Late Season Bow Hunting | Overcoming Late Season Challenges
Brrrr…do you feel those cold temperatures creeping in? Oh, and do you notice that white fluffy stuff accumulating in the yard this time of year? It’s probably here to stay. The deer hunting calendar is winding down. Winter is here and that means one last adventure for the hunters across the nation: late season bow hunting. Unlike the rut period, the late season weeks are very similar to the early season. Deer aren’t interested in breeding, as most of the does have been bred at this point; though there are some cases of a second peak in the rut occurring later in December, which many call the second rut.
Instead, the lives of does and bucks alike are almost solely dedicated to finding food and cover. Food is critical because they need to stock up on calories to help see them through the long winter. Bucks have worn themselves out and lost a great deal of body mass by chasing does all fall, and need to replenish some of that mass so they don’t enter winter at a caloric deficit. Does need to stock up on calories because they will be (or are already) pregnant with fawns, and they need the extra calories to help them grow. Finally, cover is vital for whitetails this time of year for the same reason that makes it so challenging for us to go bow hunting: it’s cold and snowy. Plummeting temperatures, brisk winds, and snowy conditions all work against a deer to steal their body heat, which makes finding thermal cover so critical. Dense conifer patches (e.g., spruce, cedars, etc.) provide a refuge from the wind and snow, and so deer will often target these habitats for deer bedding areas in the late season.
Why Late Season Bow Hunting?
Because of the winter conditions and the whitetail habits we mentioned above, the late season is both a really great and really tough time for deer hunting. Because deer activity and patterns can be really predictable this time of year, it can be easier to set up in a given spot and have some tremendous sits. But it comes at a price. Late season hunting conditions can be miserable to endure for very long, and this is especially true the further north you hunt. Since many people are still deer hunting in December, you could regularly face temperatures in the negative degrees below zero with wind chills that will numb your hands in minutes. But in order to experience the amazing late season bow hunting opportunity we mentioned above, you’ll need to overcome these conditions. Let’s look at a few ways you can stay in the woods longer to fill your tag with a last-minute, late season buck.
Option 1: Find Shelter
Just like the whitetails you’re pursuing on a late season bow hunt, sometimes taking shelter is the only real option to escape the frigid and blustery conditions. Bow hunting deer on the edge of a food plot in an exposed tree stand for more than an hour or two would be pretty miserable in some northern late season weather conditions. This is the time that Redneck Blinds® really shine. Your movements stay completely out of sight from watchful and wary deer, which might be the ticket to getting a shot at all. But more importantly, it blocks you from the wind and locks your heat in so you don’t become a human popsicle all for the sake of some deer meat. That simple fact is what allows you to do an all-day sit or hunt all morning or evening while staying comfortable. When the right deer walks within range, you can sneak the silent hinges open and shoot from one of the horizontal or vertical window slots with plenty of clearance for your Hoyt® bow.
If it’s extremely and bitterly cold out, but you just absolutely need to be hunting for deer, you could even bring a small portable heater with you to the blind. This is great for warming up your hands and keeping the blind even more comfortable. That way you don’t need to hunt in so many bulky layers that interfere with your archery form and your muscles stay warmed up and ready for a shot. But be forewarned that if you use a heater in your blind, or any enclosed space for that matter, you need to be aware of the danger of gas build-up. Make sure to crack some windows open and get plenty of ventilation. The blind should still stay warm enough to be comfortable and you’ll avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, which is an obvious win-win late season bow hunting scenario.
Option 2: Get Bundled Up
Not all of us have the land or resources to hunt out of an enclosed blind. In that case, you’ll be hunting deer from a normal exposed tree stand or on the ground. If you’ve ever sat through a late season bow hunt perched in a tree, you probably questioned your sanity a few times and it was an exercise in mental toughness to sit still for a few minutes, let alone a few hours. While there’s no way to really make it 100% comfortable, there are some ways to make it more bearable.
