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Hooks and Antlers: Late season offers advantages, challenges to deer hunters

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Deer hunters have two weeks remaining to pursue their white-tailed quarry as the Northern Zone regular season concludes on Dec. 8 while the Late Muzzleloader Season runs through the following Sunday, Dec. 15, in WMUs 5A, 5G, 5J, 6A, 6C, 6G and 6H.

Because the late season presents certain challenges, the final two weeks are often overlooked by hunters; however, early December offers the opportunity for a last-chance buck or last-chance venison for the freezer.

Late-Season Challenges

Admittedly, late season has its drawbacks, the most challenging of which is that weeks of human intrusion in the woods have caused the deer to become extremely wary and nocturnal in their behaviors. In all likelihood, the deer have patterned the hunters in any given area and have learned how to avoid those hunters. The woods also hold fewer deer at this time of the year as hunters have typically removed a quarter of a million white-tailed deer from woods across the state.

Now that breeding is pretty well over, bucks become less mobile as they no longer actively seek out receptive does.

The cold temperatures also challenge hunters who like to sit for lengthy periods of time, and those same temperatures often cause crunchy snow conditions.

Late-Season Deer

December still finds deer extremely wary, but two important changes occur. For one thing, feeding and not breeding become the primary focus so deer spend a significant amount of time at or near primary food sources.

Secondly, hunting pressure wanes, causing deer to become less nocturnal and more active during daylight hours.

Late-Season Hunting

More so than at other times of the season, hunters should now focus on three things: food sources, deer-friendly cover and those travel routes in between.

Deer will still feed in fields, but instead of clover-type fields, the deer prefer more nutritious sources such as soybeans, corn and brassica. Acorns, other nuts and late-dropping apples are deer favorites.

As a general rule, deer feeding habits transition from grasses to woody browse as winter approaches.

For hunters, this means setting up in those transition areas between bedding and feeding and setting up in staging areas adjacent to prime feeding sources.

Human presence in the woods and cold temperatures cause deer to seek out areas that offer safety and comfort. As a result, hunters should focus on thickets and evergreen stands that offer nearby food sources.

Other good bets are south-facing slopes on sunny days and the lee sides of ridges on windy days.

Sound hunting practices that limit one’s noise, movement and scent continue to be critical for success because even though deer become less nocturnal near season’s end, those deer do not become less wary of humans.

Late-Season Allure

A major allure of late-season hunts is snowfall because a snow cover tells all in regards to deer locations and movements. And when snow conditions are on the quiet side, still-hunting is always a good option. Also, the “big-buck phenomenon” often occurs at this time of year. This is a situation where a huge buck appears on the scene — a buck that last appeared on a pre-season trail camera and has not been seen since.

Late-Season Satisfaction

Filling a tag near season’s close can bring a strong sense of satisfaction, much like a runner experiences crossing the finish line in a long-distance race. No matter happens during the final days of the season, I relish those hours in the woods. I savor those final outings when I soak in all the blessings a deer hunter derives from his time in the field.

Outdoors Calendar

Wednesday: Public meeting on Tug Hill North UMP at Copenhagen Central School at 6:30 p.m.

Sunday: Regular Deer Season closes in Northern and Southern zones.

Dec. 9-15: Late Muzzleloader Season is open in WMU’s 5A, 5G, 5J, 6A, 6C, 6G, and 6H.

Dec. 9-17: Late Bowhunting and Muzzleloader seasons are open in Southern Zone.

Dec. 10: Federated Sportsmen’s Clubs of SLC meet at Canton Boces at 7 p.m.

Dec. 15: Waterfowl Season closes in Northeast Zone.

Dec. 15: Canada Goose Season closes in Northeast Hunting Area.

Dec. 15: Muskellunge Season closes on the St. Lawrence River.

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