On The Ridge: Late season hunting opportunities still available

Published: 12/7/2022 3:15:45 PM
Modified: 12/7/2022 3:15:23 PM

The final days of deer hunting are upon us, with the shotgun segment coming to a close on Dec. 10 and the primitive firearms season running Dec. 12-31. The reality is beginning to sink in that deer hunting season in Massachusetts is nearing its end. After nearly two months of bow hunting, a long two-week season with the shotgun, and months of hope, promise, and anticipation, it all comes down to this — the late season and the final days of deer hunting in 2022. If you haven’t had the best of luck up to now, or just haven’t had the time to get out, there’s still plenty of good hunting to be had. Let’s take a moment and put some things into perspective.

As you read this, there are three weeks left to hunt deer in Massachusetts, which is plenty of time to fill some tags. However, there are fewer deer running around now then there were just a few weeks ago. Some freezers are full, and some are not, but there are two things that are certain. Deer are now on high alert and edgy, and the weather from here on in has the potential to become brutal.

All that said, you may, just like me, still have a tag or two left to fill, and you’ll be trying, every day, to fill it — also just like me. It’s the late season, and by now most of the peak of rut activity has passed, which has a profound impact on whitetail bucks with some losing as much as 35 percent of their body weight chasing does. Once the rut winds down, these bucks and does must get themselves into a good food source so they can head into winter as healthy and strong as possible. This endless drive for food results in more predictable deer patterns that can tip the odds in favor of a persistent, late-season hunter, especially if you hunt alone, which I do.

But what are the food sources you should be hunting in the late season? The answer is, it depends. Now, I realize that’s not the perfect answer, but it all depends on what food sources are still available during the late season. Think about it, what primary late-season food sources for deer might still be found, right now, across Franklin County that might help you fill those late-season tags?

Green food sources during the late season could potentially serve as an excellent location for deer, with rye and clover being favorites for late season. But anything green, and still growing, will do. Look for these green pockets where you hunt, and scout it regularly to know if, and when, deer are consistently using them.

Most corn crops are harvested by this point in the season, but that doesn’t mean deer won’t search out a cornfield for any remaining grains to help fuel them through the winter. A quick scouting excursion should tell you plenty about what is left in the field and if deer are there. But remember, the colder the weather, the better the chance that they WILL be there.

Any serious deer hunter will know that whitetail deer love white oak acorns. By this time of year, most white oak acorns have either been eaten by deer, turkeys, or squirrels, or have started to rot, meaning they are no longer available as a food source for deer. Activity around acorns can be hit or miss in the late season, so in-season scouting, and looking for fresh signs like tracks, cracked acorn hulls and droppings can be very valuable knowledge for you to have.

Browse, consisting of buds and twigs, makes up a big part of a whitetail’s winter diet, and I believe it’s totally underutilized when it comes to hunting late-season food sources. In big areas, it may seem like deer could be browsing anywhere, and they can, but with a little in-season scouting, you can narrow the locations that are more likely to hold deer. Cutovers or young forest is where you’re most apt to find woody browse within easy reach for deer. These areas also provide excellent cover, giving pressured deer security when feeding during daylight hours.

Late-season deer hunting can be challenging, but the opportunity is still there for persistent hunters. The trick is finding what food sources the deer are keying on in your area and capitalizing on that information. The best way to get started is to put boots on the ground and start searching for fresh feeding sign. And once you’ve located it, hunt smart, play the wind, and use major weather events, like big winter cold fronts, to help keep the odds in your favor for filling that late-season deer tag!

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association, and a 2019 inductee into the N.E. Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. Joe is also on the Quaker Boy Game Calls and Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Pro-Staff.

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