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All About Cold-Weather Deer Hunting

Tips and tactics to keep you running hot for your deer hunt, even when it’s cold outside

A huge deer exits the cedar thicket and walks slowly toward the standing soybeans. Cautious as ever, he eases through the standing timber, each step more calculated than the last.

Eventually, he’s within range and you prepare for the shot. That’s a scene every hunter hopes for. But here’s the question: are you ready for it?

WHY LATE IS GREAT

The late season is an excellent time to target cold- weather bucks. First, deer are grouped up around the best available bedding and food. So, you’re either in a lot of deer or not many at all. If you put forth the effort, you’ll accomplish the former.

Furthermore, once you find bucks, deer are very patternable at this point in the season. It’s all about bed-to-feed patterns. Do a little bit of scouting and you’ll see how deer are maneuvering the landscape and what (and where) their weaknesses are. Then, find the right interception point, entry route and exit routes.

Reflecting on the record books, a lot of great bucks are taken during the post-rut. This is especially true for tagging top-end Boone and Crockett deer. Oftentimes, they’re savvy enough to survive throughout the rut. But once seriously cold weather hits, they aren’t as adept at ignoring the pangs of their stomach. Hunters who are still packing a tag can take advantage of this, but only if they’re prepared. Here are some tips and tactics on how to be ready.

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Cold weather is hard on deer and they tend to move well with a need to feed. HONEYCUTT CREATIVE

KEEP YOUR BODY WARM

To make sure you’re well prepared for this hunt, first, eat the right foods. It all starts with your diet. Avoid spicy foods, sweets and other junk foods that make you sweat and make your sugar spike. Instead, focus on healthy, high-carb food sources that will help provide energy to burn. Remember to snack regularly on the same type of food sources periodically throughout the hunt to keep your body fueled.

Next, while it might sound elementary, choosing a good set of hunting clothing is important. Focus on wool and synthetic materials that hold heat in and keep sweat out. This is the basis of a good heat-retention plan.

Third, wear multiple layers to help hold in heat. That’s another simple idea everyone is already aware of, and it works. But, people often forget to do it.

Also, keep your head covered to keep your body, hands and feet warm. That’s right. Some sources say as much as 60% to 70% of body heat loss comes from the head and neck region. Other sources disagree.

Regardless, if you can decrease the heat loss there, that translates to more heat retention in your hands and feet. It’s simple biology, really.

A body suit is another great option. In fact, a suit keeps virtually all of your body warm. Then, you can emerge from your cocoon and fill that cold-weather, late- season tag.

cold-attire
Wearing proper clothing and footwear is a must when hunting in cold weather. HONEYCUTT CREATIVE

KEEP YOUR HANDS AND FEET WARM

HotHands hand-warming inserts might be the best late-season hunting tool ever invented. I buy stock in them every year. If you struggle to stay warm, you might want to use these as well.

Next, keep a hand muff around your waist and you’ll be glad you did. It’s worth the money to have a warm place to stick your hands. And I promise, this is a much better option than your pockets.

Keeping your feet and toes warm starts with purchasing the best socks and boots you can afford that are designed for retaining warmth. Obviously, Merino wool makes for great sock material. These keep you warm. But they also help wick away sweat. And it doesn’t hurt that they keep you very comfortable.

Moving to the boot department, there are other boxes to check, too, including features designed for comfort, grip, mobility, waterproofing, boot height, boot weight and more. Still, if staying warm is your primary concern, keep that point at the forefront.

Fortunately, there are several different boots on the market that excel at keeping feet toasty. Some (not all) of these include the Irish Setter Vaprtrek; Danner Pronghorn Guide Gear Giant Timber II Men’s Waterproof Hunting Boots; Bogs Blaze II; Thorogood Infinity FD Rubber Boots and others.

No matter your budget, if you have problems keeping your feet warm, invest in the best boots you can afford. It’s paramount to staying warm. A good pair of boot covers goes a long way, too. Arctic Shield’s Insulated Boot Covers are the real deal as well.

HotHands
HotHands for the win.

