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Deer Hunting Tips For Late Season Hunting In The Upper Midwest
Many deer hunters hang it up for the year by late November. But as winter approaches, serious deer hunters know that snow, cold winds and dwindling food supplies often make whitetails more predictable by concentrating them in smaller areas for food and cover. That’s why early to mid-December can often produce the season’s best deer hunting.
Here’s some tips to put you in contact with more deer during your late-season hunts.
Hope for a Quick, Bitter Chill
A bitter cold snap that plunges temperatures into the low teens to below zero anytime from late November to mid-December can shock deer into binge-eating. The colder the air, the bigger the shock and the greater their motivation to hit food sources, causing them leave cover more readily during daylight. In contrast, if heat, rain or a gradual cooling trend eases deer into winter, you might never see an exaggerated feeding run.
Defeat Deafening Sounds
Sounds can travel much farther – and clearer -- on cold days, so use only your most silent hunting clothes and hunting equipment for late-season hunts. Why does sound transmit so well then? It involves inversions, which result when cold, ground-level air gets trapped by warm air above. Even though sound travels faster in warm air because it’s less dense, sound waves bend while rising from cold air into warm air. Once contacting the warmer air, the sound waves rocket farther than normal. This phenomenon is especially common at dawn and dusk – peak hunting time.
Disappear into Thin Air
If you can’t find a big pine, spruce, cedar or other conifer to conceal you and your tree stand, consider wearing lighter colors and more “open” camouflage patterns. Also place your tree stand between two or more tree trunks to further break up your outline. Once trees shed their foliage, darker camo patterns tend to define your outline rather than break it up.
Survival, Survival, Survival
In deciding when and where to deer hunt, realize that bucks will never be hungrier during hunting season than they are in the post-rut. Besides their increased energy demands to battle cold weather, bucks are trying to recover from rutting activity, when they shed as much as 25 to 30 percent of their weight. Still, no matter how much they eat during the post-rut, they won’t add fat. All they can do is regain energy, stamina and some muscle weight. Their bulk won’t increase again until spring green-up.
Count on Food, Not the Second Rut
Focus on food sources for scouting and deer hunting. The so-called second rut -- when female fawns enter doe estrus for the first time and random unbred adult does cycle a second time – can’t rival hunger pangs for sparking deer activity. True, if an estrous doe is feeding where you hunt, it might provide a breeding opportunity no buck can resist. But it was food that brought them to the same place.
Even so... Play the Odds
When female deer congregate in late-season feeding areas, a buck has a target-rich environment for locating that rare doe that’s ready to breed. If the buck finds itself so fortunate, it might follow and pester the coy female just enough to stumble within range of your tree stand.
Work Your Way Outward
In choosing where to deer hunt, look to woodland cover first, and fields and food plots next as hunting pressure fades. Late-season deer usually experienced enough hunting pressure earlier in the fall to be skittish about showing themselves in daylight. If they can satisfy their energy and dietary needs within cover, there’s no reason to risk feeding in the open.
There’s the Buck Rub
Take time to revisit any buck rub lines you pieced together in recent years. Once the rut concludes and bucks resume their routine travels between bedding and feeding grounds, some return to travel routes they trust. If you find signs that a buck is back on earlier patterns, give the rub line a try. Start by hunting woodland stands closer to feeding sites, and then gradually move your stands toward its daytime deer sanctuary if you’re not successful.
Scout for Acorn Caches
Acorns are seldom widespread by late season, so focus on the few that remain. After all, the more scarce the preferred deer food, the more reliably deer key on the rare caches they find. Whitetails almost always choose naturally produced, high-energy acorns over crops grown in fields or food plots.
Better Late than Early
Remember what we said about sudden cold snaps spurring feeding activity? OK, so what happens after that feeding binge ends? As the deer’s metabolism slows, they need less food. They bed early and remain bedded much of the day. Therefore, focus your efforts on late-day hunts. They’ll be as hungry then as they’ll be all day. When late-season deer venture out to replenish their energy reserves, they tend to stay in one place longer than normal to fill their rumen.
Watch that Barometer
Never take your eye off weather forecasts, national weather maps and your personal barometer for advance warnings of approaching storms or a dramatic change in weather patterns. Late-season deer activity usually increases just before winter storms arrive, especially if it’s the first big storm system of the season. When the barometric pressure plunges, it’s time to grab your hand-warmers, face-mask and heavy boots and be waiting when deer move out to feed. You can be sure they already know the forecast.
Check Every Patch, Dimple and Pimple
When doing deer drives or still-hunts in agricultural regions, check out every pothole, CRP field, grassy island, brushy depression, unpicked cornfield, marsh-bound island or bull-dozed brush piles. If such sites cover a quarter-acre to five acres, and look more like cottontail cover than deer cover, check it often, preferably after posting a partner or two downwind of it.
Deer Like it Dense
Whether it’s a forest’s cedar bottoms or a suburb’s thicket brimming with prickly ash, grape vines and blackberry stalks, a woodland’s densest cover usually holds late-season deer. Deer retreat to these thick sanctuaries to avoid human activity and/or to escape energy-robbing wind chills. Deer hunt these retreats from downwind tree stands, or by sending in two or more drivers to push them to standers.
Catch Them with Their Flanks Exposed
When the woods or forest can’t provide adequate food and energy, food plots and agricultural fields usually offer the best feed for hungry deer. When deciding where to hunt, let the wind determine your setup. Deer prefer to enter fields with the wind behind them, using their eyes to scan the field ahead and their nose to monitor the woods behind. Whenever possible, sit with the wind quartering toward you from their expected approach.