Trophy bucks stay alive by being smart and many survived the 2009 rifle season.

Trophy bucks stay alive by being smart and many survived the 2009 rifle season.
They survive by their wits, although a hot doe can change that. Trophy bucks become comfortable in safe areas, and this is your chance to take one. Yet, proceed into the trophy area with caution, danger will make them instinctively change patterns and reach old age.
A combination of bow and rifle season makes deer more wary. But after rifle season the breeding season slows down and activity patterns entirely change. Deer don’t move as much and more of a consistent feeding pattern begins. More activity happens early and late. Less deer movement occurs during midday, partly because of rifle season stress.
Lonnie Hansen, deer biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, says that deer change their behavior patterns only to some extent because of rifle season. Folks with trail cameras see a lot of big bucks throughout the night. Yet Hansen notes that you probably would see big bucks moving at night even without hunting pressure. Some become nocturnal early and stay that way.
“But during late season, if a doe goes in heat, bucks will still be active,” Hansen said. “Bucks will go after does no matter how much human presence is around. You constantly hear about people shooting the biggest buck of their life during midday and that is why. He was chasing a doe.”
Some big bucks fall victim to the second rut. Hansen says this is generally a doe fawn going into heat. For example, in Missouri 40 percent of six-month-old fawns breed. The younger deer tend to breed two or three weeks later than mature does, which are likely finished. Many younger bucks have already fallen during rifle season.
The big bucks come out of a resting cycle to chase the younger does. In fact, the doe’s seasonal odor brings out blind desire in both young and old bucks. This scent literally drives them temporarily insane.
Younger does occasionally cause older bucks to make a fatal mistake. But don’t count on this. Most mature bucks will continue to be elusive and probably nocturnal. Let’s examine how experienced bowhunters react to these changes.
“I consider my best late season bowhunting between the first to third week of December,” said Chris Parrish, trophy buck hunter, seminar speaker and field pro for Knight and Hale Game Calls. “Young does coming into estrous can create an excellent late-season chance at the big boy. You can cash in on this gift by hunting around doe bedding areas and food sources. The buck will be close by.”
Parrish finds that big, mature bucks go to a “bed and rest” mode after the primary rut. They are exhausted from the rut and in many cases, the stress of rifle season. Bucks may go into this resting period for a couple weeks or longer. During this lull, the Missouri hunter takes time to move his stands to late-season food areas.
Parrish prefers cold temperatures for late-season hunts. By now, big, mature bucks want food and an occasional young doe. Food means more energy and body warmth with the comfort of a full belly. Parrish prefers standing soybeans, a great source of fat and protein. But corn and milo attract deer as well. Clovers are going dormant by then and are not as apt to draw deer.
“Try to find good trails coming in and out of the food source, and then look for big tracks,” Parrish said. “Bucks may not be using the same bedding areas as does. Hunting the wrong trail might mean you only see does. Make sure you hang your tree stands high because of the lack of leaves for cover. Yes, deer do look up. A good ground blind will work as well and may be warmer. This can be the best time to take a bruiser. They become predictable when weather becomes bad.”
Parrish notes that deer bed close to feeding areas during late season. Make sure you are as quiet as possible when entering or leaving your blind. Again, deer change patterns when danger is apparent, especially noise or scents from humans.
“A big key to late-season bowhunting after rifle season is finding funnels deer travel through,” said Eddie Salter, a professional hunter from Alabama. “These areas are small strips of woods that connect between big woods. The best funnel areas run between standing corn and woods. Deer sometimes stop and take a break in funnel areas. This can give bowhunters close shots.”
Funnels are almost any type of cover that creates narrow areas of passage like rock facings or downed timber caused by storms or logging crews. Big bucks occasionally use these passages to move between the safety of thick cover. A late-season bowhunter is literally blessed to find a funnel between bedding and food. Well-used trails are just as important.
“I spend a lot of time in the woods videoing for Mossy Oak Camouflage,” Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland said. “I constantly keep tabs on deer movement. Late-season deer come out to feed and then return to their bedding areas during normal weather. They move all day when weather is turning bad. A good morning stand should be placed on a trail that allows you to take deer coming to or from their bedding areas.”
Evening stands are the same except during bad weather. Late-season deer often move around in feeding areas late in the day. Food sources are easier to find over bedding areas. Deer return to feed late in the evening. Chances are good your shot will come just before dark.
“Backtracking deer trails from any well-used food source is a good way to find an evening stand location,” Strickland said. “I quietly follow trails by food sources to nearby thickets, determining exactly where to ambush a buck.”
Does and younger bucks tend to visit food sources early. Mature bucks feed later in the evening. They use a lot of stealth and caution throughout the year. A stand set up close to thickets may provide a better chance to take that huge nocturnal buck.
Chances are good it will be a last-minute appearance or when the evening chill is setting in and you are thinking about dinner. Hunters leaving their stands before total darkness constantly spook big bucks.
Finally, moon phases are another key for hunting late-season bucks. Deer feed all night during a full moon and bed down earlier, sometimes well before daylight. A night without moonlight makes the deer more apt to feed during daylight hours, especially during the morning.
Bucks change their habits after rifle season. But hunting trails and funnels between food and bedding may provide you with a shot at the biggest buck of your life.