The ease of hunting mature bucks in late season can be about as variable as the personality of the individual bucks themselves. Watch any TV show filmed on an Iowa standing bean field in 8 degree January weather, and you would think shooting a mature buck is as simple as keeping yourself warm while shopping for just the right set of antlers to suit your fancy. Another strategy might be driving deer – a productive strategy for filling the freezer. Others may find that heaping up a couple bushels of corn and keeping surveillance with a trail camera is their best bet. If deep woods is the only thing you’ve got around, then finding the last of the year’s mast crop or focusing on open areas might produce an opportunity.
Yesterday, I was cleaning up some computer files and ran across these old movement datasets from deer at Chesapeake Farms in Maryland where I did my master’s research. Not sure how many posts I’ll take to cover late season buck movement, but this will the first and will feature “Cadillac”. Cadillac was a 2, maybe 3 year old 8 point when he wore our GPS collar from early July until the following January. We were getting more detailed information during the rut and hunting season, but still were collecting hourly locations during the late season.
A brief description of the area and maps to follow. Every dot will represent a location that we collected from Cadillac’s collar between December 10th and January 6th. The ag fields at center were a combination of standing row crops and waterfowl impoundments that drew deer in from the surrounding forest, and that refuge of late season food totaled about 50 acres. To the north, east, and south, solid forest stretched at least 1 mile. To the west, cover disappeared into wide open fields of harvested corn and beans. The surrounding hardwoods were relatively open with pockets that were thicker and choked with an understory of greenbriar. The landscape in general is nearly flat with a 6 or 8 foot change in elevation being quite significant.
First thing to learn is this – in year 2015, there is no excuse to sit on a big food source in daylight with absolutely no knowledge of whether or not a shooter is showing up during shooting hours. With the advancement of trail cameras to include time lapse options, it’s as easy as buying a package of batteries and deploying your camera to evaluate that strategy. It’s either high odds or it’s low odds. Look at the map where I’ve coded the nighttime locations blue and the daylight locations yellow. Any way you slice it, that’s LOOOOOWWWWW odds. 1 daylight location in the fields, 2 almost in the fields, and that’s about it. Remember this is stretched over a 1 month period. Here’s a snapshot of January 5th-6th, the one and only time he hit the crop fields in daylight. The conditions weren’t exactly picture perfect either, so good luck predicting this day as the one you should have been in your stand. 15 degrees above average, south wind blowing 10-15 mph, barometric pressure dropping like a rock, and overcast skies following a moderately heavy rain shower that cut off at 2 in the afternoon.
This isn’t to say you wouldn’t get pictures of Cadillac on the food source. In fact, you’d get pictures just about day, well…night. 27 out of 28 nights, in fact, Cadillac was in the field presumably feeding at least once. Cadillac’s daily habits – quite simple. Bed in the woods, move to fields during night, return to woods before daybreak, repeat. Classic late season behavior.
Don’t get the idea that this buck is unkillable though. There are a couple scenarios that could have proven successful in intercepting Cadillac for a daytime encounter. One is catching him filtering through a deep woods funnel during daylight, and the other is hoping for a late cycle doe to induce some late rut craziness. I have to think that examining his movements on December 15th, 18th, and 20th, both of these factors were at play. These dates are almost exacctly 28 days past the approximate peak of the first estrous cycle in November. One thing to keep your eye on – the north end of the cattail marsh (highlighted in each of the next 3 maps) is a golden funnel that forces deer movement down deep in the woods.
December 15th – I’d bet you money this buck is harassing a doe, there is no other reason for a buck to move this much during daylight in December. This day in the woods might rival any of the best November days you’ve ever spent in a tree. Unfortunately, timing this day during an otherwise boring month of December requires some gambler’s luck. For scale reference, the straight line distance between the 7 and 8 AM points is 900 yards.
December 18th – for scale reference, the marsh is 400 yards from southern to northern tip.
December 20th – for scale reference, the straight line distance between the 7 and 8 AM location is 640 yards.
This exercise illustrates the supreme difficulty with taking a late season buck. Even with perfect knowledge, the best spot I can come up with is probably there at the north end of the marsh. Provided you got the right wind to hunt it and got in undetected every day of the season, you’d still only have 2 or 3 legitimate chances throughout the 30 day span to close the deal on Cadillac. Hunting the obvious food source is NOT a good strategy, not even a decent one.
I’ll try to put 3 or 4 of these together in the coming weeks. Everybody finds these interesting, and it’s fun for me to look back through old data.