Saddest Time of Year
Article by DAN CHASON
Christmas is history, New Year’s has passed and now we are down to the last hoorah for this year’s hunting season. As of this writing, we are heading into the rut for whitetail deer and are awaiting the moon phase to get right and cold fronts to line up to activate the best time of year for deer and duck hunting. However, January is a whole new challenge. As January slips away, deer will be easier to target than in the early months as they are hungry, have lost a lot of weight and any does left to breed are few and far between. The bucks have been pressured and run themselves into the ground. They are solitary creatures now and look for the thickest cover they can find near a food source. This is the time to switch tactics. Here are a few recommendations on what to do to find that late season buck.
First, lose the box stand. This time of year it is time to be mobile. I opt for ground blinds where I can adjust for wind and still be between heavy cover and a food source. Food sources now differ as many of us relied on the old yellow acorns and rice bran which has now been restricted. Deer feed heavily on briars and browse when there is no other food available. Look for tell-tale signs such as heavy trails with browse missing on lower branches and vines. My favorite source of food this time of year are the old persimmon and pecan trees. I’m lucky to have a lot of this food on my place and concentrate on it heavily through January.
Second, hunt off times. Too many of us get in a stand, sit til 9 and go rest and then return to the stand area around 3. Bucks have seen this all year round. Park the wheeler and walk in with the wind in your face. Set up during the magic hours of 11-2. I have killed more deer up in the day than any other time in January.
Third, scent control is critical. The deer have been so pressured by now that any small indication of a human will make them disappear. Spray down with a scent killer and add a natural scent such as acorn or pine to your clothes and gear.
Fourth, look for new areas. I have found more deer in places I never imagined would hold deer. Water is probably my favorite area as deer will find a slough with an island only big enough to hold a squirrel and camp out. They will lay with their nose in the wind and rarely move until dark.
Fifth, watch the moon and barometer. A rising barometer is a good time to lay up at the camp. Deer are like fish. They like a falling barometer when selecting the best time to hunt. The moon phase is the most critical thing to watch. The fuller the moon, the further up in the day they will feed. Less moon, mornings and evenings are in play.
Lastly, use technology. I used Covert Cameras to give me the optimum feed times for deer. There is no use in scenting up a hunting area when it is not optimum time. I hunt an hour before and a hour past major feed times. It really helps with success ratios.
When it comes to duck hunting, we are all still shaking our heads as to the eternal question “where have the ducks gone?” Ducks will be here if you have food and water. The numbers are determined by freezes up north (Missouri north) and food. We don’t flood up until the second split for that very reason. Whether I’m hunting in the woods or fields, ducks remain in an area for cover, food and resting areas. I recommend utilizing places on any area and designate them as resting areas. We never shoot resting areas until the last week of season. Take into account that ducks have been called, shot, chased and molested from Canada to Louisiana as a good reason to leave most calling to a minimum. Also this is the best time to lose “motion” decoys and just go back to the basics of a 6-decoys jerk string. The motion decoys are now more of a flaring tool than a meat tool. Natural is the key. Small chuckles, feeding calls and cackles will get the best results. I’ve set with many a hunter who is hail calling and wonders why there is no response. Think about it. How many calls have they heard since early November? It does not take long for ducks to figure out what is real and what isn’t. In January, we also believe heavily in new locations and adding more camo to our blind. Natural camo is best with willow being my favorite. I add commercial applications of burlap to give me the aged look. I am also very careful in January to assure any know “head bobbers” are camo’d up good and are in an area of the blind where the bobber isn’t the first thing ducks see. So the bobber goes on the down wind up wind side of my blind. Amateur callers or show callers duck calls are confiscated and unless you know we are there, even a seasoned hunter won’t know we are hunting til we shoot. Natural sounds, natural look and a natural decoy spread are important steps.
I do add additional decoys in my spread and in January mix my bag with scaup, wood ducks and teal to intice more interest. So even though January can be a challenge, step up and change tactics and think like a critter. It will definitely increase your odds and success in this last month of our season. Happy Hunting.