Like most hunters, you might find yourself at the end of Whitetail season having had no success. The late season can be a desperate time for some hunters, but it can also be a productive time for hunters who know what to look for to find those big racked survivors.
During most of Whitetail country, late fall and winter are the most critical time periods for a deer to survive another year. For a mature buck, the primary and secondary rut periods take their toll. Most rutting bucks lose up to 30% of their body weight and in some areas where the buck-to-doe ratios are weighted heavily in the buck department, some bucks can lose 40% of their weight from constantly battling competing bucks.
It is also no secret that all the finest foods are mostly dormant or gone by late fall, so a deer has to work harder to feed. It takes a hearty animal to make it through this vicious cycle, especially for five or seven years.
There are two factors in finding the location of these bucks and they totally depend on food, cover and the easiest place to find it. Although deer need cover for protection from weather, during this time of the year they need it for protection from predators, mostly coyotes. These spent bucks need to conserve all the energy they can, so they will try to reside in pockets of heavy cover near food sources. Just one coyote chase could cause a mature buck to not survive the winter.
Feed is scarce by this time of the year, so don’t look to crop fields. You will want to find the best browsing areas located on southern slopes of hills. Maintaining body temperature causes deer to use energy, so don’t underestimate the importance of a sunny hillside during the fall or winter. A moment in sunlight will save a buck some energy by reducing the amount of calories he will have to burn to stay warm.
In my 30 years of deer hunting, I have also noticed that these survivor bucks will be more likely to set up shop closer to houses and other human structures than they normally would during the year. I believe that being close to humans helps deter coyotes and cougars. My uncle once caught a late season buck laying inside of a hog house on the edge of neighbor’s hog lot. You can’t get any more protected than that.
Remember, sun-lit food, close-by cover, and always use the wind while probing or hunting these areas.