Late Season Deer Hunting

Late Season Deer Hunting | How To Handle The Warm Weather

Late Season Deer Hunting During Warm Weather

It is astonishing to think about just how much the weather can impact our hunting experience.  It really doesn’t matter what game species you are after; squirrels, rabbits, waterfowl, or white-tailed deer. Any and all wildlife species tend to behave in a certain way depending upon weather patterns.  This why as hunters, we key in on specific weather patterns, such as cold fronts and high-pressure systems, as indicators of potential wildlife activity. This especially holds true for late season deer hunting! In other words, if you are chasing a mature buck all season long and you notice the weatherman suggests there is a significant cold front moving through, you might want to drop everything and bust your butt to the woods!

Late Season Deer Hunting | Nick’s Iowa Muzzleloader Kill

Late Season Deer Hunting Basics

As hunters we tend to develop our own hunting strategy based on the time of year, and what the deer behavior should be during that time.  If it is the early season and deer are still on their early season pattern, you will likely be hunting early season food sources. This also means keying in on those food sources during the cooler parts of the day (morning and evening) when the deer are most active.  Likewise, if it is sweet November and the rut is in full swing, you will likely be keeping an eye on any potential cold front that might be making its way into the area, because anytime a strong cold front lines up during the rut it just might be time to let the Hoyt eat.

So just like other times of the year, late season deer hunting is known for several factors, which can honestly make it one of the best times to be in a tree or a Redneck Blind.  For many deer hunters pondering the thought of late season deer hunting, the first thing that comes to mind is, of course, cold temperatures and the possibility of wintertime precipitation.  The second thing that probably comes to mind in the sight of big groups of deer feeding in a large cut corn field or turnip plot.  The third thing that likely comes to mind is the sound and sight of a loud crack and cloud of smoke that erupts out of the business end of your Thompson Center Muzzleloader. You have to admit, just thinking about late season deer hunting can certainly paint a vivid picture in your mind!

No matter if you are muzzleloader hunting, archery hunting, or packing your centerfire rifle, the late season provides deer hunters with an automatic upper hand, an ace in the hole if you will.

Do you happen to know exactly what that is?

The Bitter Cold

It is only fitting that the one major factor that we as a hunter cannot control (i.e. the weather) is the number one reason why whitetail hunters tend to drop their #1 hit-list buck. The cold temperature that accompanies the late season is the engine that drives most of the deer movement occurring in December and January.  No matter how extreme the weather conditions may be, a white-tailed deer’s drive to survive will have them out in search of food.  This fact alone provides deer hunters with an unbelievable advantage when it comes locating and patterning whitetails during the late season.

Late season deer hunting should be something that every deer hunter should have on their calendar each and every year. It is all too often regarded as a bleak and lifeless last chance opportunity at killing a buck, when in fact, it is perhaps the best.  Again, the primary driver of late season productivity is typically the one factor that we as hunters cannot control…weather.  As much as all of us would love to have control over the weather, the unfortunate truth is that we do not.  So what happens when your best laid late season deer hunting plans become demolished by a sudden late season warm spell?

Keep Cool When It Warms Up

Wintertime weather patterns can be somewhat variable just by default, however, occasionally we can see “outside factors” come into play. These can have a drastic effect on the late season weather patterns.  A great example of this would be last winter when El Nino was large and in charge.  Now, El Nino events (depending on the strength and severity) can be variable themselves.  Last year’s El Nino was one where instead of a rather cool/cold winter with some warm spells we saw a rather warm winter with an occasional cold spell.  To say the late-season of 2015 was a challenge was an understatement.

Luckily for us, the winter of 2016 is shaping up to be a little bit more like the winter we would expect to see, with cold temperatures dipping down into the lower latitudes from time to time, bringing with it some wintertime precipitation.  So, things are looking good so far!  That being said, if there is one thing that you can be sure of, it is that at some point during the late season there will likely be a warm spell that can often shift deer movement and behavior into a different gear.

