Hunting the 11th Hour

By Ryan Graden

One of the hardest things for me to swallow is a “tag sandwich”. Would you agree? If you are like me, that’s just not something I like to deal with on a regular basis! So what do you do? What’s your move? What options do you have that might keep you from the taste of that awful meal? Keep reading!

There is something that I always hope to accomplish with a hunt at this time in the season. With a limited amount of time left, I desire to try all that I can think of. Every tactic and scheme in the book that will give me a chance and a possible upper hand in making a harvest. With luck, it will pay off and I will have a trophy that will redeem all of my hard work. If I end up empty handed, at least I know that I gave it my full effort and there are no questions or regrets left to think about.
Come along and I’ll discuss some last minute ideas that just might give you the upper hand in making a harvest.

Do Your Homework
If you haven’t had much time to think through the layout of your property or the area that you hunt, this is the time to sit down and do so. I would even do a bit of scouting if you have the time for it.
Look at some maps or visit the area “on the hoof” to find out the lay of the land. Note bedding areas that you see in the snow. Trails and tracks that might be heavy in the snow. Note how busy the trail looks. In which direction are the majority of the tracks following trail. Are they leaving the timber (hinting at an evening trail) or are the coming back into the timber (a morning trail).
Note food sources and open water sources in the area. Alfalfa that is not too covered with snow, corn or bean stubble, flowing streams or stretches of streams.

Get out and do some glassing.
Remember, you don’t have days to do this. You need to use all this information to formulate a plan that will get you where you need to be to make a harvest. You now have all your bits and pieces of information, now put it together. Figure out where you need to be and give it a try.

Time to Move
I am referring to two different thoughts here. Let me explain.

First, if you’ve hunted a stand all season and still are not having luck, move it! I grew up with mentors giving me valuable advice as I learned to bow hunt. One of the things that I was taught was to set your stand(s) early and let them be! If you spend too much time there, deer will figure it out and your stand will be void of any deer presence.

Let me tell you, I know there is partial value to that. But, over the years I have learned the value of moving a stand to the point where, if I need to move a stand multiple times, I will.

Don’t get stuck in a “rut”. If you see some valuable travel patterns that you need to get closer to, take your stand down and move it! Of course, be quiet and as quick as possible. However, don’t be afraid to try it.
A second thought with “move” is this, get out of your stand and move!

Again, we’ve been ingrained by some to “stay put”. Hunt for long periods of time in one place. “If you put in the time, you’ll make a harvest!” I’ve heard that said over and over again in my years of hunting. But let me remind you, YOU DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS ANYMORE! If this is the 11th hour, you need to begin doing what you can to MAKE things happen for you. The more ground you cover, the better chances you have at seeing something to harvest.

Often times, I find myself in the late muzzleloader season with only a few days left to make a harvest. I’m usually being a bit picky in waiting for one of my “hit list” bucks. But nonetheless, I find myself in a position to increase my opportunity for a harvest. For me, that translates into conducting a spot-and-stalk situation.

Take time to walk the ridge tops. Look down the ravines every 10-15 yards. Always be ready to pull off a quick shot. If you move, chances are you will see more.

Make ‘em Move
By this time in the season, most Iowa hunters will have either a bow or a muzzleloader tag left in their pocket. Maybe both!

I grew up doing traditional deer drives during the Iowa shotgun seasons. Those were incredible times with great success! That success was because of great property, healthy deer populations, a good number of guys, and some very skilled shooters.

Why not consider a similar situation? Call a few other guys/gals that you know have open tags and invite them on a drive!

I realize that these weapons aren’t typically the ones used on a deer drive, but it can be done. Trust me, I know some of my closest friends have had success using both gun and bow doing this. So why couldn’t it be you too?

Whether bow or gun in hand, put a few people on post where you know deer might pass by if they were pressured in any way. Then after they are set, begin a good and lengthy walk towards them.

But please remember, SAFETY HAS TO BE YOUR FIRST CONCERN! Know where your drivers are coming from and be cautious in your shooting directions. Remember too, you are hunting for your tag only. Party shooting would not be allowed in these situations.

Just last year my Dad was able to fill his late muzzleloader tag in this same fashion. I also had a buddy fill his bow tag with a good doe that was pushed within 20 yards of a tree that he was standing by. Again, increase your chances. Get them moving!

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
If it’s this late in the season and you still have a tag open, consider asking permission to get into good areas that you’ve never had the chance to get to.

Those areas are probably places that have been reserved for certain hunters for a variety of reasons. Maybe it’s their family property. Maybe they didn’t want it stirred up before they hunted it. Maybe they asked permission first. Whatever it may be could change once their tags are filled.

Just think, if those hunters are done and tagged out, owners just might let you in to try your chances on their property. Their commitments are filled to those guys already. You might get lucky and get a chance at the “2nds” of the property. All it takes is asking! The worst they could say is, “no”. Give it a try.

Stink it Up
Deer are masters of scent. I’m not exactly sure how much better their sense of smell is than a humans, but I know that it’s an incredible amount. So, give them something to interest them. Scent is still an effective method of attractant even in the late season.

As you walk into wherever you are hunting, create some “drag strips” that you can tie to your boots. Lace them with whatever brand of deer urine you’d like to get.

If you are in a stand, drip a little down the tree that you’re in. Deposit some scent in “old” scrapes that might just interest a deer that’s passing by.

Deer will always check out a scent even if they have moved passed an active breeding status. Who knows, you just might find that lingering buck who still has “you know what” on his mind. Spark their interest and you just might be able to take advantage of it.

Late-late season hunting is always a pressured way to hunt. Nobody likes to look at that empty tag on January 11th knowing you have to wait almost an entire year to redeem yourself. Yet, it happens to the best of us hunters.

Let the goal be, at the end of the season, to know that you’ve done everything in your power to try to fill your tag and your freezer. Even with that, there will be some sort of satisfaction with any empty tag.

Hunt hard, hunt safe, have fun, and enjoy the memories. Who knows? This might be the most exciting hunt of your lifetime. Get out there and give it your best. It’s not over till it’s over!