Bob Mayo Jr. and I were resting on our horses following a December morning deer drive in the Bienville National Forest back in the early 1960s. Mayo's pack of black-and-tans had just moved some deer south. We were trying to decide which way to ride to cut them off.

Not a shot was heard from the standers, which meant one of two things: They were after a doe, in which case they would make a huge circle and come back, or no one saw a buck.

As we sat and drank coffee and ate a biscuit, one old female hound, which was recovering from puppies, caught up to us. She snuffled about for a bit, and less than 20 yards away bayed with full cry. A 6-point bolted from an overgrown pine top, and disappeared with the bitch in hot pursuit.

We were too shocked to get our guns from the scabbards and get a shot off.

Leap ahead to 2007. While filming a February rabbit hunt for Mississippi Outdoors television in Jefferson County, show host Melvin Tingle and I stopped to rest on a fallen tree. We talked and made no effort to conceal our presence as the beagles had run out of hearing over another ridge. I even walked into some nearby brush to photograph a cocoon hanging from a low limb.

Perhaps half an hour had past when a hunter with one lone beagle on a leash took a shortcut to our sitting place. From the top of the tree we were sitting on, a mature doe bolted, and with tail raised bounded away. The beagle, being a true rabbit hunter, gave a passing howl.

Since that time, I have heard lots of accounts of similar instances from other hunters. When deer feel safe, they just don't move, hoping instead you won't notice them and keep walking. Chances are you have walked past the buck of your dreams and never had a clue it was there watching, listening, motionless, blending so perfectly with the surroundings.

In the mid-1990s, I was invited to hunt with a club where dogs were run in the morning and still hunting was done in the afternoon. As the second stander dropped off that morning, I would be the next to last to be picked up. Near noon, I could hear the other hunters ambling in my direction about 100 yards away. So many men walking in dry leaves and talking loudly make quite a racket.

Ahead of them, I saw something slip into a small draw. My first thought was it had to be a dog. But when an 8-point emerged, I readied my rifle, made sure the first stander was not in the line of sight and pulled the trigger. That big buck is hanging on my wall. The impromptu man drive had worked, and the other hunters never knew the buck was ahead of them.

Of the more than 100 deer I've killed in over 40 years of hunting, I can say with assurance 17 were driven past me by other hunters either going to the woods or back to camp.

More and more, I hear hunters grumble that deer in late season have become nocturnal and are impossible to hunt. The truth is they may become more nocturnal, but they still live in the woods and still have to eat to stay alive. Generations of deer have been dealing with predators, including man, for as long as there has been deer. They have an advantage in that they know their habitat and have a better sense of smell and superior eyesight and hearing.

But man can be a cunning predator. We have logic and tools to make up for poorer senses.

 

The mid-day doldrums

According to biologists, deer like to eat or need to eat every six hours, based on observations in research facilities. This applies to mature bucks as well as does and yearlings.

If that is the case, then all deer feed at least once during daylight hours. All of us have hunted a stand from pre-dawn until mid-morning and seen nothing, returning at mid-afternoon to watch the sun set with similar results.

Could it be we are missing the deer while we're having lunch and a siesta?

Deer must eat to stay warm. As December slides into January, the food sources get slim, the weather gets colder and deer have been stressed by rutting activity. They have to eat to survive.

Post-rut bucks have expended a great deal of energy and fat reserves at a time when food is beginning to become short. These bucks need to eat to satisfy the caloric requirements of life. They are eating at some point during the daylight hours, and mid-day may be that time.

Will they be in the biggest food plot at high noon? This is possible, but not likely. One theory is they will browse the thickets and plants along scrape lines, pausing perhaps to smell a scrape, just in case a doe may have left a note. Their visit is not a full-blown rutting interest, but rather more curiosity.

So try getting out of the field, hanging a climber downwind of a scrape line and spending the day watching the woods, You may get a shot at a buck of a lifetime. Multiple bucks will use the same scrape, so if one buck has been killed on a line, don't dismay - another will be along at some point. Veteran hunters know of locations where generations of bucks have been scraping, and barring unnatural change, will continue to do so.

 

The second rut

It is generally accepted that several factors trigger the initial rut - photoperiod, hormones, doe chemistry and temperature. A doe that is not bred during the initial rut will be in estrous again every 28 days until she is bred. This could account for those fawns we see at odd times of the year, and can indicate an out-of-kilter buck-doe ratio.

Making a mock scrape along a trail is a perfect option in late-season deer hunting. Quite a few companies offer drips, kits and paraphernalia to this end. Remember to make a line, not just a single spot. Also, more is not better in this case; it's easy to overdo a mock scrape. Old bucks didn't get that way by being stupid.

 

Does like to talk

A doe wants to be bred as badly as a buck wants to service her. For that reason, nature has provided does with a host of vocalizations to let bucks know when the time is right. This breeding bellow can be a Siren's Song to every buck around, but that is a blessing and a curse.

A subordinate buck may respond and try to find the doe from a distance by circling downwind of the calling. If he smells you rather than a receptive doe, the party may be over. Chances are he has had an encounter with a dominant buck at least once recently, and doesn't care to carry another butt-whipping.

By using an estrus scent in combination with the breeding bellow, hunters have a better chance of a buck responding to the call. Move around if one trail does not deliver. Try one place in the morning and another during the afternoon. Does move around, and hunters imitating does should as well.

 

Converging trails

Deer, as unpredictable as they may seem, are creatures of habit. Veteran hunters know this. Locating active trails, especially where natural or manmade obstacles funnel movement, can be a blessing for hunters. These natural funnels, often in thickets, require a hunter to get as high as possible in order to see down into the travel route.

If deer haven't been ambushed here before they will tend to be a little less cautious when using the trail. Creek crossings, where high banks create a challenge, are another good spot for late-season hunters to stand. The good thing about creek crossings is the chance for food sources to be found nearby. Depending on the weather, some acorns may still be on the ground, and even as early as January, some plants are starting to produce leaf buds that deer find palatable.

 

A change of routine

Don't allow yourself to get into a predictable routine when it comes to travel routes and stands. Several seasons ago, I was dropped off so my wife could use my truck. My brother-in-law was coming down a little later, and I'd ride home with him. Dropped off away from the normal parking place, I walked to the stand by the back way, so to speak.

When my brother-in-law arrived and parked his truck, five deer rose from their bed in a cutover and ambled into the woods. I was convinced the deer had patterned us and knew the truck indicated people would be walking in shortly.

The bedding activity on the south side of the cutover was the reason we were hunting that area. We tried the same setup again, this time with me parking the truck, and the results were the same, only my hunting partner nailed a fine 8-point as it departed the cutover on cue.

 

The man drive

Don't rule out the use of an impromptu drive to push some bedded bucks out of their core areas. Man drives are allowed in most cases, but may be prohibited on some public lands.

Wear orange and know where hunters and drivers are located. Identify the target clearly before raising the firearm, and never use a rifle scope for target identification. It is best if drivers can remain within sight of each other. Don't travel too fast. Remember the purpose of the drive is to unsettle the deer into leaving their hiding places.

Concentrate drives to those areas where little if any human traffic has been for the season. South-facing slopes with sun exposure are top choices for deer. High ground is preferred over bottom lands as cold air settles into the bottoms at night. In the delta, ditch banks are commonly overgrown and seldom traveled, making ideal drive locations.

Ask any old quail hunters where they used to jump deer when they were bird hunting, and they'll agree with the grassy plains on the south side of slopes. These same quail hunters will attest to the tendency of deer to lay-low and allow hunters to pass.