The word “warm up” is really a relative term.  There doesn’t have to be a significant change in temperature to fall into the category of a “warm up”.  Now, going from 5 degrees to 10 degrees is technically classified as a warm up, however, it is likely, not significant enough to really change the behavior of the deer you are chasing.  Go from 20 degrees to 40 degrees, and you are starting to get to a threshold where you could expect to see a change in the patterns and behavior of the deer you are hunting.  If you find an upcoming week that suggests this situation, you want to bet on a definite change in the amount of deer feeding during daylight. This may be a gradual decrease in activity or an abrupt change in usage.  Typically the level change is relatively to the contrast in temperatures.  If you see a 10 degree difference, the change will likely be minimal, but the higher you go up the gradient the more distinct the change can be.

The reason for the change is simple, with warmer temperatures white-tailed Whitetails have to feed during the day when extremely cold temperatures are present. The hours they normally feed (during the night) are simply too cold, meaning they have to feed a bit in daylight when temps are still warm.  However, with warm temperatures whitetails can feed during the night, meaning a safer option rather than hit the trail in search of forage during daylight.  As a result, the movement seems to decrease.  If you find yourself in this situation, just remember to keep your cool!  Just because their patterns have momentarily changed, doesn’t mean that all is lost.  Desperate times can call for desperate measures, however going in after him could potentially bump him off for the rest of the season. Patience, in this case, is the best tactic. Waiting and being patient for colder temperatures to return keeps him on the property and keeps your chance at him in high odds.

Does Warm Weather Mean a Late Season Lull?

Believe it or not, deer behavior during a winter time warm period pays a striking resemblance to the days of the October lull… but not always.  During the October lull, deer movement is often minimal.  This usually is the result of white-tails transitioning from one green food sources to other mast crops like white oak acorns.  This also tends to be about the time that the deer social dynamics are changing as well.  All of these factors result in what appears to be a reduced level of movement.  In some aspects, that is exactly what the lull period is, a period of reduced movement but with that being said, deer are still moving but they are staying confined to a much smaller area.

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The same can be said for deer movement during a winter warm period.  Typically, the lack of drive to feed will keep white-tails in an “energy saving” mode.  This will have them spending most of their time bedded in thick thermal cover in an attempt to conserve body heat and energy…not to mention to simply stay away from hunting pressure.  They will still need to feed on a regular basis but rather than seeking out high energy foods (like corn) they will tend to key in on native browse that is easily accessible and close to the bedding areas.

The Exception: Warm Doesn’t Always Mean Lull

There are some instances where extended frigid temperatures could cause a temporary “warm fronts” to mean more deer movement. Long awaited rays of sunshine on south slopes could stir something deep inside mature bucks and get them back on their feet. When temperatures drop into well below freezing for long periods of time, then suddenly break to warm, it acts just as a cold front does in October. A sudden increase in deer movement can be seen on warm days following long periods of cold. But if they stick around, deer movement will decrease!

Warm…Cold…Does it Really Matter?

Whatever the case may be…warm or cold…always remember that a little bit of rest from the hunting pressure isn’t a bad thing.  On the other hand, if you are looking at a warming trend lasting four to five days or longer, then it is a likely time to shift into a different gear in terms of your hunting strategy. Conversely, the same can be said for a prolonged cold streak with a sudden warm front.

Also remember perhaps the biggest tip of this whole blog…your Bushnell trail cameras are still the most important tool you can use. Whether it is using the cameras on time-lapse mode to watch a food source, or (if legal) placing them over a pile of Big & J Deadly Dust, intel on a buck’s whereabouts and pattern is critical. Be sure you are up to date on the latest trail camera tips for the late season, and any information can help you determine when and where to hunt, regardless of the weather.

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As late season deer hunting progresses into its final weeks and days in many states pay attention to the weather! If you happen to notice the temperatures beginning to climb, remember that all is not lost.  Keep your cool, let your trial cameras to the work for you, try and notice patterns, and remember back to your October deer hunting tactics. With patients and the right knowledge, you can still find yourself eye level with a big ole’ late season buck this winter!

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