Late-season deer hunting in Pennsylvania is well worth weathering
Though the majority of Keystone State deer hunters call it quits after the close of rifle season, a select group of hardheaded optimists can still be found lacing up their boots in quest of more whitetail adventure come late December. It certainly tests the skill and resolve of those who choose to participate, but the late season does have its luster.
It offers hunters a chance to feel a unique closeness to nature unlike any of the other deer seasons. With a naked canopy of treetops sighing and swaying overhead and a fresh, glistening blanket of white underfoot, the crisp, sub-freezing air strips away body heat and simultaneously invigorates the soul.
The solitude coupled with the stimulating exposure to winter’s stark elements somehow makes one feel more alive — more in tune with the quarry he seeks. It also helps one better understand the struggles that ensue in nature while the heated oasis we call home otherwise shrouds us from the cold.
Late-season success doesn’t always come easy, but there are a few things hunters can do to increase their chances when pursuing whitetails in the midst of winter.
First and foremost, food is the number one priority for deer at this time. Locate a hot food source, and the deer are almost certain to be nearby. Standing crops are a goldmine, but rare to still exist, so instead look for fields that may have been recently harvested with waste crop left behind. Remnants of corn, beans, and even root crop fields will draw deer late in the afternoon, especially if a front is anticipated overnight.
Also, don’t overlook native browse thickets. Many of these edible safe-havens provide optimal food and cover, affording deer concealment plus the luxury of not having to expend many calories while looking for their next meal. Grown up plots thick with berry-yielding varieties, immature maples or dogwoods are desirable, as are any that still possess hard mast on the forest floor.
Still-hunting can be a very effective strategy, especially with fresh snow on the ground. Hunters can learn a lot about a property by slowly working into the wind and assessing any visible tracks in the powder. Keeping a watchful eye out ahead can sometimes lead to a shot as the deer will occasionally lay tight just long enough for hunters to close the distance.
“Sunny-side” hemlock and laurel stands are great places to look in more mountainous terrain, as deer will often yard-up in considerable numbers within these types of areas. Working together with a few friends to move the deer in semi-organized fashion will definitely increase the action if the area is too large to cover alone or extended periods of chilly stand hunting is out of the question.
Dressing for the weather is absolutely imperative. Multiple layers, complete with waterproof outer garments are essential to a comfortable hunt. Start with a moisture wicking base layer, followed by a fleece shirt, a wool sweater, and a breathable water-resistant jacket and pants. Wool socks, insulated boots, a fleece cap and a pair of light gloves supplemented with chemical hand-warmers will serve hunters well.
Hunting during the late-season is a unique and memorable experience. It is certainly not for everyone, but for those who still haven’t harvested a deer or those simply looking to extend their season, it provides one last chance to get out there and enjoy a very special time of the year, while attempting to get things done the hard way.
Pennsylvania hunters looking for another crack at a filled deer tag are offered an opportunity to do so with the statewide late-archery and flintlock season. Opening the day after Christmas, this “primitive-style” season challenges the most determined hunters through a host of unfavorable conditions ranging from cold, miserable weather to limited weaponry.