The idea of winter deer hunting doesn’t appeal to many hunters. Hunting deer in the winter can be rough, frigid cold with an icy windy, but opportunities to make a harvest still exist.
Varying factors combine to make late-season deer hunting different from fall harvests. Remember that hunters have pressured deer into high alertness and wariness of humans in the woods for the last few months.
As temperatures drop, food becomes scarce, and deer may relocate to other locales. But you can take advantage of these less-than-ideal conditions to bag a late-season buck.
Influences That Determine Where You’ll Find Deer in Winter
When the snow flies, it’s time for winter deer hunting. Known in many places as the late deer season, hunting deer in the winter comes anywhere after Thanksgiving.
A unique set of influences will determine where you can find deer during the late November to early January part of the hunting season.
The food source is a major factor, and deer will congregate where they can find any remaining feeding areas.
Early morning winter hunts where deer have some food left will see you working timbre edges, high terrain features, and creek bottoms.
Crops have been harvested while leaves and acorns are now buried under more than six inches of snow. This depletes further the chances of finding deer in the woods or on agricultural land.
Deer metabolism will slow down in the dead of winter, but they experience relentless hunger before then. Bucks, in particular, need to recover from their rut activities that saw then neglect food to prioritize breeding.
The Second Rut
There’s also the second rut to capitalize on when hunting deer in winter. About a month after the main rut does that didn’t breed will re-enter estrus.
Although there is no frantic chase activity that you saw a month ago, bucks will often let their guard down on picking up doe’s on-heat trail.
You can use this to your advantage by tracking a hot doe and then shadowing her. Soon she’ll be trailed by an interested alpha buck.
Pick up the trail for a doe on heat by identifying the blood droplets she leaves after urinating in the snow.
The Weather Factor
Harsh weather is synonymous with winter deer hunting. This may feature icy cold fronts coming from the north with loads of snow and wind.
When the weather turns frigid, deer start to get on the move. This movement decreases once there has been a consistency in the condition for about a week.
By gauging the weather forecast in your winter deer hunting area, you can anticipate when they’ll be slipping off from their feeding or bedding areas.
How to Find Where Deer Are Wintering
To find your prey when temperatures turn nasty isn’t an easy endeavor. That’s unless you know the winter deer hunting tips that include going slower and then as slow as possible.
Any hunter worth taking on winter deer hunting knows that you must hunt deer with the wind on your face. It’s windy in winter, and an unfavorable positioning can have bucks snorting your scent from miles off.
Slow Versus Still Winter Deer Hunting
Your best hope for defeating the now hunt-sensitive deer in the winter season is to move very slowly. The two steps stop and look for half a minute strategy minimizes the chances of being spotted by deer.
Not only is it hard for them to see you, but you’ll also be able to spot the least movement on the part of deer by staying motionless.
When you are sure there is little sign of deer, walk faster to cover more ground. Step on your brakes once you notice the flick of a tail, the drop of a head, or a hoof lifted.
Getting to the Deer Watering and Feeding Areas
The scarcity of food during winter takes the guesswork out of where to find deer. Unlike the early season, when abundant food sconces will make it hard to pattern that prime buck, all the deer are now congregated where food or water is available.
At this stage, deer are also concentrating on what little they can forage to survive the harsh weather. Keep an eye out for water holes that haven’t frozen and where deer can find naturally cold resistant forbs or honeysuckle.
Always approach such areas with caution as you risk spooking deer that may be using them to escape the elements.
Keep Pressure to the Minimum for the Deer
When winter deer hunting, remember that they’ve been under immense pressure all through the fall months. Hunters have been trekking in and out of the woods continuously, and the deer are wary of human presence.
Avoid going into the hunting areas unnecessarily unless you are setting bait or erasing scent. If you have trail cameras, check them sparingly and stay away from the feeding or bedding areas.
When you are accessing your stand or a chosen vantage point, keep noise to the minimum to not spook the wintering deer.
Winter Deer Hunting Tips
How to Fill a Late Winter Deer Hunting Tag
For me, winter deer hunting is a respite from spending most of the early season perched on a tree stand. I go hunting red deer in winter, and this allows me to take the hunt to the animals instead of waiting for them to enter my kill range.
Winter deer hunting allows me to fill a late tag with a buck that’s either worn out from the rut or spooked by the unrelenting slaughter of the fall.
Deer will stick close to the available food sources and where they bed down from late morning to early afternoon. Glass these areas during the day and see if you can spot bedded bucks, all the while keeping down-wind.
Patience does it when hunting deer in aggressive winter conditions, as it pays to spot deer before making you.
Getting close is vital if you are to get deer in their bedding locations. If that’s not forthcoming, work back to the trails that lead to their evening feeding grounds.
I have bagged a couple of bucks lingering in these staging zones. The trick is to select a spot and sit in wait as the sun goes down.
Dressing for Winter Deer Hunting
In the Snow Belt, where I hunt deer in winter, the weather can be brutal. There are places in the South too where the mercury dips to single digits, and a few snowy blizzards are known to occur.
When setting out for deer hunting in the winter, make sure that you’re kitted out to stand the cold. Since you don’t want to be calling it quits mid-hunt, dressing properly will ensure that your time in the woods or fields is worthwhile.
Use covered blinds or a still shed to block the wind and keep warm. These are lined with insulation and are sealed to reduce noise.
An indoor heater within your blind or shed will keep you nice and toasty through the roughest patches of wintry weather.
When dressing up, start with moisture-wicking or woolen underneath layers as well as socks. Merino wool works well for insulation, and you can add a waterproof top layer alongside gloves and a facemask.
If you are stalking deer through the snow, keep bulky clothing to the minimum. Heavy outer clothing will increase how much you’ll sweat, and you can don them when you reach your stand or vantage spot.
If you are camping for winter hunting, learn how you can insulate your tent during your stay.
Late season winter deer hunting is not to be taken lightly. However, you can brave the elements and get to where deer have moved for food, water, or security.
Harvesting prime venison shouldn’t be as menacing as it’s put out to be. With some patience and maximum allowable hunting time, you will find deer and make that shot count.