeding, and to continue for the next couple of hours.
T.R.'s Tips: Hunting the Right Area
When you are hunting late season deer you need to know where the food sources are, and know the trails the deer use during daylight as they move to and from the fields. The easiest way to find the food sources is to regularly scout the area by driving the farm country roads to locate fields that haven't been picked. Or you can get up high and watch the deer from a distance. Personally I like to watch deer from a portable stand or blind, or from a high hill where I can stand and wait for the deer.
The Post Rut
Although early winter conditions often create harsh conditions with low temperatures and rain or snow, which is uncomfortable for hunters, it is one of the few times during the year when bucks carrying trophy racks may be seen together. Because the rut is over the bucks are no longer antagonistic toward each other, and they often begin to reform the bachelor groups they were in before the rut. They are also in search of high quality foods, in order to gain back the weight they lost during the rut. This combination of factors provides late season hunters the opportunity to see several bucks, including some that are trophy class, together on a regular basis.
On several occasions I have seen trophy class, dominant bucks like the three mentioned above, traveling together when the sky was cloudy and the temperatures were low. The largest deer I ever saw, a 12 point 200 class buck, was traveling with a button buck near a cornfield on a cold, cloudy day in December at 8:30 in the morning.
Post Rut Hunting Techniques
Once the Late Breeding Phase is over, and the majority of the does have been bred, many of the bucks are not as willing to respond to calling, rattling, scents and decoys as they were during the rut. But, as long as a buck carries antlers it's testosterone level is still elevated, and it may respond to estrus scents and doe calls, which can be effective when used along rub routes and scrape lines; and near daytime staging areas, food sources and buck core areas. Because bucks are not traveling as much, or as willing to respond at this time, the key to attracting bucks is to be in or near areas bucks use during the day.
Estrus scents can be placed so they spread out downwind of your hunting position to attract the buck as it approaches a food source. Estrus can also be used on a scent line by leaving drops of scent on the ground along a line that crosses a deer trail and leads to your location. Although scientific research suggests there is no doe estrus call the "social grunt," which is used by does when they are trying to locate each other will get a buck's attention at this time. When a buck responds to scents or calls it may not be because of rutting urge, it may simply be because of curiosity.
Decoys can provide the needed visual stimulus to bring a buck within range after it has responded to scents or calls. Bucks are not looking for a fight at this time of the year, and because of this doe decoys work best. A decoy with antlers may intimidate or alarm a buck, causing it to leave the area. Mobility is a key factor in late season hunting. I use a collapsible, bedded doe decoy because it's lightweight and rolls up for easy transportation. With their low profile bedded decoys should be placed in a semi-open area, preferably not on a trail. In several field tests I have seen deer skirt a bedded decoy on a trail, while walking right up to it in other areas. Place bedded decoys near a bush or tree where a deer would normally bed. Standing decoys can be placed in tall grass, brush or any other area where deer might be found.
Because deer, including bucks, are looking for food at this time of the year the combination of tarsal scent and deer urine on the ground, leading to a food scent, can be very effective. The tarsal and urine are non-threatening and may arouse the buck's curiosity; the food attractant then brings it within range. These scents may also attract does, which may be followed by bucks. When using scents choose those that are particular to your area. Corn, apple and acorn scents work well in most areas.
Again, because the rut is over, bucks are not looking to exert dominance, or looking for a fight, and they seldom respond to buck scents, aggressive grunts, tending grunts and rattling. However, these products and techniques, when used in combination with doe or estrus scents to create the illusion of a buck with an estrus doe, may attract a buck that simply hasn't had enough of the rut yet.
Bucks are often still interested in breeding during the post rut, but they may be tired, not traveling as much and wary as a result of the hunting season; so you need to use long rattling sessions to attract the bucks, but not so loudly that you spook them.
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