Morken: Keys to late-season archery success on pressured ground
Archers who still have tags to fill can have hunts in the late season where they see some of the biggest deer numbers of the year with more deer herded up now in areas of good cover. Finding an area like that that has not seen a lot of hunting pressure through a long season now can be challenging, but getting into those little pockets that may have had less pressure recently can pay dividends.
It was the morning of Dec. 13 and I had set up before light in one of my favorite bow hunting locations in a funnel just off of a good bedding area in Minnesota.
This spot is within really thick brush on a narrow ridge system with a field in the Conservation Reserve Program below me and agriculture fields up top. Deer are feeding in that top field, so the idea was that I could catch one coming back to bed through that funnel. It’s been a great spot in the past during times of low hunting pressure before gun season, but this morning was the third straight sit where I did not see a deer.
That definitely can be the case at this time of year. Deer have been pressured through archery season, regular firearms and now muzzleloader season. In Minnesota, that’s a lot of activity in the woods with such a strong deer hunting tradition in the state.
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There was a good bit of muzzleloader hunting going on around me through that final weekend on Dec. 12. I sat in my truck after that fruitless morning and went back and forth on what my move should be for that evening sit.
I decided to text a neighbor who I know muzzleloader hunts on the adjacent woods to the east. He and other members of his hunting party had not been down there for a week. Perfect.
I have bowhunted the late season every year for about 16 years now in Minnesota, and finding areas that have had limited pressure this time of year is rule No. 1 for me if I can find it.
I went out early that afternoon on the eastern border of the property in a low area along the river so I had time to read sign in the snow and set up. I don’t know exactly where deer bed down here because I can’t scout the neighboring property. There must be some fantastic thermal cover there because this area always holds deer late season.
Where I can hunt is a transition area between that bedding and a picked corn field up top where they feed. There’s good natural browse down here that deer feed on before hitting the corn.
The sign in the snow was as good as it always seems to be in December. There were trail systems leading all over in the flat bottom of open timber. One spot in particular had a few trails intersecting and then track leading off of those trails where deer were spending time browsing.
This seemed to be the central hub of where much of the movement met. I set up in the middle of all that activity with my scent blowing away from where I expected deer to come from.
A yearling buck was the first deer to show up. He nibbled on some twigs and slowly made his way out from underneath my stand.
I noticed more movement now coming from the thicker cover that transitions to a grassy opening near the property border about 150 yards away. A long line of does and yearlings were on their feet and heading toward the timber I was set up in.
A group of eight took a trail further east of me into the woods and ended up too far behind me. They worked their way up the steep ridge onto that top field to feed.
In that grassy open area just off of the woods were four more deer. They took a trail straight south of me into the woods and did exactly what the track in the snow indicated they would by moving right into my shooting opening 15 yards away.
The first big doe walked broadside to me and gave what I thought was a chance to draw my bow when she put her head down. Two of the other deer I was not watching caught my movement and spooked, causing her to throw her head up and run off with them.
At full draw now, I gathered myself and saw that the other big doe in the group had not moved. She was quartered toward me, giving me a shot opportunity at about 20 yards.
Shooting the heavy arrow and broadhead combination that I do, I put the pin right on that front shoulder to make sure I didn’t hit too far back. The arrow penetrated through and took out lungs and the bottom of the heart for a quick kill.
Another group of five more does and yearlings came into the woods that night before dark. A night like this during the late season where I see 15-20 antlerless deer is not uncommon in most areas of Minnesota I hunt where doe-to-buck ratios heavily favor the does.
It can be difficult getting eyes on a mature buck this time of year. Many have already been shot, and the ones that have not are not spending a bunch of time on their feet in daylight.
What late December does offer for archers is a chance to see a lot of antlerless deer in the final days of the season with most of the hunting pressure now out of the woods for a couple of weeks.
If you are still looking for a doe this late season, find the food (whether that's natural browse or a more common primary food source like corn or soybeans), understand the bedding, read the sign in the snow and set up. It can make for some of the more enjoyable hunts of the year with the woods to yourself and whitetails bunched up in big groups.