Late season bucks in Missouri

For many hunters in the Midwest, the rut is dwindling and gun seasons are winding down. There are fewer bucks left now and those that have made it through are about as reclusive as it gets.
Season over, right? Hardly. The late season is about to be upon us and it can be an awesome time for truly big deer. The key is food. Find it and you’ve found the deer. But you also need to manage hunting pressure. No mistakes can be made this time of year. There is no three-strike rule. It’s one and done time.
Scout again

The best thing you can do now is to start scouting all over again. Find those areas where the deer are feeding. It’s not that hard if you happen to live in farm country. Any crop fields that are still standing are obvious choices. Even if you can’t gain access to that particular piece of land, you may be able to hunt an adjacent property. And don’t overlook subtle food sources inside cover. Brad Gannaway, a noted big buck hunter from Missouri, once sent me a photo of a giant Missouri buck that he killed in December. He was hunting a couple of locust trees. Deer were flocking to the area to feed on the spent pods. I’ve seen that same kind of activity in areas of locust when hunting in Missouri in December.

Hunt Smart

Once you find the food source you’d be much better off if you follow the rule of hunting less and observing more. You need to make darn sure that the buck you want to hunt is hitting the food source on a regular basis. You can’t just barge in and try to kill the deer. If the buck hasn’t firmly established a pattern, you can very easily blow that deer out of there and, trust me, this late in the season he is not coming back.
Use your optics and observe the deer for several evenings from a distance. Then slip in midday to hang a stand and hunt it right away. Do not try to cheat the wind. Do not try to do anything too bold. You have to be careful. And you have to be still. Does, fawns and young bucks will hit the fields first. The big boys come last. Spook a deer early and the evening is shot. And so are your chances.
Make sure you’re accurate

If you’re bowhunting, you’ve likely been out of the woods for at least a week, maybe longer while the gun seasons were in. It’s going to be cold and you probably will be wearing more clothes now than you did in November. I always take a few shots with my bow just before heading out the first time during a late season bowhunt. The added bulk of the clothing you wear can definitely impact your shot. Make sure you’re prepared for that by shooting a few arrows.
Don’t cave in

This is one of my personal pet peeves. Guys have hunted hard all year and passed up young bucks because they want to do the right thing for management purposes. They hit the woods in late season and have not yet tagged a buck. That 2-year-old they passed up in November walks out and — boom — he’s smoked. That buck is still young. If he wasn’t big enough in October or November, he’s not big enough now. More importantly, that buck has survived most of the hunting season. The odds are very high that he’s going to be around next season. I’ve eaten my share of tag soup and it sucks. But I try to kill only mature bucks. In Michigan, my limit is three years old or older. Once December arrives, I actually up that limit to four years old. Why? Because 4-year-old bucks are very rare here. If I have a 3-year-old buck that has survived the gun season I have a great opportunity to hunt a 4-year-old buck the following year. That buck earns a pass from me.
Stick with it

It’s very easy to simply settle into a warm couch and watch hunting on TV right now. The weather is brutal, the deer are scarce and hunting is tough. But there are still deer to be killed. Doe tags can be filled. Bucks can be patterned.
Is it easy? No way. But it’s hunting. In a few months, you’ll be suffering from a severe case of cabin fever and counting down the days until deer season. Well, right now, it’s deer season. Get out and take advantage of what’s left of it.