Don’t Sit Still – Late-Season Moves For Bucks

Is it time for a late-season, buck-hunting strategy change?

Daryl Gay | November 29, 2022

There’s a good way and a less effective way to still hunt in the December deer woods. If you’re hunting for a mature Georgia whitetail like the dude above… good luck with that. The savvy hunter below knows how to conceal himself.

December now, over half the whitetail season behind us, and yours is likely in one of three phases: full freezer, still waiting on that ONE—or cluelessly wondering where all the deer have gone.

In the latter case, think maybe it might be time for a change?

I’ve watched the evolution of Georgia deer hunting from no season because there were no deer to three months of opportunity due to, in many areas, far too many. As in counting 83 late one afternoon in a single, 200-yard stretch of peanut field. And that was before dark, when the all-you-can-eat buffet was just getting started.

Over those years, “hunting” deer has undergone dramatic—even drastic—changes. To the point that very likely a pint-sized percentage of readers has ever participated in—or heard of—one of my very favorite methods of taking a tired but well-educated buck. This is not about dime-a-dozen does, although you’ll very likely have plentiful opportunities at them, too. This late in the season, if you’re sitting over a corn pile trip after trip, the buck you’re after knows your boot size and the grade of gas in the truck that got you here. No telling how many times he’s stood behind the same bush and put you on the clock. But if you’re up to the one-on-one challenge of your hunting life, let’s just turn his world upside-down. Let’s go still hunting.

Let’s do what? OK, I’ll break it down for you: Still. And Hunting. Not necessarily in that order.

This method is not for everybody, simply because of some rigid requirements. If you want to keep it easy, get back into the box. If you’d rather jump eyes first into a fascinating showdown with the biggest deer on your place, at least give it a try. I can guarantee you that you’ll learn more about a whitetail deer while still hunting than any other method you choose. You’ll witness things that leave you asking, “Did I really just see that?”

They are remarkable animals, very possibly the most adaptable on the planet: South Georgia fields and swamps, north Georgia mountains, coastal islands, Atlanta suburbs. If you’re going into their world, you must adapt, also.

Getting into those requirements, we’ll start with the toughest: there is no schedule here. Between daylight and dark, time means nothing. That’s not to say you’re stuck in the woods all day with no way out. But if your mind is full of what time you’re clocking in, kids’ practices, wife’s to-do list, rotating the tires—whatever—you’re already defeated. And wipe out the long-nurtured art of tuning out all the noise bombarding us on a daily basis; now is when you want to hear EVERYTHING! Except that stupid cell phone; turn it off!

Human, and even hunter, tendency at times is to attribute our characteristics to the deer. Asinine is a good word here; this ain’t Bambi. A buck runs on instinct alone, and I’m attempting to get you mentally prepared before we even take the first step. He eats, drinks, propagates his species‚ but mostly he survives. That means avoiding you. Stop for a moment and think about HIS schedule. That’s right; there is none. He may walk the same path three days in a row or he may be 5 miles away chasing stuff that could get him in trouble. This time of year, that’s likely behind him for the most part. He’s not coming to you. This is hunting; it is NOT waiting.

As an aside, one thing that may well be behind you is competition. I’ve known guys for decades who give it a good old college try for about a month, but when Thanksgiving rolls around, it’s time to hang the rifle back up and wait for next year. My mentor, who was also the best friend I ever had, once told me, “As you get older, you’ll hunt less and fish more.” That’s about the only thing I recall that he was ever wrong about. When I ease into the trees, the peace is magical. There is no other existence besides this little stretch I’m about to dissect pine cone by leaf. If I can manage to beat a buck here, on the ground and at his own game, there is no higher hunting art. There’s you a pretty fair definition of still hunting.

Still hunting is not to be confused with stalking, by the way. Stalking involves actually spotting an animal from a distance, closing the gap and making the shot. Good luck with a whitetail buck standing still long enough for that to happen. It can be done, but the chances are minuscule.

