"I am slap worn out from deer hunting this season. Nothing has gone right. The food plots were half-you-know-what with no rain early, then the first frost whacked them back. They never recovered. The landowner let firewood cutters come in to saw logs every weekend. I just love the sound of a chainsaw a hundred yards from my best tree stand. Then the annual December heat wave hit to shut down the rut. I'm ready to toss in the towel."

- Utica hunter Kevin Coughran

Kevin Coughran's swan song is one that is often played out about the time the holiday-season deer hunting has ended and almost everyone is back at work. If that big buck is not already at the taxidermist by now, a great many deer hunters are starting to think recliners, football playoffs, warm fireplaces, even spring fishing and turkey hunting.

By now, some have already cleaned their rifles, hung their bows, garaged their ATVs and laundered their hunting clothes.

A critical error many deer hunters make this time of year is to quit before it's over. Then they get really depressed after a friend calls to tell them they have just taken a good buck.

Actually, this is the time of year to crank it up one more notch to see the season through to the very end. Many a trophy buck has been caught in January with its guard down well after the primary rutting phases. Bucks are still on the prowl, though perhaps as worn down as the hunters are.

This makes it the perfect time for the hunter to reach deep down into his very soul to put up one more good effort before the final signal flare goes up.

Beating the downside factors

But what tactics are there to try now? What possible big-buck strategy could work with any degree of certainty this time of year? Granted, you're already thinking your deer-hunting trick bag is completely empty because you have tried everything but have come up empty. You have exhausted all your options.

You hunted in deep woods, over green plots and acorn flats, used your Primos Can, rattled, hung some Code Blue scent drips and even made a couple mock scrapes. The prevailing winds and weather were usually in your favor. You even tried a doe decoy during the week that was supposed to be the prime rut.

So far, absolutely nothing has worked, so total frustration has set in. The best advice now is to calm down, cool off and rethink the whole thing.

Well, this may sound like a back-door approach, but one of the best strategies in January is to go back to re-examine everything that seemingly went wrong in the season so far, and then basically regroup to do the whole thing over again virtually from scratch. Just remember that bad luck can't last forever.

What this really means is to outplay those little annoyances that messed up your buck hunting success so far. Turn the tables and make them work in your favor. Mostly this requires patience and determination.

What likely derailed your success this season was one or two factors per hunt. Some of these conditions can be controlled by the hunter, but sometimes they can't.

In either case, during January it's time to figure out what factors have impacted a poor season up to this point, then plot a strategy to avoid them, beat them or just work around them. This absolutely can be done with some strategy realignment and crafty planning, as well as a definite shift in deer-hunter motivation and attitude. Yes, those latter factors can surely impact hunting success, too.

So, let's examine several of the common causes that most often interrupt deer hunting success. Then, the hunter can build a new plan to map out a late-season buck strategy that hopefully will yield better results.

Residual hunting pressure

By January, it must seem like every decent big-buck hideout has been invaded by hoards of deer hunters trekking in and out of the woods, driving the roads and cruising every woodland trail on an ATV. This is particularly the case on almost all public lands late in the season, but it is also often encountered on leased lands with lots of members. It can even happen on private family lands if too many uncles, cousins and brothers-in-law are constantly hunting.

Hunting pressure is often blamed for deer going nocturnal or just bumping completely out of the area. In reality, this is probably not the case at all, but it could be in extreme cases. Even if this were the case, the deer will return to their usual daytime activity behaviors or come back into the area if there is a really good reason to do so, like several reliable food sources, exceptional cover or, for bucks, a steady supply of does to befriend.

If deer observations of both does and bucks have dramatically dropped in the past few weeks, then certainty something is afoot. However, if you think the deer are only roaming at night in a full moon or totally moved off somewhere else, you're probably mistaken.

Luckily, by now deer hunting pressure should be subsiding. A little prudent fresh scouting might reveal renewed deer activity in some old familiar areas. Be on the lookout for signs of newly established trickle-rut rubs and scrapes, or new marks on old pre-rut phase signposts.

Sometimes in some seasons, there are not clearly defined peak ruts, so the rutting phase may carry on longer into post-rut or a lesser second or third rut. Rutting in Mississippi can definitely push back later into January for a variety of biological and environmental reasons. Now is the time to capitalize on this.

If the old hunting areas do not reveal any fresh buck sign, move on. Figure out where are the isolated places that few if any hunters ever visited. Begin looking in the most distant areas from common hunter-access points or travel routes. Venture into the thick and nasty habitat around swamps, thorny thickets, cane warrens and other places the average hunter would never go. These may just be the current hiding places of the worn down bucks driven into sanctuary by the constant pressure of a long season.

Habitat disturbances

Few things can ruin a good deer hunting season as well as unforeseen manipulations of the habitat. These can be quite short term in nature but have long-lasting impacts. They can be little things like the landowner driving his tractor across the property just before Christmas to chop down a cedar tree for his home holiday decorations only a hundred yards from a favorite blind. They can also be big things like a renter riding motocross around the place during the rut.

Both of these disturbing events plus lots more have happened to me on my hunting lease.

"One year, our landowner granted permission to a guy to set up honeybee boxes during the middle of the prime hunting season," said Chris Clifton of Madison. "Naturally, he picked a spot right in sight of a favorite box stand overlooking a lush ryegrass food plot.

"Another year it was even more devastating when I drove out to hunt one day only to find a timber-cutting crew clear-cutting the whole place."

It does happen. So, what do you do if these things happen on your hunting area?

Always keep one thing in perspective: White-tailed deer, especially the mature old bucks, are tremendously resilient. This is their home turf, and they are not easily driven off. I have seen deer feeding in a cutover an hour after the logging equipment shut down and the loggers went home. Eventually, the deer will be back. Be ready for them.

Of course, the first instinct is to get as far away from such unfortunate habitat disturbances as possible. This is usually the best overall course of action because a hunter can never be completely sure of the total impact on the resident deer of such occurrences.

However, while in the process of seeking out some new less-rattled areas, keep monitoring those other areas, too. They may still be worth hunting again before the season is out.

Meanwhile, get about the business of staking out some new hunting territory. First choices are known areas of viable buck hunting reputations away from the disturbed areas. Get away from any of the areas where the consistent presence of human activity is the source of the problem. Leave these areas alone until the people are gone for good. This may mean scratching these areas off your active hunting list altogether, and maybe for the rest of the year.

This late in the season, the best bet is to focus on areas where does and yearlings gather up for social reasons. It may also include a feeding area like a food plot or an acorn flat with leftover food not completely cleaned up. If there is any hold-over rutting activity still going on, the bucks will have to go where the does are. Put your time and effort into finding and hunting these locations now.

It's January. The season is in the 11th hour. It's time to man up and test your mettle. Throw off past defeats. Turn all the previous negatives into positives for one last strong showing down the stretch.

When that big buck does fall, your self-satisfaction quotient will max out.