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How To/Pro-Tips

Late Season Buck Strategy

Hunters with an unfilled tag as the season winds down are going to have to hunt harder and smarter to find a trophy buck. The food and the doe concentrations of early autumn are gone. The primary rut is over. And, the bucks are well-educated to the ways of men in orange. Where to go and what to do? Go deeper and thicker. The bucks will stick close to their core "refuge" areas as winter diminishes cover. Look also at out-of-the-way nooks and crannies of cover. Many a buck has survived the season in a spot of cover most hunters go past. Understand the "late rut" and how to hunt it. Young does come into "season" a few weeks after the adult does indulge in the primary rut. The action won't be as fast or furious in this secondary rut but some rut-hunting strategies will increase your odds. Watch for developing winter food sources that concentrate hungry deer. Winter cover crops are particularly good bets in the late season.

The Perfect Deer Rifle

This is one of the oldest arguments in deer hunting. It remains so because many centerfire calibers are effective under certain circumstances. In terms of raw power, assuming proper expanding bullets and decent shooting skills, a "standard" of 1,000 to 1,200 ft. lbs. of energy delivered at target is considered minimum for deer hunting. Ammo company ballistic tables tell you the .30/30 is great at 100 yards and suspect beyond 200. The .30/30 falls short in trajectory as well. Cartridges need more than 2,500 fps of velocity to reach targets beyond 200 yards without excessive "holdover." Bullet weight helps "carry" velocity, energy and momentum farther. Bullets weighing in on the light end of the deer bullet scale might perform O.K. at short ranges, but may not do the job at long distances. If all your deer shooting is at ranges under 150 yards, there are many "perfect" deer cartridges. If you expect to shoot over 200 yards, the "perfect" deer rifle is probably a high-velocity number.

String Up A Deer

How can you tell which path in a network of deer trails is the "hottest?" Which trails are used by bucks? Sewing thread can help you find out. From basic ground sign, pick out well-used trail segments and intersections near a good stand site. Next, tie lightweight brown or black cotton sewing thread across the trails. The thread must be very lightweight and tied securely and tautly so that a passing deer can snap the string easily (and so no passing human will be injured). Always use biodegradable cotton, never monofilament. Most deer are about 3 1/2 feet tall at the shoulder. To check for general deer traffic, tie the string about three feet high. To check out buck traffic, tie a strand "antler" high at about four feet. Use this strategy on deer trails on private land where you have permission to hunt. Do not "string up" public land open to public outdoor recreation and never tie strings where bikes or ATVs are used.

Venison Care

Clean, cool and quick are the watchwords of good venison care. A clean shot, a clean cleaning job and quick cooling of the carcass are the key steps to good-tasting venison. Immediate field dressing is best. This starts the all-important cooling process. Postpone field dressing only if the carcass must be dragged through dirt, leaves or swamp water. If it was a clean kill and a clean field dressing job, do not wash the carcass with water. Water promotes harmful bacteria growth. If the animal was gut-shot or contaminated by dragging, wash and butcher quickly. "Hanging" or aging venison for extended periods causes considerable weight loss by drying. However, the carcass should be thoroughly chilled at 35 to 40 degrees and go through rigor mortis on the bone before final butchering. Otherwise, the venison will be tough. A fat deer is generally a good-tasting deer. However, much of the "wild" taste is in fat and bone; boneless, lean meat has a milder flavor.

Staging Area Bucks

Everyone likes to see a beautiful autumn sunset over a field or meadow. Late in the deer season, that's all you are likely to see from a stand overlooking an open field. Bucks, particularly big ones, avoid open areas most times and are particularly shy about leaving cover during hunting season. However, the food is where the does congregate and does are mighty attractive to a big buck. If a field is where he must go to find female companionship, then so be it -- but he probably won't come out until after dark. So where is Mr. Buck in the waning hours of shooting light? He's hanging out in the woods adjacent to the field edge. Look for thick patches of cover in open woods near fields. Often these "staging areas" are easily identifiable by abundant buck sign such as rubs and scrapes. If such areas also show trails converging from heavy cover, brushy ravines or such, you may have discovered Mr. Big's "happy-hour" hangout.

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