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From the stand: Adjusting to late season

Nice bucks like this that survived into the late season will often go nocturnal unless their need for food gets them on their feet in daylight. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Late season is here, and I am still looking to get a deer in the freezer.

I have had my chances. There was a blown shot on a great buck and a couple more close calls. One of those came last week in my attempt to punch my bonus tag on a doe around the Alexandria area.

On most land, deer have dealt with hunting pressure for months now, so I am trying to adjust stand locations knowing that's the case. That means using the element of surprise as best I can.

Last Friday afternoon, I was able to grab my climbing stand and head to a piece of property north of Alexandria. I had hunted this one other time and set up over a rub line, figuring this buck would not have focused his attention here if it was not a popular travel route.

It was. I had not been sitting for 30 minutes before a small herd of does came from the ridge behind me. They worked their way to within 10 feet, but all I could do is stand as still as possible hoping they worked their way into my shooting lane. It never happened, but it provided good intel for my next time out.

That came with a thin layer of snow on the ground a week later. I grabbed the climber at about 1 p.m. and went back to that ridge. I found the trail deer had used, found a tree to climb up in and went to work creating a small shooting lane.

I knew this whole process could leave some scent on the ground, but I'll take more chances at this time of year. I settled in by about 3 p.m. and waited.

It was about an hour and a half later when I caught movement to my left. Here was a big doe and two yearlings making their way down the trail.

These old does are incredibly wary. I have had situations late season where the wind was perfect, only to have a doe lead her fawns away because she knew something just was not right about the situation.

It was evident from the time I saw her that this one knew that all too well. She got to where I had walked the ridge in an attempt to find the trail and immediately threw her head up. It was nothing that sent her running, but she knew something was off.

Slowly, she made her way to within 10 yards of my stand through thick cover that never would have allowed me a clean shot.

All I could do was stand there with my bow resting on the safety rail of my climber. She continued to examine her surroundings when all of a sudden she looked up. Our eyes locked and the head bobbing started. She had no idea what I was, but it spooked her enough that she trotted back onto the trail.

As she turned, I drew. The doe moved into my shooting lane and I let out a bleat with my mouth. She stopped, but about three feet too far down the path. I centered my pin only to see a small tree covering up part of her vitals. I just didn't feel comfortable trying to sneak an arrow past that, so I let her walk. That's the second time this season I have been at full draw but could not release an arrow.

There are plenty of does around that should provide hunters an opportunity to fill the freezer yet in the coming weeks. They may not wise up and go completely nocturnal like many big bucks do after firearms season, but they do seem to adjust.

One thing I consistently notice is that does are often on their feet early in the afternoon in December. I have bumped them my last couple times into the stand at about 1 p.m.

It would not surprise me if they are adjusting to when they normally see hunters - moving around the midday and bedding earlier and later. I'm trying to find a day when I can go in around 10 a.m. and get set up in an attempt to catch one on her feet at that time.

Any chance I have at a buck likely revolves around getting as close to food as possible. I don't have access to late-season food plots with popular grains like corn and soybeans. Instead, I am hoping a cut corn field that borders the land I have permission to hunt might draw big bucks to the area after it didn't get plowed under.

I know there is a lot of waste grain left in that field. There is great bedding cover on the land I hunt near that border. Right between the bedding and food is a primary scrape that big bucks were still working the last time I checked my cameras the first weekend in December.

All of that was at night, but this all gives me some hope.

If they are in the area and there is season left, there is always hope. That makes it worth getting back in the stand for those of us who don't want to see another season slip away.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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