Last-Chance Bow Bucks: 5 Deadly Late-Season Tips

This early time of the year gets most all of the ink, but the last days of archery deer seasons, especially across the northern half of the U.S., offer opportunities just as productive—and often better.

by Mark Melotik

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

Archery deer seasons run into January in some states; this is an overlooked time for savvy hunters to locate bucks that are once again using predictable daily patterns.

Late Season 3 600In most states the early days of the bowhunting season offer an excellent chance to catch a buck totally unaware it is being hunted, as it goes about its daily “feeding and bedding” routine. This early time of the year gets most all of the ink, but the last days of archery deer seasons, especially across the northern half of the U.S., offer opportunities just as productive—and often better.

Once the traditional November rut winds down, bucks once again become reclusive and settle into a daily pattern where they bed in secluded areas, and seek out the quality feed they need to replenish fat reserves lost during their helter-skelter rut activity. Let’s look at how and where you have a great opportunity to take advantage of this often-overlooked, late-season period.

Late season 1 600Tip Number 1: Find The Food. After the rut, bucks are run down. Their fat reserves are mostly gone, and even their muscle mass can be diminished. Nothing restores muscle faster that protein, and soybeans are loaded with protein. Field corn is very high in carbohydrates, which help restore fat reserves. Most mast crops are super high in carbohydrates and fat. Acorns, especially the meaty varieties like those from white oaks, offer a large dose of fat and carbs. Honey Locust pods are high in proteins and fats. Find these quality foods and you will find where the bucks are feeding.

Late season 7 600Corn fields left standing from December into early January will likely be swarmed by deer. In cut corn fields (see above), deer will glean waste corn from the ground as long as it is available, and they can easily smell even a single kernel through a foot of snow.

?????Soybeans provide quick energy through a combination of proteins and carb; deer will often seek them out during the coldest weather. A stretch of below-zero weather will move deer off the corn and acorns and onto the soybeans because of the quick turnaround of energy they offer. During these periods of “deep-freeze” weather, immediate energy for body heat is more important than storage of fat. Food plots of soybeans or late-standing soybean fields attract more deer than corn does during the harshest weather. When the weather moderates, the deer may move back to the high-carb food sources.

To recap, late-season bucks are seeking out specific kinds of foods based on which foods are higher in either carbs or proteins, and they will gravitate toward the food sources that offer the combination they need at that given time. Keep this in mind as you try to predict where the deer will feed on any given day.

Late Season 2 600Tip Number 2: Find The Best Bedding Areas. Deer use specific locations to seclude themselves during the day, and the specific weather conditions of the day will often dictate where they choose to bed. These areas can be divided into two basic categories. I call them “Thermal Bedding Areas” and “Solar Bedding Areas.”

Thermal bedding areas are characterized by thick cover that offers welcome protection from biting winter winds. On cloudy, blustery or snowy days, most deer will be tucked in tight right in the middle of the thickest stuff around. And they might even use the very same beds day after day. The most common forms of thermal bedding cover are found in lower areas with heavy brush such as a creek bottom. Another form of thermal cover deer love to use is a cattail swamp.

Late season 6 600

The second-most-common bedding areas in the winter are south-facing open slopes that get a lot of sun. Whitetails tend to use these areas when there is little wind, when they can soak up the sun’s warming rays. Look for open timber where the sun can get through. These areas will typically have a lot of beds because the deer will get up and move as the shadow of a tree falls on them. So they may actually use three to four beds during the course of the day.

Pay particular attention to the south-facing areas just below the top of the ridge. Bucks often like to lie where they have a good view of the area in front of them, with the ability to smell any hint of danger that may come from behind them. Bedding just on the downwind side of the crest of the hill allows them to do just that, while soaking up the solar heat as the breeze curls right over their backs. Your HuntStand app helps you find all of these areas quickly and easily, while in the comfort of your warm home. Simply use the “Satellite” and “Terrain” overlays while viewing the detailed maps of your hunt areas, and you can effectively plan your next hunt several days in advance, while also keeping tabs on the preferred wind directions and the ScentCones for your existing (or potential) stand sites.

Late season 8 600Tip Number 3: Set An Ambush On Popular Trails. Well-worn trails (like the one above) provide evidence of travel patterns that can help the bowhunter decide where to set up an effective ambush. While it may be tempting to set a stand right on the edge of an obvious food field, it’s often better to back off down the trail a ways. Often, mature bucks will hang up for a while before entering a wide-open field. A bowhunter in a treestand 50 yards (or more) from the field’s edge may have the advantage of getting a shot at a buck that won’t expose himself in the open field before dark.

It is very common for bucks to approach a field through the best-available escape cover, and make their way out into the field cautiously. If many deer are targeting a specific feeding area, most mature bucks will typically enter the field last. Look for ditches that reach out into the field; bucks love to enter a field through these well-protected funnels. As a rule, bucks tend to avoid more-open areas and work their way toward the fields through thicker bush. Keep in mind that bucks may not use the same trails as the local does, to access the primary food source.

Late Season 10 600Tip Number 4: Try A Well-Placed Ground Blind. Ground blinds offer several advantages to late-season bowhunters. First of all they keep the wind off you and help you retain body heat. They also help to contain your scent and mask your movements as you draw your bow. Trees are bald at this time and it can be really hard to get well hidden when there is no leafy background cover around your stand.

Ground blinds have one distinct problem: It takes some time for the deer to become comfortable around them. Pop up a ground blind 20 yards from where you expect to shoot a deer and you’ll likely freak them out. It takes a good week or more before the deer relax around an easily visible blind, so make sure you get them out early, or brush your blind in well. One thing that really seems to help is to set your blind up against an existing feature such as a large brushpile, a farm implement, standing corn or a thick hedgerow. Blend the blind in well, and you can be hunting out of it more quickly.

Remember to practice shooting while sitting down, because most shooting out of a ground blind will be done while seated. Also, immediately after entering your blind, draw your bow with an arrow loaded to make sure you have plenty of clearance when the moment of truth arrives.

Late season 5 600Tip Number 5: Take Smart Steps To Stay Warm. One of the primary factors in eating “tag soup” is the unwillingness to battle the often-harsh elements of the late season. But there are real benefits to the bitterness. The worse the weather, the more-predictable the deer movement will be, and the more likely they are to show up well before dark. If you are sitting in a treestand, layer up well, use plenty disposable hand and body warmers, and maybe some Thermacell heated insoles, and be sure to cover any exposed skin. Good boots lined with Thinsulate, Primaloft, or other proven insulation that aren’t too tight can make all the difference. My current favorite is a pair of LaCrosse 4X Alpha 1200s. Inside, my feet are almost always covered in Merino wool socks.

ThermaCELL New 600

Another area where the ground blind offers late-season advantages? Cutting the biting winds. The wind is the main culprit in sapping away your body heat, and nothing protects you like a ground blind. And I sometimes go a step further; in extreme conditions I’ve even used a small propane heater inside my blind. It makes the hunt much more bearable, and I am much better prepared to make a relaxed shot if I am not stiff from the cold.

If you still have a tag in your back pocket, maybe this article will help spur you into braving the elements. You may be surprised how easy it is to find the deer and pattern them in the final days of archery season. Even better? Your next late-season hunt just might deliver one of the year’s most-coveted trophies: A well-earned, last-minute bow buck.



HuntStand is the #1 hunting and land management app in the country. It combines advanced mapping tools with powerful map layers to allow users to create and share the best hunting maps possible.