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Driftwood Outdoors: A little something to eat

Food sources are key to deer hunting success late in season

Phillip Vanderpool poses with just a portion of his impressive collection of mature whitetail bucks.

Phillip Vanderpool poses with just a portion of his impressive collection of mature whitetail bucks.

Late season deer hunting can sometimes feel like a post-apocalyptic scene from a movie. As you sit in the bitter cold, starring out across empty expanses, watching nothing but wind whipping snow, and swearing there isn’t another life form within miles, you start to think your friends watching football by a fireplace are the smart ones.

Don’t give up hope. The deer are still there, and in the right spot, the action can be hot. Whitetail hunting guru Phillip Vanderpool says the key is finding their favorite food source.

“First of all, you have to know what food sources are available in your area. Are there picked agricultural fields, like soybeans and corn? If so, these are likely to be the hot spots. If not, you have to look a little harder for mast crops like red oak acorns or honeysuckle,” Vanderpool said.

Deer congregate in large groups throughout the winter. Once you find their preferred food source, you’re likely to have found the majority of the deer in your general vicinity. The key to successfully hunting late season deer once you’ve located them is to never let them know you’re there. This means scent control is paramount, as is entering and exiting your stand site without being seen.

“A lot of hunters only think of hunting acorns in the early season. These are mainly white oak acorns, which are the first to fall, but also the first to rot. Come late season though, there are typically still some red oak acorns around. If you can find a red oak flat, then boy you’ve found something special because in the cold weather the deer need the high levels of protein acorns provide,” Vanderpool said.

The bitter cold temperatures of early morning sits deter a lot of people from taking advantage of the late season. Vanderpool has learned with time you don’t have to suffer.

“Too many guys overlook mid-day this time of year because they think deer are done rutting, which means they aren’t moving mid-day. This just isn’t the case. When it’s cold, deer like to bed on south slopes where the sun can hit them. Once the sun is high enough to warm the deer up, they’ll get out of their beds and start to feed. Because of this, I won’t even go into my late season stands sometimes until 9 or 10 a.m.,” Vanderpool said.

Having more than one stand site is extremely important during the late season. You’re hunting pressured deer, so any clues of your presence are going to spook them and disrupt their pattern.

“If I know deer are coming out onto an agricultural field in the evening, I’m not going to chance messing that up by hunting there in the morning. I’ll hunt in the woods on acorns in the morning, and slip into my evening stand a couple of hours before dark,” Vanderpool said.

Knowing where to hunt is the most important aspect of late-season success, but knowing how to hunt is what will close the deal.

“The key to this is scent control. Deer have been hunted for many months by now and are on pins and needles, so you have to be as scent-free as possible. It’s absolutely vital. Your clothes have to be scent free, your hair and body has to be scent free and your gear has to be scent free. Spray your boots before you walk in. I mean I can’t stress the importance of scent control enough,” Vanderpool said.

Don’t give up yet. It’s too early to eat a tag sandwich. The late season can produce incredible experiences if you hunt smart and remain scent free.

See you down the trail …


Brandon Butler is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at


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