My ground blind setup was perfect- and not by mistake. I had taken several things into account, and after weighing them all against each other, found what I believe to be an ideal setup. The proof of my calculations were in my results, and now the fat nine point proudly hangs on my wall.
Step one in the late season blind checklist is finding the preferred food source. Depending on the location, this could vary. It goes without saying that the late season is the time of year when deer try to fatten back up from a vigorous rut in preparation for another long winter. Harvested or standing crop fields will be a big draw for hungry deer. I like to sit near picked beans and corn. I'll also target standing crop fields- but the chances of them still standing come Mid-December are rare- so I don’t count on it. Deer crave the extra calories that the high carb corn provides and will also gobble up any last chance protein from a bean field. In my area there are a lot of alfalfa fields and it never fails- each snowy late season deer will be digging around in the hay for a bite or two of some greens as well. Also- if there was a nice acorn crop in the fall, there are probably still a few leftover that the squirrels haven't stowed away. Deer may still be frequenting the oak flats hoping to score on a last minute acorn or two. Find the food and the deer wont be too far off.
Deer are lazier than people realize and step two is to find where the deer are bedding. “Lazy” probably isn't the right word, “efficient” would be a better description. Survival depends on calories, and their goal this time of year is to pack on as many as possible. While saving calories, the deer are also trying to burn as few as possible. Look at calorie count as a bank account, where the goal is to save as many as possible to spend in the future.
Considering how unmotivated the deer are to walk great distances this time of year, try to find a bedding area close to the food. I automatically look for thermal cover- such as pines with branches growing close to the ground of cedars. Other areas of potential bedding cover could be fence rows, brushy draws, thick stands of prairie grass, dense woods, etc... Finding the bedding cover isn't hard- just go to the food source and backtrack until deer beds are discovered. This physical scouting in and of itself may be a bit risky- depending on the time of day and what hunting seasons are still happening. The last thing anyone wants to do is scare a bedded buck to a neighbor waiting with a gun. I generally do all my scouting immediately AFTER the season ends- so I do not have to worry about bumping deer, if a hunter doesn’t want to wait until the post season, they can simply scout around the food source to see where tracks are coming from, or sit near it one night with binoculars to glass and observe.
Once a hot food source is found and bedding areas are located, the third step to setting the perfect ground blind is to consider the wind. Late season deer may be exhausted and starving, but they're not stupid. If the wind is off, it's game over. Knowing a wise old buck likes to travel by quartering into the wind, keep his preferences in mind. Also, consider the prevailing winds for the hunting location and time of year. In Michigan we usually get cold NW winds from December on through the winter. Winds will of course change and shift, so be sure that the blind is safely downwind or crosswind of the targeted food and bedding areas.
The last factor to consider is how to get into and out of the blind. Deer don’t care, nor can they differentiate between a hunter in the afternoon or after dark. The have no knowledge of legal shooting hours. To a deer- human presence is always a bad thing. So... it's really important to be sure to sneak in and out undetected. Many people trim several trails to and from stands for every occasion. Make sure that wind will never blow into a potential bedding area. Also, if a hunter's access to a stand HAS to cross a potential deer trail, be sure to saturate boots with a high quality scent eliminating spray. This may not always be easy, in fact it's usually not. But... having a beautiful set of antlers to adore, and plenty of meat to eat through the long winter is well worth it!
Once the perfect location has been chosen, be sure to camouflage it. In the past I'd cut as much brush or cornstalks as I could and smother the blind to help conceal it's location. Now I prefer to simply use a Redneck Bale Blind. Round bales are a natural sight throughout deer country- and this bale blind is perfect for any hunting situation. In the fall I use it for deer, the winter it's for coyotes, and in the spring I'll hunt out of the bale blind for turkeys. No matter the season or game, the bale blind is a perfect fit because it's natural and doesn't need to be camouflaged.
The Wild Card?
I like to plan ahead and plant foodplots for some of my late season hot-spots. Obviously it's too late for this season to plant food plots now, but keep it in mind for the future. I usually plant brassicas such as purple top turnips and forage radishes for a few reasons. First, they are easy to grow. Second, they get huge, with big leafy greens. And third, after a few good frosts, the starches in the leaves and tuber underground will turn into sugars- which deer crave. Usually in my plots, the greens get nibbled off in November, and the deer come back to dig the turnips or radishes in December.
Another thing to consider is baiting. Every state has different laws on baiting ranging from none at all, to no rules about it. Be sure to check local regulations. One thing to consider when baiting is less is more. When using bait, it is important to not dump out a whole bunch. If a lot of bait is put out, there will probably be plenty to go around, and create no rush to get there If bait us used sparingly, the deer will compete for it, causing them to show up earlier and earlier in the day.
My Perfect Setup?
Things could not have worked out better for me on the hunt I described previously. I had situated my blind on the top of a very steep hill, overlooking a picked bean field. The does were bedding across the field, well upwind of me. The buck I shot came through, quartering into the wind, on the downside of the doe bedding area. He was hoping to catch a late estrus doe to spend time with near the food source. IF he were to wind me, he would have had to spend a whole lot of energy dropping down into the valley behind me. This buck tried to save a bit of energy, and cut a few corners, and it was his last mistake.
As always- be safe, have fun, and send us pictures of the buck you kill out of your late season Redneck Blind!