Nor is it a two- or three-man drive. Those are the only numbers I have because there are only two folks on the planet I trust to hunt with in this manner: my sons Dylan and Myles. I’ve pushed a couple of tons of venison to them over the years simply by positioning them downwind and brusquely making a nuisance of myself to the deer herd. You’ll hear more of them because they have been trained to still hunting, too. And they have discovered that it’s habit forming.

The author’s son Dylan with a buck killed while still hunting.

All three of us are over 6 feet tall and that can present one of the first still-hunting problems: silhouette. Put on all the latest and best camo you care to, but without vegetative cover in front, back or both to blend into, you’re not going to fool a buck’s eyes. I’m amazed—not to mention bummed—at all the white fabric shining on new “camo” coveralls. What does the color white signal in the woods? Are there no drab, dark green/black patterns left? Ideally, what you want to be is that whisper in the trees. We’ll get to that breeze, but first, let’s get hid!

Which brings us to a sticky situation: hunter orange. I won’t give you my purely personal thoughts about it because this is a family magazine—but decking yourself out in hunter orange is the law. And it may well save your life should there be some trigger-happy idiot that you knew nothing about hanging around your property. (If he shoots you “accidentally” I hope he gets 20 years in the electric chair…) Learn to still hunt to the degree that you spot him first.

Something else that orange vest may well do is cost you the biggest buck you’ll never see. Oh, I’ve studied the studies; I’m aware of rods and cones in human and whitetail eyes. But I’ve also seen a few deer, and I’ve proven to myself that no other color replicates hunter orange when it’s transposed into black and white. That buck may well only see shades of gray, but this one stands out like a hundred-dollar bill on your kitchen floor.

Just. Wear. It. And stand still long enough to try and blend in.

“Still” truly is at the core of this type of hunting. Beforehand, section out a parcel of your property that you know to be most promising as a bedding or traffic area. You may still hunt two or three hours, then walk at a normal pace back to the truck in 20 minutes after calling it quits. Within that span, you’ve likely felt completely immersed  and been amazed on two or three occasions at what’s really going on in this place. You can never move too slowly; there is no place for quick here. 

Try this exercise and you’ll see why. Sit on the tailgate or porch and focus on a SINGLE object 40 to 50 yards away. Lock your eyes on it. Then take note of how many times they dart sideways—irresistibly drawn by the minutest movement of any kind, be it a falling leaf, bird, butterfly or automobile.

A couple of years ago, Myles and I were sitting, near his new home, on ground I’d never seen before. Object was to pick off a little freezer material from a group of females he had recently noticed crossing a pasture corner. Forty-five minutes or so with no guests, we were ready to move. He went into surrounding trees in one direction, I the other. Thirty minutes later, I may have covered 50 yards, slipping from one bush to the next tree to a waist-high stump in a crouch. Finally, cresting a small rise provided several sight lanes into a brushy bottom.

This was the place, and you’ll know it when you see it if properly attuned. I leaned against a pine, a neck-high bush in front to block that silhouette. Other than possibly—and very gently—shifting from one foot to the other, nothing but my eyeballs moved for the next 20 minutes. It’s a mental zone to consciously ease oneself into.

Then something forced my eyes to dart left, which turned out to be a shrubbery limb doing aerobics. Snatching at it was a broken-racked, old 8-pointer that fell exactly where he was standing—38 steps from my pine. No clue how long he had been there, where he came from, what he would have scored… but I could not possibly have cared less. Beating him at eyeball level is as good as it gets for me.

OK, so we’re this deep into still hunting and you may have noticed that I haven’t even mentioned the wind. So ask yourself how often do we even get a steady wind in Georgia, either helping or hurting? What you’re likely to find is intermittent swirling, if anything, while deep within the trees. If I’m betting, it would be a north/northwest wind this time of year, so plan your hunt accordingly. Simply keep your scent down. If you want simple, I hang my coveralls in the sun, then put them on grass and cover with green pine limbs before a hunt. 

And now that for this type of hunting, there is another factor even more important than wind: sun. If I have to choose between the two, it’s sun at my back every time. Even when I’m hanging my climber, that sun is the key as to which way I’ll face. Think about what you can see looking even indirectly into the sun, then ask yourself what the greatest spotlight in the universe is going to do for you if it’s shining at your back and lighting up everything there is to see out front. And is that buck trying to pick out what he thought he just heard while looking directly into all that candlepower? Good luck with that.     

