By Michael Lee
-- As the sun sank low on the horizon, the temperature slowly began to dip. The January air let me know how low the temperature was dropping, as I could clearly see my breath as last shooting light approached. Glassing the edge of the large cotton field, movement caught my eye.
In south Georgia, we are lucky to have diverse terrain that has all the ingredients for a hunter to have a chance at a trophy buck. Many hunters get burned out on hunting by late December as the Georgia firearms season nears the end. I know several people who quit hunting after Thanksgiving, with the mindset that with the peak of the rut over, their chances of taking home big bucks are gone. They are correct to an extent but this is when I turn to a late-season strategy that has paid off nearly every year.
Row crops serve as excellent areas to hunt all season long. Providing deer with food that is high in protein, carbohydrates, and nutrients, these fields serve as late-season attractants, even after the crops are harvested. By this time of the season food is scarce. Acorn crops are gone. There is not much vegetation left and minimal browse is available. Leftover peanut, soybean, corn, and even cotton fields can be deer magnets.
The food sources mentioned above become critical in the latter part of the season. Bucks are now eating as much as they can to regain their body mass after the rut. The doe population goes back into feeding groups, and some of the does that were not bred will come back into estrus. Adding this element into the mix for late-season success, the south Georgia secondary rut usually peaks about this time. The does that are in estrus will get a lot of attention, sometimes by multiple bucks. Depending on the amount of hunting pressure in your specific area, you might have an even better opportunity to take that trophy during this time of the year, if you know where to set up.
Hunting the edges of these fields could pay off, but the larger bucks are pretty well educated by this time. These big boys like to be the last ones onto the fields in the evening and the first ones to leave. Let's take a look at an aerial photo of a farm I hunt that shows typical setups that can produce excellent results.
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You can see that the stand set up the farthest to the right on the map (east) is on a fence line from a bedding area to a couple of bean fields. This stand is placed where a lot of ground can be covered and for a north wind. Several deer have been taken from this stand late in the season.
The stand on the extreme left side of the map (west) is one of my favorites. The deer skirt the field edges through these woods along the fence line, especially late in the evening before entering the fields at dusk. This type of area is where you can be successful in taking a trophy before he enters the fields. The stand's location could just be the key in seeing a big buck before darkness sets in.
The use of aerial photos of the property you hunt can help locate good bedding areas and food source travel routes. This information can help you get one step closer to harvesting those wise old bucks.
With light fading, I focused on the movement; it was a deer easing down the field edge - and a nice buck at that. With no doubt in my mind that he was a shooter, I eased up my rifle and took aim. The buck was working a scrape and a licking branch above it. As I blew softly on my grunt call, he turned to find where the sound came from. As he looked in my direction, the .7mm-08 rifle found its mark, and the buck dropped right there. He was a high, heavy-racked buck that is still one of my largest bucks ever taken. By hunting the edge of the field close to a bedding area right at dusk, I was fortunate enough to harvest a great buck.
Hopefully, these tips will help you get closer to taking a trophy or even more meat for the freezer late in the season. Remember to target those leftover row crops, the travel routes to and from bedding areas to those fields, and check out your aerial photos to verify these routes to your advantage. As always, play the wind to your favor and get in the woods as much as possible.
Editor's Note: Michael Lee is a host of Southern Backwoods Adventures television and video series as well as a pro staff member for Quaker Boy Game Calls and Mothwing Camouflage. For more information on Michael, visit http://www.MichaelLeeOutdoors.com.