Hunting whitetailed deer in the last portion of the firearms seasons and the end of the archery season allows the hunter to manage his property while adding some valuable meat to the freezer.
These seasons are for antlerless deer only and great care should be taken to make as sure as possible that you are, in fact, harvesting female deer and not bucks that have lost their antlers earlier than usual. Sometimes, however, finding a doe in the late season can be a huge challenge.
As most of us know, food becomes the primary instinctive driver after the rut phases run their course. Hardwood ridges and uncut grain fields provide the best sources of winter food and will likely hold many deer close.
However, in the absence of these places, sometimes a hunter must take matters into his own hands.
In the past few decades hunters and landowners have been supplementing the natural food sources on their property with specially formulated plants that give deer maximum nutrition the year round.
This not only adds to the birth weight of newborn fawns by giving gestating does the nutrition they need, but also holds deer on the property through the winter months.
There are many food plot seed companies out there and many theories about what to plant and when.
The most important aspect of food plots is to get started with them and stick with it. Experiment a little and find out exactly what your deer like.
A year ago I was able to take advantage of just such a spot here in the Midwest. I have good friends who will remain nameless as will the location of their property.
They have been managing several hundred acres for several years and are without a doubt true food plot experts. They invited me and great friend and hunting partner Bob Cowman to help them manage their herd during the last firearm season.
We would be hunting opposite ends of the same 12-acre food plot.
The plot contained a mixture of turnips, soy beans, and winter wheat. The tracks in and around the field were impressive as Bob and I took our stands about 1:30 p.m. that afternoon. We could not see each other due to the topography of the farm. We were totally safe.
As usual in the doe season the first two deer I saw were bucks. They were both very young and not shooters anyway, but it was a bit frustrating.
The first doe I saw was at about 3:45. It came from the timber and was heading in Bob’s general direction. I shot him a text to give him a heads-up. There was no shot, but no text back either. Maybe he did not have his phone on.
About a half-hour later two deer came from a cedar thicket toward the field. Their path would take them to a trail crossing a ditch right under me.
I watched them for a time through my binocs and saw that they were both female deer and the lead doe was the largest.
I shoot a THOMPSON/CENTER .50-caliber Pro Hunter muzzleloader topped with an ALPEN OPTICS scope. I cocked the hammer and put the crosshair on her shoulder at about 40 yards.
When the smoke cleared it was obvious that she was dead when she hit the ground. I did not even reload.
So as not to interrupt Bob’s hunt anymore than necessary, I just stayed put in my stand. I saw a few deer moving toward the food.
Bob’s shot startled me so much I almost jumped out of my stand. I guess my shot probably scared him, as well. It was not long until I got a text telling me he thought he hit the doe but that she ran off. I told him to come down that I was on my way.
When I got to him he was excited. He had been watching this doe since my text a couple of hours ago. She had been very slowly feeding in the field and it took that long for her to present him with a good shot.
We tracked the deer about 60 yards and recovered her just before dark.
I went for the four-wheeler as Bob got both deer into the field. After some high-fives and photos we discussed the value of food plots in the late season and how it made this hunt possible.
Use food plots on your farm and you, too, can hold deer there throughout the season, even the late season.
(Mike Roux is the Midwest Regional Director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) Outdoor Ministry. To become a Home Team Member of this new ministry, call him at 217-257-7895.)