12 Tactics for Winter Whitetails
Sean McCosh (DuckBuckGoose) - PHJ ProStaff- Cincinnati, OH
If you don't fill your tag before the mercury plunges and the snow falls, don't lose heart. With some proper planning and strategy the buck of the lifetime can still be yours this year. Here are 12 Tactics that can help you be more successful at hunting winter whitetails.
1. Practice Shooting In Your Bulky Winter Clothes: For archery hunters this can make the difference between success and failure. Shooting in bulky clothes can affect your shooting in several ways. Bulky sleeves can catch your bowstring, send your arrow off course and dramatically increase the noise caused by your shot. Even if you don't normally use one, you may need to use an arm guard or compression sleeve to compress bulky clothing on your bow-gripping arm.
Some archers also will also need to decrease their draw length, to account for extra bulk near their chest and shoulders. Gun hunters should also practice in full winter bulk. Your gun will mount differently than it did during those warmer fall days at the range.
2. Prepare to be silent: Ice, snow and crusty frozen leaves are often the norm in the late season. To be successfully at being silent, you may need to clear a path to your stand, or at least bust though the crusty stuff on top to make it to your stand in without raising too much of a ruckus. Check the weather and break the trail to your stand a few days before your hunt. Then let the area rest for a few days and sneak quietly the day of your hunt.
3. Hunt The Afternoon: After the rutting season, surviving bucks are worn out and much more eager to rest. Consequently, they tend to return to their bedding areas earlier, and often much too early for you to intercept them during legal shooting hours. Afternoons will be your best bet this time of year.
4. Scout Early and Often: Late season deer can be patterned again if they have a sustainable food source nearby. Scout from afar several days in a row to try to determine exactly where the deer are feeding and bedding, and which trails they are using in between. If you can find a pattern, your odds go way up of being in the right place at the right time when the time comes to hunt.
5. Do Not Get Fully Dressed Until You Arrive At Your Stand: Being wet and cold is a dangerous combination. To prevent getting sweaty on your way to the stand, make sure you wear moisture wicking materials and layer your clothing. Don't put on your outer layers until you get to your stand and you'll be warmer and more comfortable once you get on stand.
6. Get The Creak Out: Bows that draw quietly in normal temperatures may not do so in colder weather. I have had my bow make a creaking noise before when drawing back on a big deer, only to spook him out of bow range before I could shoot. I told a friend about this and he said that he always draws his bow once or twice when he gets on stand to get the creak outĚ. Often times, once you draw the bow once in the colder temperature it will not creak again when the deer come in. Try it.
Stands, arrow rests and other parts can also creak in the cold. Take preventative measures like adding adhesive felt to possible noisemakers in your bow set up and experiment with your stand in cold weather to identify and eliminate squeaks and creaks.
7. Hunting Rubs Can Be Hot In Cold Weather: Hunting rub lines can be as effective in the late season as they were in the October. As buck return to their home ranges they'll often freshen old rubs or even create new ones and they move between their feeding and bedding areas.
8. Forecast The Most Active Days: If you have limited time to hunt, monitor the weather forecast closely to determine which days will be the most productive ones to be in the field. Winter whitetails are most active before and after major storms. Make sure you are on stand just before and after those weather systems and you will increase your odds of success.
9. Hunt The Food Source: After grazing plants and mast have been depleted and crops are no longer easy pickens for the deer, they will tend to congregate near the remaining food sources (including big bucks). Find the remaining food sources in the late season and you will find the deer.
10. Lighten Up: Darker camo patterns that may have worked well before the leaves dropped and snow started falling will not likely work as well late season. Deer are more wary and dark patterns will stick out as a dark spot much more than they did before. Your best bet at this time of year will be lighter, more open patterns, snow camo or the lighter "Outfitter" or "Vertigo" camo patterns.
11. Protect Your Fingers & Toes: Nothing will drive you out of the stand faster than frozen fingers and toes. Chemical hand and foot warmers are one of the best pieces of equipment you can have on hand for late season hunting. You can often find these sold in bulk at the big box or club stores and get them for a steal. Put them in your boots and pockets, or in a hand muff before your hike to your spot. It will make for a more comfortable hunt and allow you to stay on stand longer during the really cold days. Plus, they will help keep your fingers nimble so you can work your release and draw your bow, or find your safety and gently pull the trigger when that buck walks into range.
12. Pack-a-Snack: Even though you're not moving around much, your body still burns a lot of calories in cold weather as it works to help keep you warm. To keep your energy level up and stay alert, pack some trail mix or other nutritious snacks. You will be glad you did.
Success in hunting is so often the result of a lot of little things you do to prepare. Do you have more tips, tactics or ideas to add? If so, please leave a comment in the comments section.
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