Abandon food plots for late-season deer

Travel routes become more productive

We’ve spent all season perched in stands overlooking food plots and other well-known grazing areas, waiting for deer to get their feed on.

With the end of hunting season just around the corner, it’s time to try a new approach.

While hunting from those stands has many advantages, it’s common for late-season deer to wait until just after dark to slip into those feeding areas. That’s a fact of hunting that we often ignore, with the hope that on some days, deer will slip in just a little earlier than they should.

Modern optics gather so much more light that we can often see far better and later than a buck would believe. Still, it’s a game of chance that we should abandon at this point.

Throughout the year, we strive not to break a buck’s habits when it comes to travel routes. We find where the deer are going, and we don’t want to disturb how they get there. But this late in the season, we have fewer opportunities to hunt — so if we push the deer away from their normal travel paths, we aren’t messing things up for very long. Deer season will be over soon anyway.

Those travel routes should now be where hunters focus their attention. Deer will be on those paths before last light, and with so little new growth in the woods that it’s easier to identify the most well-worn paths.

Roy Windham of Lexington, N.C., has been using this tactic for years.

“I usually kill three big bucks a year: one early in the season, one during the rut or pre-rut and one in the last week or so of the year,” Windham said. “Those first two are always from stands overlooking food plots, and the last one is always from the ground while hunting travel routes.”

Trail cams help Windham identify the best travel routes and the deer that utilize them.

“I have trail cams at all my grazing areas, but I put some on animal trails, too,” he explained. “By the end of the year, I know which paths are best to hunt.”

Once a hot trail has been identified, it’s a matter of timing your hunts.

“You want to be on those travel routes before dark,” Windham said. “These animals have their timing down to reach the clearings just past dark, so they’ll be on these trails with plenty of light.”

And this is a ground-hunting deal.

“Don’t put up a new stand — just scent-proof yourself really well, find a good spot with natural cover and pay attention,” Windham said. “They slip up and down these routes quiet as a mouse, but they will be there.”

About Brian Cope 225 Articles
Brian Cope of Edisto Island, S.C., is a retired Air Force combat communications technician. He has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina and has been writing about the outdoors since 2006. He’s spent half his life hunting and fishing. The rest, he said, has been wasted.