It's panic time in the deer woods. The palms of the hands go damp like they did on prom night. A chill runs down the back causing shivers to ripple up and down the spine. This makes one think a Nor'wester is about to blow in just to spit ice in the face for an insult.

Yet the mouth is dry as dust as though the last thing eaten was a rock-hard dog bone. From that, an ache persists deep in the pit of the stomach as if that pooch biscuit bottomed out in one big lump.

Yep, it's January and the deer hunting season is starting to run desperately short on days.

Just about the time the wine glasses, tinsel hats, whistles and firework residue are all cleaned up from ushering in the new year, the phone starts to ring and the email basket fills up faster than the Easter Bunny can gather eggs. Every deer hunter I know and many I don't know are looking for a last-minute cure to a whole season of dismal miscues. They are literally looking for the magic bullet.

By this time of year, unsuccessful hunters can usually be diagnosed with one of two ailments: Either a good case of high-temperature buck fever has yet to peak or worse yet, they suffer from a good case of missed doe dysentery.

Either way the only effective cure is to virtually go back to basics and take a hard look at everything afresh. Deer behaviors usually follow a pretty set pattern, so the key is to get hunting behaviors in sync with what is going on with the deer.

Better late than never

By January, the only deer hunting options left are the remainder of gun season until the 17th, then a close out archery and a primitive-weapons season to the end of the month in Zone 1 or until Feb. 15 in the southeastern Zone 2. This means no time can be wasted with tactics that have not worked up until now.

In all but the southernmost counties, the rut should be over, except for a few stragglers. So reliance cannot be made on seeing bucks chasing does. Right now is the time for a return to the basic elements of deer hunting. That is food, water and cover, primarily in that order. Those deer priorities rarely ever change, though the sources might.

A return to the basics at the end of the season is not a declaration of defeat. It simply means all the right things done in the proper ways were not met with a kind eye by either Mother Nature or Lady Luck, or both. Welcome to deer hunting.

Even deer hunters have to believe once in a while that it takes a proper alignment of the moon and stars, the right horoscope or some positive vibes from a Chinese fortune cookie to make things turn in favor of the hunter. My dad used to say, "Son, you just ain't hold'n yer mouth right." Maybe that works, too. One thing I do know is that revisiting the basics can work.

Back to square one

First, think about the prime areas that have already been heavily hunted, then consider that human presence or pressure rendered these areas barren. If that might be the case, then forget those spots and move on.

Chances are anyway by this time of year those food resources that might have originally attracted deer could have all been consumed. However, just to be sure, make a careful scouting scan of those areas one more time. If no active sign is found or deer observed, then start the search for new spots.

The primary thing I always key on in favor of everything else is food. Even bucks worn down from breeding must get up sometime during the day to feed.

A lot of talk is always bantered about camp concerning deer "going" nocturnal, but not every deer in the woods always eats at night. Both does and bucks will move during the day to or from feeding areas. Just find the current food source, and the deer will be there at some point. Carefully stake out these areas, but always enter and hunt into the favored wind.

After food comes travel patterns. The traditional tactic is to catch deer leaving feeding areas in the morning going to bedding areas or leaving bedding areas in the late afternoon headed to feed. This is a difficult tactic to abandon, but it can require a lot of time in finding and observing travel routes. Still hot trails exiting feeding areas are a good bet. With only a few short weeks left to hunt at best, concentrate on feeding and travel patterns to yield a good chance for a late-season rally.

Last-minute tricks

Now is the time to pull out all the stops regardless of how ridiculous it might sound at this point in a dying deer season. If a buck is the sought-after prize, then try fighting fire with fire. Post a buck decoy at the end of a good food plot or at the head of a well-used trail where it can be seen from a full 360 degrees. This might lure an old buck out of cover that still has enough energy and basic instinct to protect his territory.

A couple of added decoying tricks can be to apply some buck scent right onto the decoy. Then tape a strip of white cloth about a foot long onto the base of the tail. This "flag" will flail in the breeze offering a realistic movement other deer will notice. Using some buck grunt calls sparingly will enhance this set-up greatly.

January may spell the end of deer hunting, but it's not the time to give up just yet. Not until the last second of the last minute of the last hour of the last day.