It’s the last full month of the 2015-16 hunting season and you’re tired. You’ve spent untold hours sitting stands since the season opened back in October, and now you’re finding it difficult to keep your passion.
But for those areas still open to hunting, this could be the best time of the year to ambush a wall hanger.
So what’s the key to being ready when that deer finally steps out?
Lloyd Dempster, who killed a 200-inch Mississippi buck in 2014, is one of the die-hards who hunts every chance he gets from opening day to the last minute of the season.
And he provided late-season hunting tips to help prepare for your meeting with that mature buck you’ve been watching on trail cams all season:
1. Time on the stand — “It requires patience and hard-core dedication to sit and wait things out,” Dempster said. “So make sure going to your stand you don’t sweat too much. I always dress very light, base layering and carry all my heavy clothing strapped to my back pack. I would rather be a little cold walking to my stand and avoid heavy perspiration.
“It will help you control your scent and your body temperature once you climb up into you tree or blind. And you will be way more comfortable by letting your core temperature come down, and then layering as body temp cools down.”
2. Hunt the weather — Winter in the more-northern climes and winter in the Deep South are different animals. We who hunt in this region of the country expect for the cold weather to be sporadic much of the season.
And when it warms up between fronts, rutting activity usually goes to zero — at least during hunting hours.
“So if your schedule allows, pay close attention to the weather forecast and capitalize on the good days,” Dempster said. “Wait for the weather to get right. Spend as much time as you can on good days, and stay out your best hunting spots on not-so-ideal weather conditions.
“And remember, the rut runs through late season here, that always gives me motivation to spend as much time I can in the woods when conditions are right.”
3. Go to bed — Hunting pressure and a long season combines to push most mature bucks to nocturnal activity by the time this month rolls around. But Dempster said that doesn’t mean you can’t kill one of these beasts.
“They move mostly before sun rise or after it sets, so that’s why I hunt close to bedding areas,” he explained. “A deer’s appetite makes it possible to catch them moving during hunting hours.
“Find both food and bedding areas, and hang out in these areas as long as you can.”
4. Wind wins — Some hunters (me, for example) don’t give the wind much thought, and kill some nice bucks. But Dempster said he’s come to believe it’s critical to take wind into consideration when deciding where to hunt.
“ It took me a long time and lots of mistakes before I truly understood just how important the wind is,” he said. “A whitetail deer can smell you — trust me. So much so that you will never know what is around your hunting stand if you don’t figure out the wind direction.
“I always look to hunt some type of north wind or adjust my set when I absolutely know which direction the deer are coming or going. I see so much new scent-control gear coming out each — I believe in using things that are proven by experience. But the best of all scent control is wind direction.”
5. Get the picture — “If you have never used a trail camera, please start,” Dempster said. “There is no better way to scout your potential hunting areas. I base pretty much all my hunting efforts from the results I receive from my trail cam pictures. It covers the four W’s — when, what, where and why.
“But I treat checking trail cams in my stand locations with as much caution as I do when I go in to hunt. Study your pictures and make sure you pick times that when you are highly likely to avoid deer activity. I don’t like spooking deer from my stand location — ever.”
6. Hunt the does — If deer in your area are still rutting, that doesn’t mean you should ignore does. In fact, Dempster said you should look for the female variety of deer, and understand how they act.
“Understand that the older doe comes into estrus during first rut, and she is smart,” he said. “She will stay in covered areas and move only when necessary, making the buck following her harder to kill, in most cases.
“But in the second part of the rut phase — the late season — is when the younger does come into estrus. They follow traditional patterns and use the same food sources (as outside of the rut). And all a buck wants is another chance to bred, dropping his guard by following the pretty young thing wherever she goes.”
7. Never give up — OK, so this is a lot like the No. 1, but this veteran buck killer said gutting it out until the end can pay big dividends.
“ If the season is still open and you love to hunt, than get out there,” Dempster said. “There’s nothing more rewarding than tagging a buck on the last day of the season.”