How to Find and Hunt Cold Weather Whitetails
Tell me if you’ve been there. You didn’t luck out with a deer this year during early archery season? It happens. But you also didn’t see anything during firearm season? Well then, it’s the fourth quarter of the game, my friend. Heck, it’s the last couple minutes. Whether your big W is a trophy set of antlers, a freezer full of venison, or a combination of the two, this is the time to pull out all the stops and really kick it into gear. Late season is your last chance to get rid of that tag sandwich that will burn a hole in your pocket all winter.
Fortunately, it is extremely possible to pattern and hunt these whitetails due to a basic and burning necessity they have. Unfortunately, late season conditions can be extremely punishing to endure, especially for a bow hunter. When you’re exposed to the elements, it’s a constant battle of mental and physical endurance. But sitting absolutely still perched in a tree stand for hours in those conditions, and then having to pull back a 70 pound bow is a Herculean effort.
Let’s look at some tips and tactics you can use during late season bow hunting to help you get your big win, whatever it might be.
Late Season Whitetail Behavior
The first thing you need to know about late season whitetails is that they are paranoid. They’ve been chased, harassed, interrupted, shot at, and otherwise disturbed for the last couple months. They are downright skittish. Even the slightest sound can send them sky high and bolting away at Mach 3.
However, they also have an urgent and pressing need to fulfill. They still need to feed; now more than ever, perhaps. Plummeting temperatures and lack of natural foods, paired with the condition they are in at this time of the year means they will still stick their necks out a little in order to find the food. This brings us to our first tactic.
Locate Food Sources
The rut is hard on bucks, and they will frequently lose up to 20 to 30% of their body weight during it from chasing does and defending against rival males virtually all throughout the day and night. That’s not a good situation heading into winter’s lean conditions. So you’ll find them stuffing their faces with the highest calorie food source they can find. Often, that means corn in agricultural areas, or acorns and apples in forested areas. Find these sources on your property as your first priority.
Great, you’ve located the hot food sources. Now stay away from them! You read that correctly. So many hunters set up a stand right on farm fields. It makes sense, theoretically. However, knowing the behavior of late season whitetails, they may not be very keen on stepping out into wide open spaces during daylight hours if it means they could just be shot at. It’s likely that wary deer will take their sweet time getting up from their beds or simply will stage up before the main field until the light fades. Remember, these are the deer that survived the human onslaught of fall hunting seasons. They’re smart.
Another reason to not sit right on the field is exit routes. If you wait until dark when the corn field fills up with hungry deer and try to get down, you’ll educate every deer on the property and reveal your location, further hindering you from seeing a buck from that stand. So what should you do?
Find Heavy Cover
If you know where the deer are heading to feed at night (destination food sources), use the snow to backtrack them to their bedding areas. Ideally, you should know where these locations are already, but this tactic can work in a pinch if you’re very careful. Follow their trail back until you find extremely thick cover, whether that be cedar trees, a cut-over regrowth area, or native warm season grasses. Hopefully you can spot a couple beds without spooking any deer out of there. Now back out and stay away from these areas as well.
You don’t want to invade bedding areas too aggressively because you could spook any deer that felt safe on your property to a neighboring farm. They might not share your standards next door and you could lose a great up-and-coming buck. You want some sanctuaries on your property that you never invade, so big bucks can feel absolutely safe on your land.
Now you can’t hunt food and you can’t hunt bedding areas. Where are you supposed to hunt? The simple answer is: between them!
Find somewhere along the trail between the bedding and feeding area to set your stand up. Make sure it’s located well off the main trail, which will allow you a little more movement and sound than if you were closer. That being said, you still need to be close enough to make an ethical shot. This is where realistic hunting practice makes a difference. Being able to shoot a bow with all your late season clothing on can be a major accomplishment.
The quality of your archery equipment is critical. Prime has hunting bows in several styles to suit your preference. The Prime Alloy bow shoots at 335 fps, has adjustable draw lengths and weights, and only weighs in at 4.2 pounds, allowing you to easily hold for the perfect shot.
Other Late Season Tips
Besides all that, there are a few other things you need to pay attention to on late season hunts. As we discussed, any surviving deer are nervous about everything. If your stand groans in the cold or your arrow rattles against your bow rest, you can kiss that deer goodbye in a split second. Take time to weather-proof your hunting and archery equipment before the season starts. Cover the metal portions of your tree stand in athletic tape or foam to avoid any loud cracks if you accidentally hit something against them. Consider installing a gripping mat over the tree stand floor base, so you can shift around without making any loud noises.
Hopefully you have lucked out earlier in the season. But if not, you should now be prepared for some late season bow hunting success by following these tips.