The recent passing of Yogi Berra brings to life one of his own famous quotes to life, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over!” And with at most, 31 days of the deer season left, those words couldn’t be any more true for deer hunters in the Carolinas. A few bucks are around, and the few hunters willing to go the extra mile can still be rewarded with a trophy.
By Thanksgiving, the majority of the deer tags have been filled with does and immature bucks. But a few bucks have either found a secure travel pattern or a safe haven away from the reach of most hunters.
For the past few months, most hunters have hunkered down in their normal routines and in their same stands. While they have their routine down, so do the deer. Mature bucks learn to pattern hunters, where and when they come and go. Many hunters complain that deer have gone completely nocturnal. This is sometimes the case, but most bucks will not stay bedded down all day; they are just not traveling in daylight around deer stands, agriculture fields or any other places that are littered with hunters and disturbing human scent. Bucks live four, five and six years by learning to avoid dangerous situations.
Hunters who don’t change their tactics late in the season are missing out on an opportunity to get a mature buck in their sights. For starters, the majority of the rutting activity is over, but cold weather is becoming a reality, and bucks are looking to find a solid food source. Unfortunately for deer, food availability is dwindling in both natural foods, cool- season food plots and in local agriculture fields.
Deer will find a way to eat the best foods available, most often at night when they are able to dine without danger. But it is not always at night. Deer will find the best opportunity to feed at corn piles, food plots and secluded agriculture fields when hunters are away.
Hunters can surprise bucks on their food sources by mixing up their own routines. Hunters will often hunt a particular stand on a certain wind direction; move the stand to favor a different wind direction and see what happens. Many bucks are expecting a hunter to be in a particular place and when he or she is away, the deer will play.
Hunters can also hunt different times of day. Most hunters habitually hunt certain stands in either the morning or afternoon, but they will rarely hunt a morning stand in the afternoon. Switch the game up and hunt these stands at alternative times or even in the middle of the day. A change in a hunter’s normal pattern may result in an opportunity to catch a deer slipping in during a suspected safe period.
However, with the majority of the rutting behavior over, some mature bucks just learn to stay out of sight during daylight hours and will find a nice remote spot away from typical human travel zones. This doesn’t mean these bucks cannot be brought to justice. Hunters can go into these places and physically draw these deer out and into harm’s way. Unfortunately, most of these places are thick and nasty with brush or covered in water. That shouldn’t stop the diehard deer hunter wanting to get a big buck before the season ends.
Man drives are the best method to get these bucks out of hiding during daylight hours. Hunters working in teams can force deer out of these thick refuges and into an ambush. For the best results, hunters should try to figure out where the bucks may be hiding and plan their attack. Bucks will try to escape using their normal travel route, and hunters will have the best success when this travel route is upwind of the bucks’ bedding location. Hunters should pick the best days and wind directions to have the best chance for success. The shooters in ambush positions should also make sure to be able to flank these proposed escape routes without being directly upwind, because the deer will always smell and try to go upwind even when being pushed.
In some cases, especially involving water — and deep water — man drives are not feasible ways to access mature bucks bedded down in remote islands with just enough dry land to stand on. Hunters can use small manual-powered boats to slip up on these small islands. Bucks will bed down on these small islands, sometimes as small as just a few feet wide, to escape pressure from hounds or hunters. Hunters with a small boat can have access to some of the oldest and wisest bucks alive. However, hunters should only use these float tactics when their hunting permissions extend on both sides of the waterway. Check local laws to make sure float tactics are legal where you’re hunting.