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Late Season Deer Hunting Tactics
In many states, January is a deer hunter’s last-ditch, 11th-hour, bottom-of-the-ninth-with-two-outs opportunity to fill a deer tag until the following fall. Deer hunting the late, late season requires a steely determination, since the odds are mostly in the deer’s favor. Thanks to three or four months of deer hunting, deer numbers are just about as low as they’ll get all year. Those deer that are still standing have learned how, when and where to avoid deer hunters. And the weather can be downright miserable for we humans, who lack a deer’s thick coat of hollow hair covering our bodies.
Now you’ll notice above it said the odds are mostly in the deer’s favor. It didn’t say they are all in the deer’s favor. Deer hunters have going for them the facts that food is scarce, but yet the deer need it more now than ever; the woods are bare, which makes hiding places fewer and farther between; the scarcity of food and cover forces deer to bunch up in good numbers in those few areas where both exist.
Deer hunters seeking some venison for the freezer in January have to be prepared to go the extra mile to score. Literally, you might have to go a mile to get one. Find the places where deer are bedding and feeding and then deer hunt those areas from tree stands and/or ground blinds. Still-hunt through them. And if neither of those tactics work, get together with some friends and put on deer drives.
Tree Stand and Ground Blind Hunting
Figuring out where to deer hunt from a tree stand or ground blind in January usually is the easy part of the hunt. Find the preferred bedding and feeding areas and set up nearby. Once again, since both are in short supply this time of year, they should be easy to locate.
In some deer hunter's opinion, getting out to the woods before daylight is a waste of time in January. There just doesn’t seem to be the ample deer movement at this time of day like there was back in October and November – probably because dawn is one of the coldest times of day. The deer seem to sit tight until the sun has a chance to warm the woods up a bit.
One deer hunter can recall one cold, January morning back in his formative years when he liked to be in his tree stand a good hour before daylight. By 10 a.m., he was freezing his butt off and he hadn’t seen a single deer. He climbed down out of the tree and, on the walk back to his truck, he ran into six deer that were headed toward his tree stand. Needless to say, he would have been better off that day to wait until after the sun had come up to head to the woods.
Some deer hunters prefer hunting from 9 to noon on morning jaunts. But the most productive time of day to hunt from a tree stand or ground blind in January for some is from 1 p.m. to dark. You can usually count on deer moving in the afternoon and early evening from bedding to feeding areas.
The greatest challenge to hunting deer from a fixed position in January is surviving the cold. It takes a special kind of dedication to sit in a tree stand or ground blind in January. Your fingers and toes are going to sting. Your face is going to go numb. You’re going to get the shivers. And unfortunately, the deer movement often gets better the farther the mercury drops.
The first step in sitting through a cold couple of hours in the woods is to accept the fact that you’re going to be cold. If all you can think about is being warm, then you won’t last two hours. The air is cold. You’re going to be cold. Deal with it.
To keep as much cold air out as possible, without impacting your ability to draw your bow, dress in several thin layers, as opposed to one or two bulky layers. On January tree stand hunts, some protect their feet with a pair of sock liners, topped by a pair of wool socks, followed by hunting boots with 1,500 grams of Thinsulate.
On your lower body, you want to wear two, thin sets of thermal underwear, followed by a pair of wool pants and then a pair of insulated, bib overalls. On your upper body, wear a moisture-wicking T-shirt, followed by a silk, long-sleeve shirt and then a fleece-lined, long-sleeve underwear shirt. Next, put on a fleece sweatshirt, followed by a fleece vest and then a thin, fleece jacket.
On you head, wear a fleece, stocking hat and keep my hands warm with a pair of fleece gloves. If it’s particularly frigid, stuff a few chemical handwarmers in your shirt, pants, boots and gloves. These packets have shored up my determination on more than one frosty day.
Alternating standing up and sitting down will help keep the blood moving to your extremities. Some deer hunters like to stand for 20 minutes and then sit for 20 minutes. Obviously, this is not a problem for tree stand hunters, but many ground blinds aren’t tall enough for deerhunters to stand totally upright in. So stand up bent over at the waist. It’s better than not standing at all. Sit in the same position for four hours on a day when the mercury is in the single digits and you’re bound to have tingling toes.
Still Deer Hunting
If there is a better way to spend a crisp, cold day in January than still-hunting through a stand of timber, with a couple of inches of snow on the ground, then some deer hunters haven’t found it. One of the advantages deer hunters who like to still-hunt have at this time of year is maximum visibility – especially if there’s snow on the ground. With all the foliage off the trees, deer are easier to spot now than at any other time of year.
Of course, that visibility works two ways. You are also easier for a deer to spot. But with a good set of optics, some believe hunters have the upper hand in the January woods. With binoculars, you should be able to pick apart a section of woods and spot deer at long range. And as long as you move slowly and deliberately, you should be able to pick out a deer long before it sees you.
Work from the highest ground around when you still-hunt. This is the best vantage point to spot a deer from. And once you’ve found your quarry, you should be able to study the landscape and map out a route to sneak within range from the downwind side of the deer.
For bowhunters, your best bet is to try to sneak ahead of the deer and wait for it to walk into your effective shooting range. Because of the superb visibility in the woods, it’s very difficult to actually stalk to within 20 or 30 yards of a deer and then shoot it with a bow and arrow. Get ahead of the deer and let it come to you. Muzzleloader and gun hunters have an easier time of it, since their effective range is much greater than a bowhunter’s.