Outdoors: Tips for success in post-rut hunting – Florida Times-Union
Late-season deer hunting isn’t easy anywhere — no matter where it’s done or how good the hunting property is, says Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland, a member of the widely-viewed Mossy Oak “Hunting The Country” television show team.
“Bucks and mature does that have been hunted through gun season are plenty smart,” said Strickland, who has vast experience chasing whitetails nationwide. “They’re survivors, deer that have lived through a holy hunting war, and we’re usually trying to take them long after the rutting urge has passed. The slightest hunting mistake in late season and you’re history, particularly for older bucks that know the ways of hunters.”
There’s no question that odds for post-rut deer hunting success are reduced late in the year, says Strickland. So hunters have got to climb extra high in tree stands. They’ve got to be extra careful about moving around on stand, because there isn’t much ground cover or leaves for camouflage. Being quiet afield is essential. And you better not let deer smell you.
But there are some good deer available to post-rut hunters who go about it the right way.
“When the woods settles down after the first weeks of gun season, deer go right back into their normal travel and feeding routines,” says Strickland. “They’re spookier and more cautious than they were before hunting season and during the rut. But there are plenty of good deer available, and some dandy bucks are shot long after the rut is over and most hunters are home. In fact, the last few days of almost any deer season can be great, because bucks and does have had time to get back into their normal whitetail routines.”
Late-season hunting can be cold, but it’s a great time to be in the woods, Strickland believes.
There are fewer snakes and insects, and deer often move around a lot because food is at a premium.
Whitetails have got to eat more in cold weather, and there aren’t as many acorns, farm crops and browse as there was earlier in the year. So it can be easier to locate concentrations of deer.
Food plots really draw whitetails late in the year. When hunters locate whitetails herded together near food sources, they’re sure to find bucks, says Strickland, because while most does are not in heat, bucks are still on the prowl hoping to get lucky.
Strickland says total camouflage is the best friend of a late-season deer hunter. Leafy green camo that may look great in an October bow-season stand, is as out of place in winter woods as a polar bear in a coal bin.
Strickland uses Mossy Oak’s new “Break-Up” camo because it’s designed for use in areas with little or no background cover — like treetops without leaves in December and January. With the intelligent quotient of late season whitetails high, it’s no time for hunters to be lazy about complete camo.
Strickland is an advocate of “higher-than-high” tree stands, too. He hunts many hardwoods areas with open under-story — places where a sharp-eyed, hunter-wise whitetail can “pick off” a tree stand hunter at heights that may dupe less smart animals in thicker under-story terrain. For this reason, most late-season stands for Strickland are set in trees 25 to 30 feet off the ground, sometimes higher, depending on terrain and IQ of area bucks.
Because post-rut whitetails can be especially smart, many hunters are more “scent” conscious than earlier in the season.
“When it’s hot, everyone knows to use cover scent, and when deer are rutting, lots of hunters use sex attractant,” he explains. “But it’s just as important to use scents correctly late in the year when it’s cold and clear, and deer are plenty smart from hunting pressure. I make extra certain my hunting clothes are clean — completely free of human odors, with no gasoline smells or aromas picked up from restaurants or hunting vehicles. Insulated rubber boots are vital, since leather boots absorb odor.
“I stalk a lot late in the year, and wind is the most important part of my hunting. It’s the first thing I check, and where I hunt and how is completely dependent on it. If it’s calm with almost no wind, I may sit in a stand or a ground blind. But it’s often windy in winter, and when it is that’s a superb time to stalk. Deer don’t like to move around much in the wind, and you can get away with snapping a few twigs and not spook bedded deer when you’re stalking.”
Strickland prefers to ease along creek drains and beaver ponds when stalking in late season. But in some regions still-hunting power lines and open gas pipe line right of ways can be productive during late deer seasons.
He also recommends post-rut hunting from ridge tops, with hunters working along high ground while glassing and anticipating bucks living and feeding in tangled draws and thickets in adjacent bottoms.
“Vegetation is pretty much down in late season, so a still hunter can slip along ridge tops, glassing draws from above,” he explains. “Many times, I’ll sit on a ridge that overlooks where several draws merge, which is a natural funnel or meeting spot for deer in late season. Earlier in the year I probably couldn’t have spotted deer down in those bottoms because of leaves and lush bottom growth. But late in the year I can spot deer from a ridge top, 100, 200, even 300 yards away.
“It’s smart to take advantage of those ranges because post-rut bucks are cagey. I spend most of my time glassing draws from ridges with binoculars. When I spot a deer or two I sit, wait, and watch. Often a buck will show, but sometimes not until long after I see the first doe or little buck.”