Are there still some empty slots on your buck tags? While many deer hunters already have bagged their limit of three, there is still time for those who haven’t. Deer season runs through Feb. 10.
Even though Alabama has a long deer season (almost three months), it can be ending before we realize it. And by this time, it would be a safe bet to conclude every inch of huntable deer land has been covered. Bucks may even be taking bets on which stands hunters will frequent the most in the coming weeks.
However, savvy deer hunters can change their tactics to complete their limit before time expires. They will have to get out of their comfort zone, change their approach and use some different techniques to bag a late season buck.
This far into the season, the deer have felt the pressure, especially bucks. They have become wise to the habits of the hunter. Bucks have changed their routes and patterns from those at the first of the season. The deer know when and how on which stands to avoid.
“I’ll change up my stand locations and even move some stands in the late season,” said Jeff Daniel of Golden Springs. “Sometimes it only takes one time of being busted by a buck for him to avoid that stand.”
Daniel added that if he knows a buck is in the area, he only will hunt that stand if the wind is right. Also, he may relocate a stand or use a portable climber and move a few hundred yards away from an unproductive stand. This is a little extra work but overall worth the effort.
Ladder style stands are a good choice. Hunters can slip in and out of the stand quietly without alerting the deer. A comfortable stand is a must for a hunter to endure long hours waiting on a bruiser buck to show. However, over hunting a stand and leaving a hint of human odor will have deer detouring around the stand.
A recent deer study by biologists using GPS-collared does saw fewer visits by deer on each consecutive day a stand was occupied during the season. The deer visits increased as the time between hunts in the stand increased. The conclusion: make certain the day you choose to hunt a particular stand is a good one.
Moving ladder stands during the season may not sound like a wise choice. But, if the bucks are not showing up there, a new location is needed. Do some scouting in the area for fresh buck signs and choose a new stand sight accordingly.
“You don’t want to move a stand and take a chance on spooking deer while doing it,” Daniel said. “Windy days are a good time to make the move, as any unwanted noise is muffled by the wind.”
Relocating a stand may not be possible at certain times. If the chances of alerting deer in the area are high use a different approach. Portable climbing stands can be a wise choice. New models by Summit or API are light-weight and easy to carry in to a secret spot.
Another new hunting accessory that is invaluable to deer hunters any time during the season is pop-up blinds. Certain models are compact and easy to carry. They can be set up in minutes with minimum effort. The blinds provide concealment in movement and in scent control. A comfortable chair allows the hunter to remain in the blind all day if needed.
Alabama is a unique state when it comes to deer hunting, particularly the rut. By the time this article is printed, the rut could be over in some areas of the state. And it can be peak rut in other regions while some spots are waiting for the rut to begin.
“Deer can be vocal at times,” said Matt Smith of Oxford. “In my hunting area, the bucks really start grunting more in late January.”
Smith said he has been surprised many times by the number of bucks grunting and snorting in the late season. He always carries along a grunt tube and calls frequently in the latter part of the season. Deer are curious animals and a low grunt could bring a buck in the direction of your stand.
Rattling can be another late-season tactic for bucks, especially if the rut is just beginning in your area. Even in locations where the rut has concluded, rattling still can attract deer. Sometimes the deer may be a little more cautious on their approach since they are not willing to fight, but rather just observe.
“The rattling bags work fine for me,” said Smith. “They are easier to carry in than a set of rattling horns and sound realistic enough.”
Some hunters will start off with a low-volume rattling sequence. But after the rut, it usually takes some fairly loud and aggressive rattling to get an old buck’s attention. If you know a buck is in the area give rattling a try. You never know what might show up.
High and low
By this time, a majority of the foliage is on the forest floor. Tree stands that were obscured by red, gold, and brown leaves now stand out in the open woods. Bucks will have no trouble picking out a human form in the stand. Natural limbs or pieces of camo netting will help hide the hunter while in his stand.
Also, deer do look up, and if they have encountered movement or foul odors in the area, they know which direction to look for spotting a hunter on stand. Most heights of ladder stand range from around 15 to 18 feet. They can be relocated to thicker cover, yet still provide a good view of the area.
Hunters utilizing portable climbing stands can choose a tree that allows security and camouflaged conditions. Picking a large diameter tree a stand will safely fit, will provide a stable platform and hide the silhouette of the hunter. Also, a higher perch point has other advantages.
“In January after the leaves are gone, I like to climb higher up a tree,” said Gene Irvin of Talladega. “Sometimes I may get 25 feet or higher which allows me to see deer farther off.”
Irvin said being farther up a tree puts him out of the line of sight of deer. Also, the higher altitude helps disperse any human odor. Hunters should always wear a safety harness or fall restraint device anytime they leave the ground.
Hunters wishing to remain attached to the ground can opt for a blind as mentioned above or maybe a different approach. Smith recalls an old hunter using a “hammock” slung between two trees. The old hunter had someone sew in a gun scabbard.
“He would place the head of the hammock a little higher than foot end,” Smith said. “The hammock was close to the ground, but he could see deer approaching.”
Smith mentioned the old hunter would have deer walk in close. It may have been out of curiosity. The hammock looked like a log or fallen tree and did not spook the deer. This method would be safe and comfortable enough for an all-day hunt.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at email@example.com.