By Alex Comstock
Only a couple precious November days are left before December rolls in. The month of December always signals the start of a new season for me. That's the late season. There's a lot that changes during late season hunting, but if you do it right, it can be some of the best hunting of the year. For me personally, I've shot three out of my last five bucks during the month of December, so maybe I've just got a slight affinity for it. Regardless, here are three things that I think are easy to forget about, and if you do, they can hinder your chances of sending an arrow through a late season buck.
First and foremost, I think your entry and exit route might be more important during the late season than any other time of the year. Here's why. For the most part, late season hunting revolves around hunting some type of food source. Often, deer will be bedded close to the food source early in the afternoon, and you'll also need to find a way to get out at the end of legal shooting light if deer are feeding nearby.
Pay close attention at how you set up your stand or ground blind late in the year. I like to be able to "sneak in the back door" if possible. When thinking about how deer will be feeding, depending on what kind of food source you are hunting, if you can set up so deer will feed past you on the way to their destination food source, you'll have a better chance of getting out clean at night. I can't stress entry and exit enough. If you aren't aware of how close deer are bedding to where you're hunting, you could be ruining the hunt before it ever gets going. And at the end of the night, if you don't have a plan for getting out clean, you might not get many hunts until deer catch on to you.
2. Late season dress code
As we get later and later into the season, it gets colder and colder (usually). With the cold means you've got to dress warmer. Dressing warmer usually means more layers. One thing I've seen more than once that people don't take into account is how this can affect not only your ability to shoot, but to draw your bow back as well.
My biggest piece of advice is to shoot your bow in your late season clothing before going hunting. Make sure there isn't any place your string is hitting against, and that you're comfortable letting an arrow fly when it's crunch time. Also, when you've got a lot of clothing on, and have been sitting motionless in cold temperatures, all of the sudden it can get more difficult to draw your bow.
A quick story from last year - it was December 9th, and with the wind chill factor, the temps were pushing negative forty degrees. I obviously was bundled up, and not being able to pull back my bow was a thought that was lingering in my head. So, to combat this thought, about every twenty minutes or so, I pulled my bow back just to keep my muscles warm and ready. It paid off, as late in the evening hunt, I had a mature buck stroll by and I was able to send an arrow through him. Drawing back my bow every so often definitely put my mind to ease knowing I would be fine if the moment of truth did indeed present itself.
3. Your Mental State
After a long hunting season, it's not uncommon to get mentally worn out by the time late season rolls around. When your mentally drained, it's much easier to cut corners, not take little things into account, or do things you know you should be doing in order to be successful. It's really important to recognize if this is you.
There are a couple different ways to approach this. First of all, you could sit back, and wait to hunt until conditions are simply ideal. Take some time off, and then strike when the time is right. For some people this isn't an option, whether that be because of hunting location, life, family, work, etc. and for those people (like myself) I say grind it out. There's not much season left, and use every second you have to making an effort to getting it done late in the year. Don't cut corners, because the last thing you want to do is make a mistake at the end of the year that'll cost you a buck.
Late season hunting is some of my favorite hunting of the year. When a lot of folks are wrapping up their deer season and calling it quits for the year, I'm thinking of it as a new season. Get out there and take advantage of it. But while you're doing so, don't forget about these three things. They could make all of the difference.