How to Use These Winter Deer Hunting Strategies
If you’re still scratching your head and feel that deer tag burning a hole in your pocket, it’s not too late for you. In many states, you can still hunt whitetails for at least a few more weeks. But if you’re whitetail deer hunting in the northern half of the country, it can be a very challenging time to hunt. From miserably cold weather to skittish deer, it might seem impossible. Luckily, the late season can actually be a great time to trick an old bruiser of a deer. Here are some winter deer hunting strategies you should try this season.
Late Season Deer Hunting Conditions
First, let’s address the most obvious issue. Hunting in the winter can really test your willpower and resolve. In the Midwest, especially, deer hunting in cold windy weather can almost be dangerous without the right precautions. One of the best winter deer hunting strategies you can use is to find a way to keep yourself from freezing while hunting. That might mean hunting in a hard-sided tower stand, using some kind of extra heated clothing or body suit, or moving to a ground blind where you are out of the wind. Adapt your hunting style, because if you are too cold to stay in the tree stand, you won’t be any closer to filling your tag.
Another factor to consider with cold weather deer hunting is that deer travel patterns will be a little different from the rut. Do deer move in single digit temps? Yeah, they will still move around, but you can be sure that they don’t like to expose themselves to biting winds if they don’t have to. While cold fronts were very productive during the early season or even the rut, the opposite can happen in the late season. Instead, you’ll often find that deer will feed earlier (during the warmer part of the day) and then rest in their beds during the cold mornings.
Winter Deer Hunting Strategies
If you’re targeting big bucks in cold weather and wintry conditions, you have a couple options. The overall weather and where you hunt will help you decide which approach is your best bet.
Still Hunting – the art of still hunting has disappeared in the last few decades, but it can be very effective in the right conditions. Basically, you move very slowly (excruciatingly slowly) into the wind and scan ahead for deer. If you cut a set of good buck tracks after a fresh snowfall and have a lot of room to roam, still hunting deer is a fun way to keep active and explore some new ground. The most important thing is that each step should be calculated and quiet, and you should pause a long time to scan ahead before stepping again. By moving into the wind or at least cross-wind, you ensure you won’t spook a deer by sending your scent ahead of you. Obviously, this approach doesn’t work so well in crunchy snow or on small properties.
Spot and Stalk – This hunting method is usually done in open areas where you can see deer from a long way off and make a plan to stalk within shooting range. As for deer stalking tips, you want good optics for scanning ahead and you should follow the same still hunting tips above for being quiet once you get close. If you have to travel a long way through hilly terrain, you can use the HuntStand app to help guide your way.
Tree Stands/Blinds – you’re probably pretty familiar with this one. While stalking and still hunting help keep you warm in cold weather, sitting motionless perched in a tree will chill you fast. Have the right equipment to stay warm or hunt out of an enclosed blind. Let’s look more at tree stands below.
Winter Tree Stand Locations
If you want to take the traditional tree stand approach, here are some good areas to target in your winter deer hunting strategies. But first, you may want to use trail camera pictures to see which deer are using different areas. That information can pay off quickly by saving you a lot of frozen time in a tree.
Rub Lines – Counter to what you might think, some bucks actually do return to rub lines in the late season. Whether they enter a secondary rut or are just following habitat edges (where rub lines occur most often), fresh rubs in the winter can be a good place to catch a buck moving between food and bedding.
Late Season Food Sources – This seems to be a no-brainer for many hunters, and for good reason. Whether you hunt standing corn and beans in ag country or a large clear-cut from the previous winter in timber country, food sources are hot spots as bucks try to re-gain the weight lost during the stressful rut period. If you adopt any of the winter deer hunting strategies here, start by focusing on food.
When to Hunt in the Late Season
Once you have mapped some potential locations on your HuntStand app, it’s time to get out winter deer hunting. But is a morning or evening hunt during the late season better? Again, it will depend on your specific area, but generally, mornings can be tough times to hunt in the late season. Bucks are probably still wary from the hunting season, so they may get back to their bedding areas well before shooting light. Then you’d have to freeze all day with potentially very little to look at.
Since food is the primary target anyway, evening hunts typically work better. As for evening deer hunting tips, deer may feed early so you’ll want to be in your tree stand or blind by at least 1 or 2 PM. Hunt the food sources very carefully (and ideally in unpressured fields or food plots) and you stand a good chance at encountering a mature buck in daylight hours.
When these winter deer hunting strategies all come together in that moment, you’ll be thankful you persisted through the cold and windy conditions of the late season. Download the app today to try using these different features and see how it helps your late season hunting. Best of luck!