What to Do When Your Deer Disappear

Have you ever been so excited and overly prepared for opening day of deer season only to be disappointed later by the lack of deer you see in a sit?

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Nathan Unger with his 3 1/2 – 4 1/2 year old seven point in 2013 over a food plot in the late season

I know I have – so the question then becomes where did they all go? What happened to all the bucks I had on trail cameras before the season? Or what happened to the quantity of deer that I scouted?

There are several possible reasons for these disappearances  and it would take a while to list them all here, however I want to highlight some of the main reasons for deer disappearing from your stand location.

1.) With Season Change Comes Change in Patterns

If you think about it, this idea makes perfect sense. As leaves begin to fall and vegetation begins to die off in the winter months, deer seek out the best cover possible which, unfortunately, means that the buck you’ve been watching is no longer showing up on your trail cam.

This type of cover can vary from swamp habitat to young pines 5-6 feet tall to tall grass to dips in a hillside. Finding these environments where deer like to bed and setting up within range, yet not bumping them with your scent is sure to increase your chance of killing that big buck.

2.) Pressure

This is tough because not always are you the one supplying the pressure. It could come from other hunters, farmers, gun clubs (I know this from experience), weather conditions or other predators.

While you may not be able to control some of these, you want to control yours variables as much as possible.

a.) Eliminating your scent as best you can, and trying to stay upwind of bedding areas will be a huge step in decreasing hunting pressure. I can’t tell you how many times I took the easier route to my stand because of lack of time or just plain laziness and ended up bumping deer – and not just any deer- big bucks!

b.) Getting in your stand early enough and staying long enough. One of the last things you want to do is try to get 5 or ten extra minutes of sleep which may be all it takes for you to bump a deer while you’re walking to your stand. Then, especially in the late season, you might as well hunt a different location. The same is true for when you get out. If deer are around you after shooting light – wait them out. It’s better that you not bump them and ruin your next hunt in that location. Because it will educate those deer and they will associate that pressure with your stand or that area.

3.) Food Sources

Even though you may have food on your property, guess what? The hunter next door to you probably does as well. So the key here is, provide the better option for deer. I mean think about it, would you rather have a filet mignon or an overcooked sirloin? Yes, I’m being facetious, but you would obviously want the juiciest, best-tasting option out there, and it’s the same for deer. If you live in a state where baiting isn’t allowed take steps to plant food plots before the season. Foods such as sugar beets or brassica are great late season options because after the first frost these taste like candy to deer.

 

 

The Quest For Uni-brow

It’s always thrilling when you discover new bucks on your property that you didn’t know existed. Such is the case with the infamous buck Uni-brow we discovered the week before Christmas this year. He was first seen trailing two does followed by a couple of other smaller bucks. This was exciting because up until this point we thought that an eight point that is only 2 1/2 or 3 years old was the dominant buck in the area. This was clearly not true.

Three days later we spotted the buck at dusk crossing a creek bottom so fast that he didn’t present a shot. The odd thing, though, was that he was already with a bachelor group of bucks. The oddity wasn’t that he was with two or three bucks. He was with SEVEN! After the hunt that night we got together and talked about a game plan to get a shot on this buck.

Because this buck was so elusive we were not sure we would see him again since it was late in the season. Low and behold we were wrong.

Christmas Eve day my brother and I decided to get up and brave the rain to see if we could spot this buck. It had started raining early that morning, and was pouring by the time we arrived at our hunting destination. The stands we wanted to hunt were a solid mile into the woods, and the only thing we had to keep us dry was the roof of our Kubota over our head. We decided to park several hundred yards away and walk in for fear that the Kubota would get stuck in the mud. Today was not a day to get stuck while it was pouring rain.

The two of us had discussed the night before that we would be patient for the buck and not shoot any does since both of us had already gotten one a piece. With this goal in mind we began trekking through the woods in the torrential rain. We settled in early before light with cloud cover that provided several more minutes of low light. We got in our box blinds, and I began taking off my wet outer layer of clothing to stay dry. Nothing was moving the first part of the morning around my stand, but little did I know Caleb’s experience was quite the opposite. I could see several turkeys coming out of the woods down the hill about 200 yards off by a creek bottom, but still no deer.

Around 8:40 am, I heard a shot. At that moment I knew he  had a chance of taking down this big deer. In my excitement I immediately radioed him and waited for a response. “I don’t know if I got him. I made a good shot, but he came running out of the woods right at me,” Caleb said. There were still deer in the area so we had to stop using the radios for a little while. Finally, I get a call on the radio saying, “He’s huge!” Caleb tracked the deer’s blood trail down to a ravine where he had seen deer run before. “I knew where he was going,” Caleb said. The deer ended up in a ravine where the two of us had to drag him out and up a hill where our RTV couldn’t get to. Finally we got the deer loaded, and off we went back to the cabin. On the way back we called home to say we had gotten a deer, but didn’t stress how big it was. When we arrived back at the house it was all summed up by the first expressions of family members when they saw the big buck that will forever be remembered as the Uni-brow buck.

Caleb's deer on Christmas Eve morning
Caleb’s deer on Christmas Eve morning

(Written by Mr. Nathan Unger. Nathan is a Senior at the University of Georgia majoring in Public Relations. Nathan is an avid hunter and a passionate outdoorsman from Southwest Virginia)