January 27, 2022
Well, let's just address the big, old, overweight elephant in the room right off the bat. If you're reading this article and feel like it pertains to you, well, that can only mean one thing — you still have a buck tag left in your pocket and aren't real thrilled about it. But instead of panicking, giving up, or losing valued sleep over this unfilled tag, let's get our minds right and our plan reorganized. Late season can be a great time to be in the woods for a bowhunter, but it requires a different attitude, plan and desire to win, than the previous few months. Over the years I've had some fantastic late-season success, but it hasn't come easy. So, let's dive right into a new plan and mindset to get it done with only seconds left on the clock.
Mind Over Matter
First things first — it's been a long season and although you've probably hunted your rear end off, the deer aren't interested in handing out participation trophies. Long sits — a lot of them — and even all-day sits no longer matter because that's all in the rearview mirror. Sure, we could rest on our past successes or efforts made, but that won't fill this buck tag. Now is the time to revamp the mental game and get prepared for the fourth quarter! Late-season hunting is like playing in the NFL playoffs. You've scratched and clawed your way to this point, but haven't met the final goal yet — which in this case is a truck ride with a worthy buck. With that being said, we need to understand that in order to brave the harsh weather and tough sits that the late season brings, we must first be prepared mentally.
Our mind is a powerful tool and if we use it correctly, it can be the most powerful tool in our toolbox. To succeed in late season, a bowhunter has to believe that they will find a buck to hunt and that they will kill him. And if it doesn't happen today, it's going to happen tomorrow. This is extremely important because after a long, hard season. It's easy to fall into the trap of not hunting consistently and not putting in the effort to finding a buck — especially as the calender rolls into the back half of January. If your mental game goes dull, you're decreasing your odds for success. Stay mentally sharp and be ready for an opportunity.
New Goal, New Plan
Maybe you're still after the same buck as you were in October. Or maybe he was already killed and now you're after a new target buck? Regardless, things transition from the rut to the late season. That means our plan must change, too! Food is now king and if you want to find all of the local deer, your best bet is to find the most attractive feed sources in your area. Hopefully you have plenty available on the properties that you hunt. Once food are found, I like to run multiple trail cameras immediately in order to see what bucks are in the area. This intell will then give me a foundation for putting together a plan on how to kill a certain buck that I'm now after.
What if you don't have great food sources on your property? Let's address this scenario and formulate a plan. A few years ago I hunted a very old, large six point. I had tons of history with this buck for several years and knew he liked to move around quite often. I pinpointed where the best local food source was and glassed it a few evenings in a row. I found him quickly. Unfortunately, I didn't have permission to hunt the standing bean field he was feeding in daily, but I did have access to the south-facing slope that he was bedding on. Bingo! I now had a plan of attack, which was to set up in between the food and his bed. A mere five sits later and history repeated itself, as he walked by at 37 yards and took my arrow through both lungs. Don't be discouraged if the food sources aren't on your property. Switch gears and find the best bedding around to get yourself back in the game. Key in on south-facing slopes and thickets. These offer the best cover, available regrowth for food and shelter from the winter weather!
The Little Things
It's very important to keep a few things in mind to be successful this late in the year. The number one thing in my head when I'm going after a mature late-season buck are the little details — silencing all of my gear and my stand, shooting my bow with all of my bulky clothing on, scent control, checking the wind constantly, etc. All of these things will make a world of difference during these end of season bowhunts. If you stop and think about it, these bucks have been hunted for months on end at this point. They've made it through bow, gun, youth and muzzleloader seasons, so at this point they are extremely sensitive to human intrusion and their senses are peaked at an all-time high. This is not the time to be lazy in your setups, gear, and/or approaches to and from the stand. Check everything out and then check it again. Those small details add up fast this time of year!
4th Quarter Mentality
By now, you've probably realized that time is running out. In some states it already has! It's getting close to the end, so when the opportunity presents itself you need to make it count. It will soon be 90 degrees and we will once again be sweating, all the while wishing it was 10 degrees and snowing so we can sit in a deer stand! Embrace these cold days and soak in every last second. It's the 4th quarter with very little time left, and you need a touchdown to win. You've got the right mindset, a new game plan and have checked and double checked all the boxes for success. Give it all you've got on every remaining sit, and be sure to make it count when you get the chance you've been looking for! Good luck my friends, and may your arrow fly true.