Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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More thoughts on late season deer hunting

I probably spend as many days freezing my butt off in a
treestand in December and the first part of January as any hunter.
Part of the reason for this, as Nancy Clancy is quick to remind me,
is that I have all of these tags left come December because I’m not
smart enough (or good enough) to fill them when the weather is
balmy in September, October, and November.

The girl has a point. But be that as it may, while I would never
claim to possess expert status in any faction of whitetail hunting,
I have considerable experience hunting late in the season via bow
and arrow and muzzleloader.

For many years I tried to plan my late season out-of-state hunts
around the worst winter weather possible. I would stay glued to the
weather channel and when a real doozy of a winter storm was
predicted I would throw my stuff in the pickup and head for
Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, or maybe just out the back door to
bowhunt here in Minnesota. Yes, I took some good bucks by adhering
to my “bad weather equals big bucks” theory, but today, I’m also
convinced that I probably missed out on the best hunting of the
late season by waiting for the worst of what winter could dish
out.

There are two primary reasons for this. One, once the primary
rut ends, the bucks, especially the biggest bucks, turn their
attention to food. They have to if they are going to survive the
winter. This singleness of purpose occurs regardless of the weather
when the rut ends. Extreme cold and deep snow are not needed to
force bucks to spend more time at the chow line than they normally
would.

When their breeding duties end, bucks focus on laying on the
fat, regardless of the weather. However, when we get cold and snow
early in the late season, (like the first major winter storm of the
season that swept across central, western and northern Minnesota
and parts of Wisconsin in late November), they throw deer into a
panic. In a recent magazine article, I compared the first winter
storm of the season to having your favorite supermarket burn down
during the night. Deer must wonder where they’ll find their next
meal when their world is suddenly buried under a foot of wet, heavy
snow. The best late-season hunting does not occur after winter
weather has blasted us for weeks, but rather in the wake of that
first winter wake-up call.

The other reason why I now believe this to be true, is that
although it would seem logical that deer would require more food as
winter progressed, the opposite is true. As a means of surviving
difficult winters, a whitetail’s metabolic activity and thyroid
functions actually decrease as the days grow shorter. This allows
the whitetail to survive nicely with up to 30 percent less food
than it normally consumes. When you combine this drop in food
requirements with the fact that as a whitetail adjusts its body to
the snow and cold it conserves energy by reducing movement by up to
50 percent. That simply means they spend more time bedded and less
time on their feet, so as the late season progresses, your odds of
scoring do not improve, they get worse.

Here is another recent change in my late-season thinking. For
many years I thought that the very best chance to take a buck was
when the weather was at its worst. Give me a raging blizzard, minus
20-degree temperatures and throw in a howling northwest wind and I
was one happy (if frozen) late-season hunter. If the weather warmed
up, say into the 20s or heaven-forbid, even the 30s, I slipped into
a deep funk. I was sure that the warm weather meant that the deer
would lay in their beds until after dark in the evening and that my
odds of seeing them during shooting hours were nearly
non-existent.

But I know now that the opposite is true. When the weather is at
its worst, the deer bed down and don’t move much. When it warms up,
the deer once again become active, which means that they head for
the food source earlier in the day.

By the way, these warm spells on the heels of a winter storm are
also the best time to hunt mornings during the late season. When
the weather is brutal, morning hunting is a waste of time, because
deer remain bedded during the traditional early morning hours
because often these hours are the coldest period of the day. But
during a warm-up, deer often linger and browse for several hours in
the morning before bedding down. This makes morning hunts in or
near the bedding area very productive when the weather warms
up.

If you are like me and still have a tag in your pocket, I hope
this little discussion of late-season tactics will help make your
last ditch hunts more productive.

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