By Alex Comstock
Late season hunting can not only provide great opportunities at filling tags, but if you don’t prepare correctly, cold weather and nasty conditions can make the hunting rather miserable. Prepare for the elements, and you can take advantages of moments that present themselves because of those miserable conditions. Today, we have a great Q&A with my buddy Dylan Lenz of The Breaking Point talking all things late season hunting. We cover everything from tactics to how to dress and prepare for late season hunts. Check out our Q&A below for some great perspective from Dylan!
Q: Before we dive into everything else, can you run the reader through some of the places you’ve hunted during the late season and what kind of harsh conditions you’ve experienced?
Dylan: I think it’s an important disclaimer to note that more often than sitting with a bow in my hand, I’m “hunting” the late season behind the lens. Nonetheless, I get pretty amped to put in some hours hunting the frigid conditions that often come with late season whitetail hunting. North Dakota and Wisconsin have been staples of our late season push for the last several years and the conditions can fluctuate a great deal from year to year. By far the most memorable, albeit miserable trip condition-wise I’ve experienced was North Dakota in December of 2016. We dealt with actual temperatures near -20 and wind chills near -50, but despite the conditions, we managed to punch a handful of tags that week.
Q: Withstanding those conditions isn’t necessarily the easiest thing in the world. With that said, what measures do you take to stay warm and to be able to sit through the frigid temperatures?
Dylan: It is definitely not the easiest thing in the world! More often than not, we’re hunting the late season from ground blinds. This helps to cut the wind, while offering cover to stay still and insulated until a shooter appears. I’m sure this sounds like a shameless plug, but I think that the SITKA fanatic system has been a game changer in helping to mitigate the nastiest of conditions and has helped to keep us in the field longer. From there, keeping feet/toes warm is undoubtedly the biggest struggle. Layering socks, utilizing heat packs, and even lugging a buddy heater to the blind on some occasions has helped, but there are many instances I can remember wondering if my toes would ever thaw out after returning to camp.
Q: When it comes to finding bucks back during December and January, are you using trail cameras, scouting fresh sign, finding the best available food source, or some type of combination to help you figure out where to hunt?
Dylan: This time of year can be tough for scouting fresh sign in my opinion. Depending on the frequency of snow accumulation, I think that tracks, scrapes, and even rubs can look a lot fresher than they actually are. I would say that trail cameras are the most fool proof tool this time of year. Knowing when target bucks use certain areas is key. When conditions are rough, you don’t want to waste any time freezing your toes off hunting dead zones. I believe that food sources are the #1 influence of consistent movement once a whitetail’s focus shifts from breeding to winter survival.
The majority of hunting season has passed by this point. I think it’s fair to say that most hunting properties have seen a great deal of pressure up until now. Knowing where deer still feel safe enough to bed and where they prefer to eat is essential for strategizing the best course of action.
Q: Once you’ve decided where to hunt, how are you determining when to hunt? A lot of hunters only hunt afternoons during the late season. Are you of this mindset or is there a level of variance?
Dylan: In my opinion, hunting evenings is the safest bet this time of year. Because deer are so focused on food, you can expect them to repeat afternoon feeding patterns pretty frequently if they haven’t been disrupted. Keeping their travel routes from bedding to food in mind, choosing a point to intercept deer along this movement should be relatively straightforward.
Hunting mornings can be a little risky in my opinion, depending on how stand locations are positioned and accessed. Crunchy snow can be extremely noisy, and I think that a lot of morning hunts are ruined before the sun even glows on the horizon as hunters tend to get too intrusive this time of year because they get into the “all or nothing, last ditch effort” mindset. Hunting smart and accessing non intrusive stand/blind locations in the afternoon not only betters your odds of success on that particular sit, but it also betters your odds by preserving the deer movement for future sits.
Q: Do you prefer treestand or ground blind hunting this time of year? If you prefer one over the other, what are your main reasons?
Dylan: This is an easy one. Blinds are much safer this time of year. The leaves are down, the deer are spooky, and it is fricken cold! I like to stay comfy and concealed until it’s time to make a shot, or hit the record button; blinds are the way to go.
Q: A lot of hunters deal with being “hunted out” by the time late season rolls around. Has this ever happened to you, and how would you recommend avoiding that notion?
Dylan: I think it’s easy for hunters to feel wore out after giving it their all for the past couple of months. However, it’s important to remember that it can all change in a matter of seconds. Seasons can turn on a dime when a good buck materializes out of seemingly nowhere. Keeping that in mind and continuously imagining a rack appearing through the brush keeps my optimism high when I start to question the odds.
If you’re feeling wore out, taking a break is perfectly acceptable in my opinion, but don’t give up entirely. This is supposed to be fun after all, there’s no sense in burning yourself out entirely. Wait for when you think the best chance of success is and give it a go.
Q: If you could only give one piece of advice to someone to tag a late season buck, what would it be?
Dylan: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” If you still have a tag in your pocket and some time to get in the woods, do it. We only get to chase these critters for a fraction of the year, there’s no reason to write off a season until next year when there’s still time left to get after it.