ADDITIONAL TIPS AND TACTICS

We obviously must stay still while deer hunting.

That’s part of the gig, after all. But a little wiggle action shouldn’t tip you off to the animals around you. Keep those fingers and toes wiggling to keep the blood flowing.

Finally, sometimes you must do what you must do. And on those severe days, if you’re in a blind, a heater just might be the fix. Be careful though—don’t fall asleep. Fire and fumes can be a real threat if a heater is left unattended and unmonitored. I know of at least one instance where a hunter used one in a blind, fell asleep, then succumbed to the smoke and fire. Use heaters with caution and responsibility.

HOT STAND LOCATIONS IN COLD WEATHER

There are certain areas that tend to produce more than others during colder weather. Finding these spots is a crucial part of late-season success.

One of these is cornfield corners. Deer need carbohydrates during spells of colder weather. These are the vital nutrients they need to burn necessary energy to stay warm. Targeting other cornfield edges with thick, late-season bedding cover nearby is also a good play.

Another high-energy food source is standing soybeans. These offer what deer need, too, and are often targeted over corn, if there’s an option. While most beans are harvested by this point, you might find success in bean fields that yield a lot of waste grain on the ground. Also, find potential fields that were flooded or too wet to harvest. Deer oftentimes flock to these areas.

Remaining pockets of hard mast crops are great, too. While most white oak acorns are likely long gone, members of the red oak family tend to last well into the season. These offer lots of carbs that deer need as well.

Other places to consider include green food sources such as forbs and brassicas. However, these tend to be more attractive during warmer spells and aren’t consumed quite as much during cold snaps.

Food aside, continue to focus on water. If it’s very cold and water sources are freezing over, hit up those that remain open. This is an excellent tactic, especially during hard freezes. Generally, this requires some water movement—such as a spring-fed pond—to keep the source open.

Don’t forget about bedding, too. In hill country, deer prefer to bed along southern-facing slopes, which is commonly referred to as solar bedding. Deer receive more sunlight here. They also target thermal bedding, which is best described as dense stands of conifers such as cedar and spruce trees. And don’t forget about thick, nasty, early successional habitats that serve as sanctuaries.

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WHEN TO STRIKE

There are certain times that post-rut deer hunting is best. Hunting when the temperature drops off is one way. Deer move on days having sudden temperature changes. Plus, they need to carb up to survive these cold snaps.

Furthermore, incoming weather fronts are great, too. Those that drop snow are even better. There’s just something about snow that seems to spur deer into a feeding frenzy. Sometimes, rain events that stop an hour or two before nightfall can do the same.

A time that is full of deer movement is just after the front when the barometric pressure is rising. Deer tend to move well under such circumstances. If the pressure is 30.0 or higher, it just might be a killing day.

Of course, keep an eye out for missed does and late- rut does entering estrus for the first time. And anytime you have a situation where you can hunt a just-off wind (where the wind is largely in the deer’s favor but just off enough that they don’t smell you), you can give a big post-rut buck the confidence he needs to move during daylight.

author
The author poses with a cold-weather, post-rut Ohio buck. HONEYCUTT CREATIVE

GUIDE TO SOME GREAT COLD-WEATHER GEAR

HotHands Body and Hand Warmers

MSRP: $7.99

Lasting up to 18 hours, this air-activated heat source provides heat for hands and other parts of the body. These have kept my own body parts warm on many hunts.

Nomad Men’s Harvester Sherpa-Lined Insulated Gloves

MSRP: $40

This pair features a high-pile fleece interior with sherpa lining. They’re lightweight, wind-resistant and moisture-wicking. They include anti-microbial treatment to reduce bacterial growth.

Midway USA Merino Wool Blend Tall Boot Socks

MSRP: $24.99

This pair is 75% Merino wool, 20% nylon and 5% spandex. It wicks away moisture, is odor-resistant, offers arch support and sports other cool features.

Danner Vital 8-Inch Insulated Hunting Boots MSRP: $135.96 $151.96

These boots incorporate abrasion-resistant leather, some synthetic material and numerous beneficial technologies. These are waterproof and come in an array of options.

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