Late season hunting can provide some of the most productive time spent in the woods the entire season. Hunters can enjoy tremendous success by locating the remaining food sources and keeping a close tab on the weather.
The rut is still smoking hot here in Illinois, but it's time to begin thinking about the future of the whitetail season. By now, nearly all of the crops are out and the acorns have been devoured. In just a few short weeks, a bucks main objective will move from reproduction to bulking back up from the rigors of the rut in preparation for the winter to come. They will begin to venture back to their predictable late summer feeding patterns.
By spending just a few evening in the woods, you can quickly learn where the deer are spending the majority of their time. The bucks have spent weeks on their feet looking for hot does. During this time, they lose a large percentage of their body weight. They need to put that weight back on in order to survive the sometimes harsh Midwest winter. When you locate these food sources, afternoon setups are the best. Often time, the deer will bed near the food source so setting up can be a challenge. I like to find a tree on an edge that provides me with some cover (which is hard to find in the bare winter woods) and allows me to shoot into the field. If a tree with cover is hard to find, I like to set my stand facing away from the field and utilize the tree for cover. It can be a pain having to constantly look behind you, but once it gets prime time, I like to stand and turn around.
Once you havethe food source and stand located, keep an eye on the weather. December and January are a time for big northern cold fronts that can drop the temperature 20+ degrees in just a few hours. These big systems normally have precipitation associated with them. Hunting just before and just after these systems can be dynamite! If you hunt in the Midwest, there's nothing better than an afternoon in the stand with snow falling. When the wait for a big front to arrive is over, make sure to get to the stand early especially during sub freezing temperatures. The deer will begin moving in the early afternoon while it's still warm.
I generally don't like hunting mornings during the late season. Hunters can be successful during this time, but they risk educating deer and the activity will quickly shift to a different location. Instead of battling the freezing temperature in the dark, I like to sleep in, eat breakfast, and head out around mid day.
Hunting during the late season can be miserable with freezing temperatures, but hunters who do their homework and are patient can capitalize on predictable patterns.