Brandon Butler: Enjoying the quiet of late deer season

The rush of opening weekend is a special time for deer hunting. If you didn’t fill your tags during these few magical November days, don’t despair. There is still plenty of opportunity left for punching a tag on a bruiser buck and filling your freezer with venison this season.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. For me, it represents what holidays are supposed to be about — gathering together and being grateful for the opportunity to do so. Hunting and Thanksgiving go together like turkey and sweet potatoes. This special holiday revolves around food. Serving wild game dishes along with the traditional fare is just the ticket. Thanksgiving also marks the transition to late season deer hunting, at least for me.

Once Thanksgiving is behind us, and the excitement of the rut begins to fade, deer hunters need to change their game. There is still plenty of opportunity, but we must switch our tool of choice and adjust our plan. Not all states are the same, but in general, firearms hunters still have antlerless opportunities and special muzzleloader seasons. Late youth seasons also exist in some states to help youngsters fill their tag.

Late archery season is one of my favorite times to hunt, as it gives bowhunters a significant amount of time to have the woods to themselves. There is a special sort of stillness in the late season that I’ve come to love.

As we transition into cold weather conditions and the use of shorter-range weapons, deer hunters need to focus on food sources. Once you figure out where the deer are feeding, then chances are you will find a number of them, because during late season deer tend to gather in herds. Using mobile ground blinds can be advantageous this time of year because you might have to make a few moves to really dial in your chances.

If you hunt on the edge of an agricultural field, you are likely to catch does, yearlings and young bucks trickling into the field during daylight hours. Mature bucks often hang back in the timber or cover until darkness. Anticipating the travel routes used by mature bucks is a key to success. These are usually not the same beaten-down trails does travel in groups. To intercept a buck working its way to food, set up on a trail back off the food source at least 100 yards.

Late archery season runs into January. That leaves plenty of time to locate and kill a deer or two with your bow. There are a lot less deer out there today than there were in October, so make your opportunities count. Shooting a deer this time of year is especially nice if you like to butcher your own meat, because you can usually let it hang for a few days in the colder weather.

I grew up hunting with muzzleloaders. In Indiana at the time, you couldn’t use rifles. With the choice being muzzleloaders or shotguns, our crew went with muzzleloaders. I love shooting the old-fashioned side hammer style of muzzleloaders. Just this year, I had my first .50 caliber muzzleloader refurbished. I am itching to get out with it for a hunt later this fall.

I’m one of those hunters still holding a buck tag after opening weekend of firearms season. I’m not worried about it, though. I look forward to the coming cold weather portion of deer season. In fact, the older and crankier I become, the more I threaten to take a fishing trip the opening weekend of firearms season so I can miss the onslaught of shots.

Knowing I’ll return to the woods when they’re quiet again.

See you down the trail …

Brandon Butler writes a weekly outdoors column for the Daily Journal. For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast on or anywhere podcasts are streamed. Send comments to [email protected].