Whitetails still walking the woods whether your preference is to bag a buck or doe

By Keith Sutton Originally Published February 10, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 8, 2013 at 10:53 a.m.
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Keith Sutton

Archery/crossbow season extends through the end of February in Arkansas, providing opportunities to bag a deer after modern-gun hunting has ended.

Archery season, which runs from September through February in Arkansas, grants the deer hunter an extension to the traditional hunting season. With increasing demands being felt in the workplace, many hunters find they can’t always make it to the deer woods during the weeks of regular gun season. Hunting with a bow offers a solution for this problem with more hunting days toward the season’s end.

There’s less than a month remaining to try for a deer with your bow or crossbow, but if you still have some tags left, perhaps you can find time for some hunting before the season closes Feb. 28. If so, these tips might help you put more venison in the freezer.

Focus on fence crossings

Late-season deer often jump fences when moving from thick bedding cover in heavily wooded areas to agricultural fields where they feed. And they often cross repeatedly in the same places. Look for likely crossing spots on a fence: places that sag on top, breaks in the wire, where trees have fallen across, etc. Then set up a stand on the wooded edge where you have a clear shooting lane to the crossover.

Scrutinize does

When you see does feeding in fields, be attentive to their actions. If other whitetails are in nearby woods, does will feed awhile then raise their heads and look toward the trees. They may repeat this feeding/looking process several times.

Often, the out-of-sight deer is a buck, and he may stay put for hours. So be patient, still and silent. If you get a shot, it probably will be just before dusk; that’s usually when a big buck decides it’s safe to enter the field.

Plan the right approach route

When selecting a stand site, bow hunters often fail to consider the right approach route to the stand, a mistake that can cost them a nice deer. It’s critical to choose a route that causes the least disturbance to deer. That means the route should pass through terrain least likely to harbor deer or to have deer pass through en route to the stand. Also be sure your approach route doesn’t cross the trails or activity areas you expect deer to use. Assume an invisible wall of human scent is left everywhere you walk, and any deer that hits that wall will be alerted and leave the area.

Hunt the moon

Deer naturally become more nocturnal during winter, in part because of the energy benefits they receive by resting during the day when it’s a bit warmer and moving around to feed at night when it’s colder. During the dark of the moon, however, or when there’s heavy cloud cover at night, deer stay much more active later in the morning after the sun rises. Hunt the a.m. hours then, and you should see more whitetails.

Be a pathfinder

After the first late-season snowfall, get off the beaten track and look for deer tracks where you wouldn’t normally expect to find deer. Follow the first set you find. Almost invariably, those tracks will lead to other tracks, then to a hitherto unknown late-season feeding area like an oak ridge where acorns are still plentiful or a cutover with abundant browse. If it’s remote and offers protective bedding cover nearby, such an area may hold dozens of deer.

Don’t dismiss snow-covered mast

There’s no food deer prefer more than acorns, especially in winter. But when plentiful nuts on the forest floor are covered with snow, many hunters assume deer can’t find them and hunt near other food sources. The truth is, deer can easily smell acorns under a foot of snow and will dig to get them. So even when there’s snow cover, don’t dismiss areas around oak trees for great late-season hunting opportunities.

Watch the weather

Several days of nicer conditions following a period of bad weather often trigger increased late-season feeding activity. A buck sheltering in a thicket several days during a severe winter storm will probably move more than normal when temperatures start climbing again. Consequently, you should pay attention to the weather forecast and be in your stand during this time of increased activity. The best stand location often is a travel route connecting thick bedding cover to available food sources, or the edge of a feeding area or thicket.

Go deep

One big factor late-season hunters must contend with is the fact that deer are on high-alert and more active at night after weeks of being hunted. Consequently, the best hunting opportunities are often on big tracts of state lands where you can find areas seldom visited by hunters and pursue whitetails more likely to be out and about during the day. Study topographic maps and find deer-friendly areas where no roads or trails are present; then start early, go deep and stay long.

Slow-mo scan

The late-season hunter’s best tool may be binoculars. During daytime, deer often lay in thick bedding-area cover where they’re hard to see with naked eyes. But scanning an area very slowly and thoroughly with binoculars may reveal the deer. Train yourself to watch for any detail — the flick of an ear or tail, a deer’s round black eye or an antler tine — that may be the crack in the deer’s camouflage veneer.

Scent combo

Because bucks are looking for food this time of the year, the combination of tarsal scent and deer urine on the ground, leading to a food scent, may be an effective way to attract deer to your stand site. The tarsal and urine are nonthreatening and may arouse a buck’s curiosity; the food attractant then brings the buck within range. These scents may also attract does, which may be followed by bucks. Choose food scents particular to your area. Corn, apple and acorn scents work well in most areas.

Carry those rattling horns

The rut has passed, but that doesn’t mean you should leave your rattling horns at home. One recent three-year study found the post-rut period is actually the best time to rattle in a trophy-class buck. Peak-rut rattling gets a greater number of responses from bucks of all sizes, but post-rut rattling brings more mature animals.

None Keith Sutton can be reached at .

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