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Snow Time Whitetails - A Late Season Bow Hunt
Bow-hunting In winter
Three does picked their way cautiously out of the thick cover of the dark hemlock swamp. They blended
slowly into the poplar thicket, almost disappearing in the rising morning mist. They had spent the long,
cold, December night sheltered from the frosty northwest wind in the apron of the thick, draping
hemlocks. As I watched, they worked their way up the sloping hill of young, tender aspens. Silently
padding through the four inches of new fallen, powdery snow. Their movement was the only clue to their
existence on the hill before me. The deer blended perfectly into the low morning light. I sat motionless,
under the creeping branches of a giant spruce. My breath wafting slowly in the still, cold air. As I waited in
ambush with my bow poised before me, a lone chic-a-dee landed on my arrow, just behind the razor sharp
broad head. With a cock of his head he flitted away after a single peep. He left in a fluff of feathers, as
quick as he had arrived. Waiting, as so many hunters must have waited over so many thousands of
generations in the past, I watched in fascination as the does nibbled a few tender shoots from the young
trees. As always,their eyes and ears were on constant alert. The deer made their way close before me,
evidently without sensing my presence. But these three does would pass my lair unscathed, as I would
wait to see if an antlered buck might soon follow on their trail. I had already filled my antler less tag earlier
in the season. The does fed past my position, disappearing into a stand of balsam firs on the aft side of
the hill. They passed out of my morning, just as silently as they had appeared minutes before.
Late Bow Season
My favorite time of year to hunt with my bow has always been the late bow season. Especially the last two
weeks of December. We are lucky here in Michigan where our bow season continues until January 1rst.
With a little luck and a nudge from mother nature, snow might cover the ground completing the picture. By
now the deer, having recovered slightly from the raucous bombardment of the two week rifle and the
following muzzle loader season, have returned to a more normal existence. They are now more relaxed
than they had been just a few weeks earlier. Not only are the deer more relaxed, but the woods is quieter.
There are very few people venturing into its snow covered cloister. That is one of the main reasons that I
prefer this late season. I pretty much have the forest to myself. Rarely do I see another hunter during the
end of December. Most of the people are too busy preparing for and observing the holidays. Many more
just can’t bring themselves to brave the colder temperatures and leave their warmth of the hearth to
endure the persistent winds of winter.
Locating Deer - What Wintertime Deer Eat
To find deer during this season, you need to pay close attention to what deer eat during the early winter. If
there is substantial snow cover, then the deer do not have the same easy access to the grasses, forbs,
seeds and nuts that they have eaten the rest of the year. Even four inches of snow may limit what they can
easily find to consume. Most of their winter diet consists of woody materials, including tender stems and
twigs, and small tree buds. They also must stay out of the cold winds and make use of conifer stands.
These stands of dense trees limit winds, provide higher thermal temperatures and help to control snow
build up. Some of a deer’s favorite foods are white cedar, hemlock, aspen, red maple, white pine and
yellow birch. So if you can find a hemlock or cedar swamp that borders a recently logged over [last five
years or so] poplar and maple patch, well you have found a deer winter resort. It will contain both lodging
and restaurant services for the whitetails.
The ‘Second’ Rutt
Another consideration in searching for deer at this time of year are rutting bucks. Many people talk about
the ’second’ rut. This can happen and does happen when younger does, sometimes the fawn does of the
year, come into estrus later in the season. If one of these does doesn’t get serviced by a buck, then she
will most likely go into heat every sixteen days or so. The bucks will pursue such a doe and finding areas
with concentrations of does will often pay off in shots on bucks trying to connect with these estrus does.
Many times you will get a chance on a nice buck by letting the does pass unharmed, while waiting for lover
boy to make the scene. But don’t make the mistake of trying to aggressively ‘call’ these mid winter bucks.
For the most part they aren’t very interested in the calls that they responded to so well during the earlier
rutt. If you want to use a call, use only a softer grunt, a locator call.
The Wintertime Bow Hunter
Now let’s take a look at you the hunter. You will tend to ‘work’ differently in colder weather than you did in
the fall season in warmer temps. The hunter will need to wear substantially more clothing than earlier in
the season. This can mean thicker clothing, which can make taking shots with consistency a bit more
difficult. Make use of the more modern, high tech materials, which tend to be thinner. Use layers of
thinner clothing, preferably using Polypropylene layers. These materials are not only thinner, they help to
wick moisture away from your body while in the elements. And please, never use cotton to keep warm.
Cotton traps and holds moisture. Remember that ‘dry’ means warm. Wear less clothing while walking to
your stand and keep extra clothing in a day pack, to be put on when needed. The longer that you can stay
out in the woods on stand, the better chance you have of getting your deer. And above all, practice
shooting your bow with these extra clothes on.
Your Bow in Winter
Your bow will also ‘work’ differently in these colder temperatures. Make sure that you have your pulleys
[with a compound bow] and slides well lubricated. Make sure that your string and cables are waxed
correctly. Try to shoot your bow for practice in these colder temps to see if it reacts the same and holds
the zero. As always, the more you can practice, the more confident of a hunter you will be. The more
confidence that you have, the better hunter you will be.
Why Hunt the Late Season
There are many advantages to hunting the late season for deer. Less competition from other hunters, a
quieter woods, the aesthetics and beauty of the winter woods, filling left over tags, and making use of
more hunting time are just a few of the reasons to hunt late. But to me my number one reason to take
advantage of this late season is that it just gets me out more in the woods. We only are given so many
days on this earth. I want to use as many of mine as possible bow hunting for snow-time whitetails, and the
rest fly fishing.
|Authors son Steve with a
nice 1995 season
eight point whitetail buck
If you can brave the cold, icy winds,
and the snow and sometimes sleet,
the rewards can be worthwhile
Whitetail doe in her winter coat
Hemlock - Messic Swamp
Whitetailed Deer Winter