Winning After The Season Ends

The timeframe following deer season, known as the post-season, may be the best time to find and start preparing to harvest next year’s trophy buck.

by Clint Casper

It’s no secret the most consistent giant buck killers are the ones whose season never ends. This trend can be found within these select individuals, year in and year out. When everyone else hangs up their bows, puts away their stands and trail cameras, and starts thinking about baseball and fishing, these guys are already planning the attack on next year’s whitetail season. Let’s dive into why this trend produces consistent results and why you should follow the same philosophy as these elite whitetail bowhunters during the post-season to increase your odds of success next fall.

Winter Herd Management 

With snow and cold still prevalent throughout the country from February through March, deer must survive the elements and brave the winter. During this time, food, water, and shelter are as crucial as ever to a whitetail’s life. This is  especially true for the does, who are now carrying fawns. 

From a land management position, I will be the first to tell you that if you can supplemental feed in your state, you should be doing so for many reasons. 

Supplementary feeding during this crucial time in a whitetail’s life will benefit your overall deer herd health and the generations of deer to come. I like to use a couple of mixes from Big Tine, which promote overall herd health by using a premier blend of nutrients like Crude Protein, Fat, Fiber, Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, and whole grains. These mixes support antler growth and bone density and aid in doe lactation during the fawning season. These are very critical components to the overall health of your deer herd. Putting this type of feed at various spots around my hunting properties ensures I have plenty of nutrition for my deer during the harsh winter months.

Something else I love to do during this time of the year that drastically benefits my deer herd is frost seeding my food plots. Food plots are a critical component of my deer hunting arsenal. They provide a great place to hunt over and around. Still, more importantly, they provide a nutritious food source for my whitetails throughout the year. 

During the late winter and early spring, a great way to jumpstart your perennial food plots or add some clover to an existing food plot is to frost seed. Frost seeding is the method of spreading seed (clover is my seed of choice) to jumpstart growth and provide your food plot with a thicker and more lush feed layer. This type of planting will yield a better food plot with more nutrients and feed for your deer at a faster rate than if you waited until spring or summer to plant. This is also a great way to thicken up spots that are thin in your plot or have greater grazing pressure from your deer herd.

Trail Camera Consensus 

During the post-season, I get curious about herd numbers. I want to learn more about my buck-to-doe ratio. I use trail cameras placed in strategic locations (typically food sources) to tell me how much deer I have on the property. This is very important to a deer hunter because it gives us a solid representation of what our herd has for strengths and weaknesses. For example, I never want my properties to have a drastically improper buck-to-doe ratio. Ratios like 3-to-1, 4-to-1, etc., are very respectable. Still, I have had farms where that ratio was seven does to one buck or even worse. This unbalanced ratio hurts the rut and makes for a poorly performing deer herd. Some properties will need the doe population to be thinned out drastically come fall, while others may be very stable. 

With trail cameras out during this time of year, I can figure out which bucks have survived the hunting seasons.By gaining pictures and intel from these pictures, I can start to piece together certain clues about specific bucks and their patterns and tendencies. 

For example, I pay close attention to the many details a photo provides. Things like weather patterns, direction of travel, moon phase, barometric pressure, and the time of day are all clues. I use these clues to start to build a hunt plan for specific bucks. This consensus, via my trail cameras, will let me know which properties hold the most bucks. The trail cams also tell me which properties need a healthy doe harvest. Plus, I start to piece together where to hunt the following fall. These are all pieces to the big-picture puzzle.

Post-Season Clues

The best thing I ever started doing to heighten my mature buck success was post-season scouting. During the winter and early spring, clues from the past fall are still very easy to see and dissect. All it takes is a little bit of know-how and hard work. What I like to do on my properties and pieces of land I bowhunt is put boots on the ground across the whole property while paying strict attention to deer sign.

This scouting allows me to see how the deer use, travel through, bed, feed, and rut on my properties. Things like rub lines, scrape lines, bedding areas, heavily used game trails, feeding areas, and water sources can all be seen and observed during this time. All  give us clues to what the deer were doing during the hunting season. A prime example of this would be bedding areas. 

It’s no secret that, as a hunter, I do not want to disturb a bedding area during the hunting season. But I do want to understand where the excellent bedding areas are and how deer come in and out of them. Right after the season is a perfect time to dive into these areas and scout them heavily. Pushing the deer out now will not hurt your chances during next fall. Using mapping apps like onX, I mark everything I see in these bedding areas and make notes to review later. This helps me understand how to hunt a property based on where many deer like to bed.

I will also mark any rubs, trails, and scrapes on these properties. These are clues that paint the picture of how deer use an area. It’s also good practice to mark down oak tree locations and note if any of those trees dropped acorns late. These can be super hot spots to hunt come next October and November. You do not want to forget where they are. 

Throughout the entire property, I will make notes and mark any deer sign that I find.  These notes make it easier for me to understand how deer use a property. This now allows me to better understand where deer like to be and where they do not. Overall, post-season scouting is a great way to “connect the dots” from the last hunting season and start planning for the upcoming season. Things like food plot locations, trail camera locations, and stand locations can all be found during this time of the year while utilizing the fresh fall sign that is left behind.

Shed Seasons Secrets

Another thing I love to do during the post-season is hunt for sheds. Shed hunting is not only fun, but it also allows me to see which bucks made it through the winter and are living around my hunting areas. I love to find deer antlers, and every time I find a shed, I will mark its location and make notes on what is around it. Things like food sources, bedding locations, and other signs get jotted down. Notes allow me to understand the “why” behind why this buck was here when he dropped his antler. By trying to answer the “why,” we can better understand how this buck uses the area and what his needs are.

For example, if I find a shed in a bedding area or thicket, I immediately think about why the buck was there. More often than not, in winter, bucks will bed on south-facing slopes because they receive the most sunlight. Typically, there will be a good food source nearby as well. This is also something I want to make note of. Maybe it’s a late-producing oak stand on a nearby ridge or a bean field that was combined late. These clues tell me more about a buck and why he was here. Sure, I love just finding sheds, but there is always more than what meets the eye! 

If you want to up your odds of success on a mature buck this fall, take the time and put in the work NOW. You will see your success rates go up; I’ll guarantee it! 

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