If you haven’t filled your tag yet, don’t give up. Bucks are doubly vulnerable right now. They not only need to feed heavily to recuperate from the peak rut but are also actively seeking late-cycling does. And you can take advantage of their two priorities by hunting late-season food sources, which offer both nourishment and feeding females.
Just keep in mind that after weeks of hunting pressure, bucks are especially wary. So you can’t expect them to waltz into a wide open feeding field and pose broadside for your shot. “Bucks visit open areas after dark,” says Missouri whitetail guide Alex Rutledge (319-573-4836), who’s taken numerous bucks near late-season food sources. “The key, then, is to find a location where does are feeding in or near cover. This is where bucks will go to feed and breed during the day.”
What’s on the menu at this time of year will vary geographically, but when there’s a strong mast crop, oak stands are almost always a good bet. Honeysuckle and any available soft mast are also favorites. “And don’t overlook browse,” Rutledge says. “Late in the season, deer prefer the more succulent browse often found along the edges of creeks and rivers.”
Look for fresh, heavily traveled doe trails leading to such a food source, preferably near a bedding thicket. Then set up, even if you don’t find any rubs and scrapes. Here are Rutledge’s five tips for the perfect late-season ambush:
**(1) Place your stand **on the extreme downwind edge of the feeding area, and downwind from any doe trails. Bucks will circle to scent-check both for danger and for estrous does before entering.
(2) Keep an obstacle-such as a fenceline, river, or field opening-behind you (if possible) in order to discourage bucks from circling downwind of your stand.
(3) Apply estrous doe urine to a drag rag in your shooting lane and drag it across the doe trails in a wide circle on the upwind side of your stand. This can pull in bucks that may otherwise pass out of range or be obscured by thick cover.
(4) Freshen the drag rag, then hang it about shoulder height from a branch within your shooting lane.
(5) Bring your calls. “Grunting and rattling still work late in the season,” Rutledge says. “But calling lightly and infrequently is the way to go now. If you hunted this general area earlier in the year, use a different grunt call than you did before and change the cadence. Give them something they haven’t heard already and you’ll have a good chance of luring them in.”