First, you should stock up on some heated pads you can find at the drugstore. These are generally sold as wraps or pads for your back and are air-activated. Before dressing in all your layers, apply one pad to your lower back and one to your shoulders/spine area. These will take a few minutes to heat up and will supply a constant low heat source to your body right where you need it most. The lower back is where your kidneys are located, and your back/shoulder muscles are needed for archery shots, so keeping these areas warm is critical.
Over these pads, you should use a cold weather clothing layering system of moisture-wicking material (i.e., not cotton). A good base layer will usually be made of polyester or merino wool, which pulls sweat away from your skin. Over this, wear several insulating layers of fleece or wool, which will further pull moisture away from your body and keep you toasty warm. On the outside, wear a water- and wind-resistant layer to block the elements out and hold your heat in. Choose a high-quality brand like ScentLok®, who has an excellent late season clothing line. It’s important to wear several layers so you can adjust the hunting clothing to your activity levels. For example, you should wear as little as possible while moving around (e.g., walking to your tree stand, stalking animals, etc.) so you don’t sweat through your clothing. If you sweat heavily, it really doesn’t matter how many layers you’ve got on. You’re not going to last long in the woods because the sweat will cool your body down rapidly. As you stop moving, slowly add more layers back on so you keep your body temperature right in the comfortable zone.
It should go without saying for late season bow hunting, but make sure you really protect your head, neck, hands, and feet. Wind and cold will creep down your neck and cool down your head and hands quickly. To ward off a chill before it sets in, wear layers for these areas too. On your head, wear a snug-fitting polyester beanie to wick sweat from your hair and forehead, covered by a wool stocking cap that covers the ears. For your neck, it’s tough to beat an extra-long face mask that covers everything but your eyes and mouth. You can tuck this into your sweatshirts and keep your neck toasty warm, while also keeping your face from getting wind-burnt. On your hands, wear a light pair of gloves that you can still shoot your bow with. Over the top, wear a heavier pair of wool or fleece-lined choppers that you can easily slip on and off. Alternatively, you can slip your hands into a hand muff with hand warmers inside to keep your digits warm. Either way, when the shot arises, you can easily slip off your larger and warmer gloves to shoot your bow. For your feet, it helps to wear a thin pair of liner socks to wick your sweat away, covered by a heavier pair of wool socks. Wear heavily-insulated Old Dominion® boots that are a little large; you should be able to wiggle your toes comfortably inside. You want dead air space and room for circulation. In especially cold weather, you could also pack along a blanket or children’s sleeping bag to place your feet/boots in when you’re in the tree stand, which will further insulate them from the cold air and keep your feet warmer longer.
Other Late Season Bow Hunting Tips
When you’re out for some last-minute late season bow hunting, it helps to have all your ducks in a row before you hunt. The biggest thing to remember is to take at least a couple practice shots from an elevated position with all your extra hunting layers on. Many an arrow has been flung far and wide for that reason alone. You need to know how your bow shoots when you compensate for all the additional bulk. When you’re in your tree stand for some late season deer hunting, it’s easy to forget the challenges you face. Everything is harder. It becomes more of a hassle to secure yourself to the tree with a safety harness, and even drawing a bow is more difficult. But knowing and recognizing this ahead of time will help you mentally prepare.
It would also help to do some late season scouting before you hunt to find the food and bedding areas we mentioned in the intro. You should target bedding areas in the morning and food sources in the evenings for the best spots to hunt deer. When a shooter approaches, wait as long as you can to stand and hold your bow. It doesn’t take long in sub-zero temperatures for a chill to set in and your hands to freeze, which will make drawing your bow really difficult.
If you can stick to the late season deer hunting tips above, you stand a great chance at harvesting a deer yet this deer hunting season. True enough, late season bow hunting can be a real pain sometimes. But the payoff can be tremendous when everything comes together and you persevere.