- Chris Campanelli
It's Time for the Late-Season Struggle
The late-season struggle is upon us.
Nasty weather, slow hunting, and depleted deer herds are synonymous with late-season whitetail hunting. If you were to poll 10 deer hunters on their favorite time of the season to hunt, you can almost bet that a vast majority would list another phase of the season as their favorite. Late-season hunting is definitely not easy, but it's also far from a lost cause. You just have to be invested in late-season success to taste it.
There's a reason why I titled this post the way that I did, and that is because the late portions of the season are an unquestioned struggle. Whether you are braving the cold up north or trying to catch up with the tail-end of the rut down south, it's never easy. Late December and January are tough for several basic reasons. Let's just think about it for a second.
Deer hunters have been hitting the woods in some form or fashion for the better part of three months, and longer than that in many states. Hunting pressure begins to mount. Only to be followed up by a hard rut that truly puts a deer at peak physical stress. Then we follow that up with firearms hunting seasons and an exponential increase in hunters afield. As soon as all of that passes through, Old Man Winter arrives and steals about half of the available food.
There are so many factors mounting against late-season success. Not to mention the fact that you are probably close to being burnt out on the whole ordeal. You can only hit the field hard for so long before it starts to wear you down. Every hunter who has ventured into late-December and January without filling a tag knows exactly what I am talking about. As much as we all love the sport, it can become a burden after months of struggling with no success.
Yes, there are a lot of potential negatives swirling around the late-season. But there are also a lot of potential positives. A lot of reasons why you should keep pushing into the last leg of the deer season.
Let's begin with something very basic and surface-level. Remember that feeling you get in mid-March or maybe June, July or August? That pit in your stomach as you realize just how far off deer season truly is. As hunters we complain all off-season about how bored and anxious we are without deer season in our lives. That all comes to a head when season finally kicks off and we enjoy those magical first few legs of the season.
Don't feel bad if that magic from the early-season and rut phases has worn off for you. It happens to every hunter. If you hunt for long enough, you are going to have an empty tag at this point in the season. It's just a reality of the sport. It is also a natural human reaction to lose some confidence and dread trying to fill that tag after a few months of failure.
Just remember what deer season means to you. If you are anything like us and you begin counting the days as soon as the previous season ends, remind yourself of that off-season hunger in the dog days of the late-season. Your chances of success may not be ideal, but you still have a chance. The season is in and you can still make it happen. Whether that is on an elusive mature buck or a freezer-filling doe, that is up to you.
When push comes to shove, you have to be out and about to fill that tag. That is why I wanted to direct our initial focus to reminding us just how lucky we are to have some time left in the season. Some states more than others, but you get the point. If we could trade the off-season blues for the late-season struggle, most of us would do it in a heartbeat. Don't take the late-season for granted. Stay dedicated and make all of that time invested earlier in the season worth it.
All of the positive words in the world still will not help you to fill that tag you have burning a hole in your pocket, and we know that. You can stay as dedicated as possible and still end up in the same place as the guy who folded and migrated to the recliner for the late-season. That is the frustrating part about our beloved sport of hunting. There are absolutely no guarantees.
With that being said, you have to think about positioning yourself for success as best you can. That means locating food sources, hunting hard but not pressuring weary late-season deer, and focusing your efforts on those winter weather fronts. We will continue to provide in-depth tips throughout the late-season but those are the basics. As always, we have to be where the deer are.
Deer are going to be spending a lot of time looking for calories to stay alive and conserving energy when they aren't eating. Bringing us back to that bed-to-feed pattern from way back in the early archery season. Extreme southern states are going to be an exception to that rule as the rut can trickle on into January in some areas. But for the vast majority of us, it's back to the bed-to-feed pattern.
Get yourself positioned over food or in between that food and the bedroom. It is really that simple.
Just keep hunting and let the chips fall where they may.