Winter Deer Hunting | The Art of Still Hunting Bucks
The tree stand is by far the method of choice for deer hunting. But late season whitetail hunting requires you to leave the stand and take the hunt to the bucks and make something happen. This time of year, it is often your only chance. Tired, pressured bucks are confined to small pockets of cover near food to minimize their exposure. Sitting in stand winter deer hunting may have you there for days before you even see a deer. Leave the stand and go searching for that buck with still hunting.
Still hunting deer is not complex. Two rules apply. The first is at the very core of the still hunting definition.
Still Hunting is moving slowly while winter deer hunting, sticking to the shadows and concentrating on keeping footfall sound nonexistent. It also means minimizing the chances deer will pick you out and maximizes the chances you will slip in undetected and within range of unsuspecting deer. Still hunting also gives you the edge if you do it right. Detecting even the slightest movement like an ear flicker or tail move is possible before a deer spots you. This type of deer hunting is a mental game. You can only hunt slow, taking one step and looking, for so long. An option to keep your head in it is to pick up the pace when in areas of little deer sign. Do not, however, become complacent because the moment you let your guard down is when you will move too fast, too suddenly and spook your chances away.
The second rule of still hunting deer is to move into the wind. Going slow is meaningless if your scent is blowing right into a deer’s nose. Use the wind and Bone Collector clothing to remain undetectable in the case of variable winds or changing wind directions. Still hunting perpendicular to the wind direction is also a good option as it provides an approach route to bedded deer. Mastering these two rules makes for a good still hunter, but a great still hunter takes it to another level.
Pick the Right Day for Deer Hunting in Winter
Late season whitetail hunting is tough due to the winter weather conditions, though, bad conditions like rain and snow offer the best still hunting days. Poor weather is to your advantage. Windy conditions allow you to stay concealed, reducing a deer’s ability to smell you and disguising your steps in the woods. In addition, wet weather makes it easy to sneak around. Deer hunting in snowy weather muffles sticks breaking under your feet and in addition gives you deer sign to follow while still hunting for deer. It can be hard after a long deer hunting season, but less than ideal weather is the right day to plan a still hunt for late season bucks.
Planning a Day Long Still Hunt for Late Season Deer
Still hunting is a type of deer hunting that becomes an art for those that take it seriously. It takes some forethought to be done right and to be successful at it. Many hunters think they are still hunting when they are slowly walking in and out of their tree stand locations, but it is much more than that. Late season deer hunting with this tactic takes a whole day to do it right.
With late season bucks, food sources are going to be the key. Plan a still hunt that parallels feeding areas in the early morning. Deer will likely be actively feeding at first light so plan to be hunting at sun up. Once you have worked timber edges, creek bottoms and terrain features near these feeding locations, still hunt your way towards bedding areas as it gets later in the morning.
Often bucks in winter will stick close to food sources near bedding areas. Use you Bushnell® binoculars with every step to glass for bedded bucks that have yet to rise and feed. Ideally, you want to work higher ground to give you the vantage onto potential bedded bucks. Sneak along ridgelines or use other terrain features to stay hidden as you approach areas where bucks may be bedded. Keep the wind in your face and take extra time observing to try to spot deer before they spot you. Do not be afraid to get aggressive while winter whitetail hunting and hunt through thick cover. Sure you may spook a few deer but it could also get you close enough to squeeze off a shot with your T/C muzzleloader.
After you have still hunted a few bedding locations, work your way back to travel corridors leading to afternoon feeding areas. Staging zones are good still hunting areas, and good late season deer hunting areas in general, as the sun goes down. Bucks will linger in these spots before traveling out to an open oak flat or a cut field to feed. It makes for a perfect late season muzzleloader hunting spot to sit and end the day still hunting.
10 Still Hunting Tips
These 10 still hunting tips for deer hunting winter bucks will help you master the art of still hunting as you try one last shot at harvesting a buck this season.
- If there is snow, use it to your benefit. Still hunt on fresh deer tracks not in hopes of tailing a buck but that those tracks take you to core areas where deer are bedding and feeding. Also, learn to judge deer tracks. Mature bucks leave a noticeably larger track that is more rounded in the front. Choose to chase these first.
- Successfully still hunting deer takes all your attention, leaving little time to be concerned about following a particular path. Allow and expect yourself to get lost winter whitetail hunting. Mark your Chevy with your GPS and put all your effort into the hunt.
- Bad weather is desired when planning a still hunt. Rain and snow help to hide your scent and movements while sneaking through the woods. Windy days, not particularly desired when stand hunting, are also good late season deer hunting days to conceal your presence. Poor weather seems to increase deer activity extensively as well.
- Carry your rifle, muzzleloader or perhaps even you bow in a shoot ready position. Shots when still hunting deer are quick and any delay, such as having to pull your slung weapon off your shoulder will be the difference in getting a shot or not.
- Still hunt in cover. It is hard to stay concealed while still hunting an open field. Plus, still hunting in cover keeps you concealed from deer when you are not moving. Stopping and looking next to a tree keeps you out of sight from any deer and also gives you a quick shooting rest if needed. Realtree AP® Snow Camo blends perfectly against a snowy forest for extra concealment.
- Reduce any quick movements. Deer are always on the lookout for any sudden movements. For instance, pulling up your binoculars fast after you stop to glass an area can easily give you away. Bring them up slowly and keep any other movements to a minimum.
- Strive for perfection when still hunting deer but understand it is not achievable. Walking on air is not possible so you will certainly make noise at some point. It is ok. When you do, however, spend an extra few minutes remaining still. Let the noise fade away and any deer nearby will think nothing of it. A good winter deer hunting tip is to carry a few deer calls and blow a grunt if you are making noise. A buck may think it is another buck and not a predator.
- Hunt light and leave the cold weather clothing and large pack at the house. Since you will be moving, even though it will be slow, you will stay warm enough to dress light. Insulated clothing only makes you sweat and increases the chances you will get cold. Since there is no need for extra clothes while still hunting, a large hunting pack is not necessary either. Carry only a few essential items (knife, tags, extra shells, small survival kit, etc.) in what you are wearing. If you have to bring more, consider a small shoulder pack or fanny pack instead of a bulky backpack.
- Prepare for tough shots. Deer hunting in winter via the still hunting tactic makes for some tough shots. Most likely the shots you get will be freehand and best case scenario there will be a tree to rest on. Shots at deer come fast and there is no time to kneel or get out your shooting stick for a solid rest. Practice these shots in the offseason to prepare for still hunting.
- The last still hunting tip is to stay alert. Moving as slow as it takes to still hunt successfully can produce some pretty amazing experiences in the woods. In your next step, you may be only yards from a bedded buck or even have a deer walk right into your path. Staying alert late season deer hunting puts you in the driver’s seat to be able to sneak right into a buck’s backyard.
Why You Should Still Hunt for Late Season Bucks
After months of pressure, big bucks are slow to return to “normal” patterns. Spending time isolated in one spot in hopes of a buck coming to you is almost wasted time in winter. Of course hunting out of stand where you have high confidence of a buck walking past from diligent scouting throughout the year is something to not pass up. Yet, this is a rare occurrence for most people deer hunting in winter. Still hunting is the next best tactic. Use that same scouting to seek out bucks that would otherwise disappear until next year.
Still hunting deer takes a certain kind of hunter. It is mental toughness matched with day long stamina but has huge rewards when it is done with precision. This artful deer hunting approach is one more effective tactic to add and deploy with your winter whitetail hunting strategies.