Consider the ritual among most deer hunters on opening weekend and beyond.
The alarm goes off at Dark:30. Hunters either spring from bed excitedly, or groan and reluctantly pour themselves off the mattress. They throw back hot coffee, eat some breakfast, grab their gear and head off to the stand in the dark.
They settle in and hunt patiently, being particularly attentive from legal light to about an hour after sunrise. As 9:30 approaches, something happens to hunters if they haven’t had an action-packed morning.
They get bored. They get fidgety. They get cold. They get hungry. And the exodus of hunters leaving the woods begins, with 10 being a popular time to be back at camp or to the truck for some more coffee, a bite to eat and some camaraderie with the hunting party.
Often, there are naps taken post-10, or trips into town for supplies and lunch at the café. Many hunters have conditioned themselves to return to the woods a couple hours before sunset for the evening sit. They believe that bucks move most during the hours following sunrise and those preceding sunset.
But what few morning/evening deer hunters know is that the warm afternoon hours can be some of the most productive times to be in the woods, particularly during the late season when food is the primary driver of deer movement.
Many biologists and whitetail experts have done studies on deer movement patterns and confirm that deer, including mature bucks, have periods of midday activity. Gone is the notion that deer are up all night long and sleeping the day away. Truth is, they bed down and sleep during periods of the dark night, and are very active under the high afternoon sky, too.
Does this mean you’ll find them out roaming in open fields at noon? On rare occasions, yes. But most midday activity is conducted under cover, which makes it a perfect time to have late-season food plots in secluded areas.
You’ll find that deer will often bed closer to their food sources at this time of the year. The reason is simple: They conserve more energy by traveling shorter distances, which is critical during the cold winter months.
Many hunters and researchers have found that as a rule of thumb, winter whitetails will feed roughly every four hours or so. That means that at some point during midday, they will get up to stretch and find nourishment. A contributing factor to this is the previous rut.
For bucks, they need generous nutrients to rebuild muscle and fat mass following the rigors of the mating season. All that running, fighting and procreation takes its toll on a buck’s overall health. Does, now in the early stages of pregnancy, need to feed heavily, too, in order to sustain healthy fetuses and to prepare for healthy milk development.
Another reason for midday feeding is related to temperature. Typically, temperatures are warmer in the afternoon than they are at night and early morning. Mild conditions help lessen the amount of energy reserves needed for traveling, so deer definitely take advantage of that to feed in secure areas during the middle of the day.
Even though the late-season hunt revolves purely around the feeding patterns of whitetails, there’s still an opportunity to use scent as an attractant. Strong sexual scents like estrus doe and buck tarsal won’t bring rut-like responses from bucks.
Instead, trust scents that have “curiosity” appeal to both attract and calm bucks and does alike. Trail’s End #307 is my go-to scent for all my late-season deer hunting.
Finally, let’s face it. It’s also easier on us hunters to sit during the warmest part of the day in cold winter conditions. Plus, you’ll have a lot less competition from other hunters who hung up their guns and bows after the rut.
So get out there during the late season and I promise, you’ll have a very good chance at some exciting action and hopefully that buck of a lifetime.