The rut has come and gone, the warmer weather has passed, the eagerness to jump out of bed and run to the stand may have even been replaced by a quest to find where all those deer you saw in early season have disappeared to. Have you ever experienced that? Here in the south, we are blessed with 4 1/2 months of whitetail deer season. And as the season wears on, the deer can become less visible.
In the early part of the season, it's common for us to be able to hunt food plots, crop fields, mast trees, etc. In the mid part of the season we can still hunt some of the food sources trying to key in on does. Because everyone knows, 'where she is, is where he'll be at some point.' But what happens in late season? Late season can be a long number of hours spent staring at squirrels if not carefully planned and your homework not completed.
Here in the south, we're fortunate to the point that it doesn't get so cold that all food sources are gone. We've always got honeysuckle patches, green briar, and remaining acorns. But what seems to affect the deer movement and visibility the most is the loss of cover.When all the leaves fell in mid to late October, the deer activity changed some in the more open areas such as hardwood bottoms and ridge tops. Granted some of the change in pattern wasn't solely due to the leaves but also due to the amount of hunting pressure.
When deer get pressured, do they booger out and leave the county? Not from what we've seen. Granted, had it not been for trail cams over the last number of years, we all probably would like to have plowed the places under and started over at least once or twice. What our trail cams have shown are that when deer get pressured, deer go nocturnal. Wow! You're probably thinking 'Duh, Big discovery!' Right? Well, some don't believe it. But the cameras show it.
But where are the deer during the daylight? And my answer is this, not as far away as you think. More than likely, they're holding tight in the thickest cover they can find away from your heaviest travel. Some even believe that they may be closer to you than normal so they can lay low and watch you go by and account for you and your actions. I know as a kid, numerous times my dad used to love to slip down behind camp a couple hundred yards and wait while all the rest of us would go to the other side of the property. Many times, we would all be empty handed, yet he'd get his deer.
But, I feel the key isn't so much as the distance away from people, as it is the thickness of cover available to protect and cover them from harm. It's the inbred survivalist instinct. These deer down south aren't like deer in the Midwest. They can be skittish and on alert at all times.
In late season, I like to go to the areas on our lease that we never walk through or drive near. I like to go to the areas that might have a hidden and remote food source or perhaps even a water source. Let's face it, in late season; the deer aren't going to lay in their beds all day from sunrise to sunset. However, they're only going to move as much as necessary which includes stretching their legs every so often and venturing a short ways for perhaps a little food and water near or in the security of cover.
I remember a few years ago, the season was dragging along, and the deer had seemed to have vanished. The second weekend of January was upon us and I decided to try something new. I looked at the map of our property, took notice of all the trails, roads, and stands. Then I chose a place nowhere close to any of them, overlooking a narrow creek bottom surrounded by thick planted pines. I awoke early and quietly walked into the area that morning, and sat on the ground at the top of a ledge overlooking the deep hardwood bottom down and across the creek. Having not seen a deer from the stand in over a month and a half, I was hungry for just a doe, never mind a buck. Later that morning, I heard something walking in the leaves and looked in the direction of the sound. Across the creek were 6 deer traveling along. Three of them were bucks, a spike, a 6 point, and what I thought to be an 8 point. The other three were just back in the cover but I could tell that none of them were bigger than the bucks in front. Settling my scope on the bigger buck, I chose to harvest him. I squeezed the trigger and it was done. Tails flipped and deer scattered through the pines. The buck kicked his hind legs, dug in hard, and bolted across the creek 40 yards and crashed at the bottom of the ridge. When I got down to the deer, he had 8 points, but it was apparent his right beam had been broken earlier in the season and quite possibly could have been a nine or ten point had it still been intact.
Food plots and green fields are great, but the odds are to see a deer in these places it's probably going to be at last light in the evenings. Hardwoods may still have acorns on the ground, but with the wide open view and the loudness of all the leaves on the ground, they too will most likely see mostly nocturnal visits.
I'm not saying that deer won't feed or travel in the open in late season. But if you've ever experienced what I have, try or think about some of this, and see how it works for you.