Winter Whitetails…Where to find them
With the holiday season rapidly approaching most hunters are probably thinking more about egg nog and Santa Claus than they are about whitetail hunting. There is a select few hunters that love this time of year for deer hunting and are getting excited about the cold weather hunting that lies ahead.
Winter whitetail hunting can be one of the greatest challenges in the sport. The deer have seen a season’s worth of hunting pressure, food sources are limited, and the deer themselves are moving less to conserve energy. These factors can make the deer difficult to locate and even more difficult to harvest during daylight hours.
The first step in finding a mature buck this time of year is finding an active food source. These food sources will vary depending on conditions. The greatest determining factor will be the amount of snowfall. With significant snow coverage of 6 inches or more the food sources will be extremely limited. The deer would have to expend a great amount of energy to dig up waste grain and hay in fields and therefore usually avoid the task. With this amount of snow cover deer will seek out standing crops (if available) and other browse that is above the snow. Japanese honeysuckle, honey locust, and taller grasses are all readily sought after during deep snow season. When the snow is less than 6 inches deep the deer can be found most anywhere there is still some food available.
Something that seems to happen nearly every season now is a snow melt off. If you have a significant snow cover that gets melted away from a warm trend in the weather there is another area that you will want to turn your attention. Alfalfa, grass hay, clover, and winter green fields will be very popular during these warming trends. When the deer are subjected to long spells of snow cover they really lack the greens that they crave as part of their diet, so when the snow melts away these areas will be very attractive to the deer herd. Even if you have standing grain crops available, you should turn your attention to these green fields during a warming trend associated with a snow melt off.
Once you have located a preferred food source it is advisable to scout the area from a distance (if possible) to determine if a mature buck is using the area. Deer typically bed very close to the food source this time of the year and will be extremely susceptible to pressure. If you choose to hunt a popular food source you will almost certainly have to bump deer to exit in the evenings. There will be little chance of continually repeating this exit strategy and still having a chance at a mature whitetail, so you will want to make every hunt count.
There is still time to punch that tag this season, so don’t put away your gear just yet. Drink some egg nog, give Santa some cookies, and hit the woods to find that mature buck. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!
Corey J. Wilkinson