If we saved hunter movement for last, that’s only because it is most important. The trick is to allow your surroundings to dictate when and where to move. Got a nice logging road running through your place? Avoid it at all costs! Get off that open ground and skirt along beside it. If you can see, so can he. The bushes and trees—with a maximum of, say, 10 steps, opening up new lines of sight—will provide natural stands if you only look for them. Like that pine on the crest. Or a recently fallen (still green) gum tree Dylan eased up on late last year.

He had slipped along for around 200 yards when that opportunity presented itself, and he simply eased to the ground in the limbs’ midst. Within 10 minutes, a doe strolled past almost close enough to touch—then bolted.

Behind her came crashing one of the biggest-bodied bucks he’d ever seen, after her and gone in a flash.

Right about now is a perfect time to panic, dash your luck, get up and leave. Or, realize you’re deer hunting and stay put.

 As wimmens will, she gave the buck the slip and within five minutes he came sidling back on high alert, searching everywhere for her. Pity he didn’t look closer at that gum, because he dropped 12 STEPS from it, courtesy of  a certain quick-handling M77 .270. 

If you have blood-pressure problems, still hunting might not be for you; taking a big buck at tag-you’re-it distance brings an adrenaline rush that drains every drop of energy and has your heart pounding in your ears. It took a spell for Dylan to even get up; all he could do was lie there and look at that old hombre who had known these woods so very well. Until that little tree fell.

As far as nuts-and-bolts technique, I’ll boil down a still hunt for you as simply as possible. This ain’t rocket science, and you don’t have to be Daniel Boone with mystical powers to pull it off. But if you do, it may throw everything you thought you knew about deer hunting right on its head. At the end of the day, it’s hunting. Quirky things happen that are nobody’s fault. But we try to keep them to a minimum. 

Go in when there’s no one else around; let’s say 11 a.m. Especially between now and 1 p.m., I’ve seen lying bucks stand up, take three or four steps, drain their bladder, crunch a handful of acorns, then ease themselves back to the ground. Years ago, I shot a bruiser lying ON the ground with his neck stretched all the way out, making himself as flat as possible. He almost busted me but couldn’t figure what I was­—as he looked directly into the sun. Despite being nearly surrounded by small cedars, his rack glittered like new money.

But whole deer are not what you’re looking for. (If ever you see a trophy-class buck standing posed in the wide open, please dispatch him mercifully because he has lost his mind.) And they’re not 6 feet tall. I’m always merged into the limbs and leaves, using my pocket-sized Bushnell 8x32s to look into and through every lane, bush and tree at roughly the level of my waist. It’s amazing how many times the first thing I’ve picked out is a buck’s hind leg; there’s something about that crook…

Second on that list is likely the line of the back; few things in nature grow sideways and level. Third would be the rack itself, usually because the sun behind me is glancing off a tine. The white underside of a casually flipping tail is another dead giveaway. If they’re moving at all, whitetails almost sleepwalk; they may take five steps then stand still for 10 minutes—which is exactly what you need to be doing. Things change considerably when they’re  alerted or being chased; if you hear nearby dogs suddenly nut up, freeze and be ready.

When I move my feet, they’re first lifted—ripping ground vines are diabolical noisemakers—then eased back down on the sides of my boots to avoid as much leaf-crunching as possible. When new lanes open up in suitable cover, I stop and the process of searching begins again. I like to see birds and squirrels, but not to the extent that they’re sounding alarm bells two counties over. Squirrels are usually in a hurry anyway; give them a minute frozen in place and they’ll  scurry on about their business. Besides, they may even cause something hidden to stand up or move into your sight. (Mentally mark the squealers’ spots, then come back in February and kill them all.)

As long as I’m in those woods, I’m thinking that with just one more step or sweep of binoculars, he’ll be standing there. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be, so I stay as long as I want, appreciating every opportunity. If the woods seem lifeless or the legs get cranky, there’s always a bush to park behind, rest and keep an eye on things.

Still hunting.

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