By Vikki Trout
Here’s how to hunt deer when they
hunker down in the late season.
When the long-awaited rut is over, and when weather takes a drastic turn, and when plush fields offering clover and other delectables have dwindled, many of us are still deer hunting. Now what? It’s time to locate a hotspot, such as a sanctuary, which could harbor whitetails. Here are some hints that may increase your chance for success.
1. Sanctuary ingredients – Several elements classify an area as a sanctuary. These range from honeysuckle thickets, dense briars, autumn olives, and even pine thickets. During late-season, deer need food, water and shelter. They must spend the least energy possible to get it. Survival, more so than breeding, is their focus.
The rut has taken a toll, and bucks have thinned down. In the post-rut their key focus is on replenishing their body. Many sanctuaries provide dense foliage that not only hides a buck, but also offers sustenance.
When the wind howls and the cold rain or snow falls, the whitetail must have cover to crawl into. We all know that deer move and feed just before a front, however, once the precipitation starts to fall, they have little desire to travel and, instead, seek refuge from the elements. Hunting on the fringe of the sanctuary can increase the odds for success.
2. Sanctuary size doesn’t matter – Nothing says the sanctuary has to be a minimum of 20 acres. Sometimes a sanctuary is only an acre or two. As long as the area includes the key ingredients previously mentioned, it could provide a safe domain for whitetails. Moreover, bucks can be quite comfortable in a small area that provides cover as well as visibility. They can see (or smell) predators approaching and vacate if necessary prior to being detected. Yes, that’s bad news for the hunter.
3. Sanctuary game plan – Sanctuary hunting can produce a late-season deer, providing the hunter follow certain rules. My husband John and I have hunted sanctuaries for many years and have savored success. However, we follow certain self-imposed regulations. This may sound extreme, but it has produced some dandy bucks over the years. With that said, here are some of our strategies that may help you tag a “sanctuary buck.”
A) Avoid penetration – After identifying the sanctuary you want to hunt, be careful to keep the area undisturbed. Sanctuaries are different from hunting food sources and active trails. Once a deer detects problems in the sanctuary, it will look for another safe haven and may not return during the late hunting season.
Avoid temptation to scout inside the sanctuary. Nothing disturbs a whitetail more than a predator lurking inside their safety zone. After identifying the sanctuary, search for sign along the fringe. Locating fresh sign such as deer droppings, fresh tracks or late-season rubs lets you know that deer are using the sanctuary. A stand placed at the intersecting edge of the sanctuary and a travel corridor often proves beneficial.
Penetrating the sanctuary and placing a blind in its midst can spell disaster. Sanctuaries such as pine thickets may seem a likely place to quietly enter and remain undetected. Don’t fall for that myth! Whitetails using pine thickets for their comfort zone can easily detect the presence of danger – either visually or through their incredibly sensitive olfactory sense. Even if the sanctuary includes several acres, it is often best to hunt only the fringe.
B) Don’t overdo it – Avoid over-clearing your area. Although sanctuaries are typically thick and brushy, too much clearing will alert the deer that something or someone has infringed upon their environment. That will spell trouble for the hunter. It is better to open small shooting lanes because they are less noticeable than to clear for every possible shot opportunity.
In an effort to clear only what is necessary, John and I use the buddy system. One of us gets in the blind and points out particular limbs for the other person to prune.
C) Have several stand sites – Deer hunters fully realize the importance of hunting with the wind in their favor. However, when hunting a sanctuary, it is even more important to hunt wisely because human scent blowing into a sanctuary may cause the deer to vacate the premises permanently.
I recall a particular hunt when wind direction was favorable to hunt our sanctuary. As time passed and the wind began switching, a dandy buck heading my way scented me. To this day, I have not laid eyes on that deer. Since that time, if I am hunting a sanctuary and the wind becomes variable, I will leave that location and move somewhere else.
Having several ambush locations around the sanctuary is a plus. Obviously, it will give you opportunity to choose a stand where the wind is favorable. If one place does not work, another one may.
Deer hunting in one location time-after-time can set you up for detection. Setting up several different stands also benefits you by keeping you on the move. If you remain mobile, there is a better chance that a late-season sanctuary will produce the buck of your dreams!
About Vikki Trout
Vikki Trout is a full-time freelance writer and photographer from southern Indiana. She loves hunting turkey, deer, bear, and small game. When she’s not hunting, she loves capturing wildlife thru the lens of her camera. Please visit her website at www.troutswildoutdoors.com.
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