Late is great — Deer-hunting tips for late-season success

Winter has arrived and the deer hunting can still be hot, especially in Areas 1 and 6. But it’s not a cake walk. Here are some thoughts on how to score.

Winter officially began on Dec. 21, and January and February are the peak winter months for the Bayou State. Mother Nature has lowered the thermostat, and the number of deer hunting days are dwindling.

Hunters who hunt in the early breeding areas are ready for the season to come to an end. November was their month to harvest deer, and the rut was pretty much over in mid December.

But it is an entirely different situation for hunters in Areas 1 and 6: The rut has just started, and bucks are pursuing the does with passion.

Hunters in these areas have been waiting for this event since Oct. 1 and are not looking forward to the end of the season.

Hunting deer in the late season is all about location. Hunters in the early breeding areas are hunting entirely different from the hunters chasing the late breeding deer.

To make matters difficult, some parishes have both late breeding and early breeding deer.

For instance, deer on Jackson-Bienville WMA and surrounding private lands in Lincoln, Bienville and Jackson Parishes breed later than most of the deer herds in Area 2. The reason for this is the stocking history of the deer: These deer came from Madison and Tensas parishes, have the late breeding genetics and have maintained the late breeding since the restocking days.

In East Feliciana Parish the southeast quarter of the parish was stocked with deer from Natchitoches Parish, and have maintained the early breeding trait. Unfortunately hunters in this part of the parish do not get the opportunity to hunt early, when these deer are breeding, and because of the later Area 4 season miss out on some good hunting.

A review of the new breeding map LDWF has put on their website is a must for all hunters. Knowing when the deer you are hunting breed will dictate your hunting strategy in the late season.

Those hunting deer that bred in November will be hunting the food sources, while the hunters hunting deer that are breeding in January will focus on the rut and those hunting tactics.

Late-season hunting can be challenging and difficult for both groups of hunters.

Here are the options.

The rut’s over

I have often said that the hunters in Area 2 have the best season possible.

The bow season opens at when deer are still feeding heavily, building body fat and getting ready for the rut. Most of the fawns are weaned and have lost their spots. Does are getting physically fit after raising these fawns, and by the end of the month some will begin ovulating.

This year during mid-October the bucks were working scrapes hot and heavy. The primitive season opened at that time — just at the right time.

When the gun season opened on the last week of October, chasing was starting to crank up. Area 2 hunters got to hunt the peak rut in November, and then they hunted the second round of breeding activity in December.

By the end of December, the rut in Area 2 ended and hunters are now hunting the post-rut. Deer go back to the feeding mode, and this is generally the key to success for Area 2 hunters in the late season.

If, for some reason, a hunter did not get a deer during November, knowing what foods the deer are eating will certainly be the ticket for the last few days in January.

Hunters in Area 2 hunt from the time of the prerut all the way through the post-rut.

It is the best deer season possible.

Deer have been hunted hard for the past three months and have wised up to hunters, their deer stands, their sounds and smells and, of course, their hunting schedule.

Feeders are visited at night, as are the green patches. During the day it is time to lay up, and if deer move it is out of range of the stands.

The wise hunter will have to change his hunting tactics.

By this month most of the available mast will have been eaten up, especially in the pine-dominant timber.

If you had a bumper crop of acorns, there might be some left and it is certainly worth knowing where these trees are.

If the winter is cold, deer will still be searching for the carbohydrates. Corn will be eaten, but after hunting feeders day after day during the early season this might not be too productive.

Move the feeders to some isolated spots or have a feeder just for the late season. While it is best to use feeders to disperse corn, spreading corn on the ground in some areas that have not been hunted could produce results.

It is also time to leave the Area 2 box stands and hunt the travel corridors in the woods or the staging areas by the greenfields. Putting up a ground blind between the permanent box stands might also be in order.

With a little planning prior to the season, a secret green patch could be established and not hunted until the late season.

Deer pick up on disturbance, so keeping disturbance to a minimum during the early season will help as the season progresses. Parking, and walking to and from stands will keep down the disturbance, along with keeping you in shape.

Change your hunting times, perhaps adjust the feed time on the feeders.

One thing to keep in mind is that bucks are starting to lose their antlers — some might have shed them already.

Check out deer with binoculars and make sure they are does and not bucks that have dropped their antlers. There’s nothing worse than having passed on younger bucks with the hope of seeing them next year and then shooting them thinking they are does.

Some hunters do not like the idea of shooting does and wasting all that deer energy used by the deer during the rut, but it is a good time to collect some valuable breeding information, as well as some extra venison for the summer cook-outs.

Late-season rut

In January the rut is on, and it is time to use the tactics that Area 2 hunters used in November.

Grunt calls, rattling, mock scrapes, deer urine and all the other products the dealers want you to buy come into play.

It is also time to hunt all day, especially if a cold front has moved in and the temperature is below 60 with the barometric pressure 30 or rising.

One of the best tactics is simply to sit along a travel corridor and wait for the action to come your way.

Unfortunately, there are some problems for hunters, even though the rut is in full swing.

For the most part, bucks have only one thing on their mind — a hot doe — and they are not too concerned with hunters.

However, the does still have their wits about them, and they are fully aware of the mighty hunter. After all, hunters have been chasing these deer for several months prior to any rutting activity.

Some does have been killed around the feeders and food plots, and the does have wised up.

The doe determines when the breeding will take place, and where it will take place. Since the does are on the alert mode, rutting activity might not happen in those areas where there has been high disturbance.

Again, this is where keeping disturbance to a minimum will pay off. Stands that have been hunted day after day prior to the rut just might not have the deer activity around them anymore.

Just like in Area 2, it might be time to hunt those areas where the hunting pressure has been low. Saving some food plots for the late season and not hunting them in November or December could produce results.

Again, hunting all day during the rut is a good idea; most clubs follow the typical pattern of morning hunts, hunting until nine and then coming in, and then heading out at two for the evening hunt.

Deer pick up on hunter movement, and when the hunters are back in camp eating breakfast deer often will start filtering out in the woods.

Sometimes it pays off to sleep in and go to the stand for a 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. hunt.

Many hunters will not shoot does during this time for fear of spooking the bucks, but it does not hurt to sample the does and look at the ovaries to see if they are ovulating.

Sometimes the peak activity occurs toward the end of January with the second round of breeding taking place in February.

Large DMAP clubs have the ability to gun hunt for a couple of weeks in February, which allows more time for success in the late season.

In 2013 Sal Genusa of Livonia killed a great Pope and Young buck in Pointe Coupee Parish on Feb. 4 (a 134 4/8 8-pointer). It is possible that the next state record for a typical buck will be killed in the very late season.

Hunters who hunt in Areas 1 and 6 should never use up all their vacation days in October and November — the late season is when it happens.

Hunters who hunt the WMA circuit have the ability to do move around on the different areas in the state and hunt rutting deer throughout much of the season.

With the deer hunting opportunity that we have in Louisiana there is no reason at all for a hunter not to have filled several tags.

About David Moreland 246 Articles
David Moreland is a retired wildlife biologist with LDWF, having served as the State Deer Biologist for 13 years and as Chief of the Wildlife Division for three years. He and his wife Prudy live in rural East Feliciana Parish.