The Last Dance
It’s cold, bad cold, below zero temps. Northwest winds are so cold your eyelids seem like they are freezing open. Outside you think you are the only person left on the face of the earth. Nothing stirs. No sound except your lungs screaming out after each and every breath you take. This is about the best time of the year to be out in God’s country. It does not matter if you are in the woods or in the fields, the crowds of people are gone. The masses have gone into hibernation. The time for making mistakes is over. If you make one now, you are @#&*$, but to the few who are dedicated and anal enough to endure the harsh conditions, it can be some of the best Whitetail hunting the year can offer.
Post rut Whitetails are not as hard as some make them out to be. There are two primary needs that these creatures must have to survive the harsh winter, FOOD, and SHELTER. You find these and you have won half the battle. The other quarter of the battle is finding a place somewhere in between to set your ambush. The last quarter is having and maintaining your equipment so it can function when the time to make the shot presents itself. I don’t know how many times I have heard people say my stand or bow made a noise, I had to call the day short because my feet or hands were frozen, or I never see any deer after the rut. All of these things could have been prevented with a little more time and preparation. Yes, I know we are all busy, but if you are going to sit in the stand, at least make it worthwhile. Remember, just because a stand was good in November does not mean it will be so good in late December or January, patterns change. I don’t like sitting in stands I have no confidence in. If I have confidence in my setup, I can endure longer hours in a state of misery, thus, upping my chances for success. I keep a stand or two and climbing sticks packed away just for this time of year. Feeding areas change with crop rotations and so should your late season stand placement.
Let’s first look at where to find these famous disappearing bucks. I always start my post rut scouting in front of my computer. Yes, you heard it right, miles from the woods looking at Google Earth or another web page with aerial photos. My first order of business is to find an aerial photo of the property I intend to hunt. The reason I need this information is to see the layout of the land. In particular, I am looking for any farm ground that may be on or adjacent to the property I am hunting. This will most likely be my food source or at least part of it. The next step is to do a little truck time watching these fields for the last couple of hours of the day. You can get a pretty good idea of what kind of deer you have in the area and what fields they are using in just a couple of trips. I also look at my aerial photos to try and find likely places for the deer to bed. We now know what fields they are using and the locations and areas they are entering the fields. So, let’s get in the woods. I, myself, like to use my 4-wheeler to do my scouting. I can cover a lot more ground checking trails around the field edges. Once I find a well-used trail, I proceed to scout it on foot, working my way deeper into the brush looking for deer beds. Also, look for what I call staging areas. These are areas where deer will likely hold up before entering the fields at dusk. Most will be 50 to 100 yards off the edge. A staging area can sometimes be hard to find. When looking for them I look for small trees and plants that have the ends of the branches and buds browsed off. Also, I look for large number of tracks that have no apparent direction they are heading. These random tracks tell me deer are spending a little more time in these areas. This is the place for a stand. I would rather hunt these areas than the field edges because late season bucks will often let the does enter the fields first while they wait off in a staging area ‘til dusk or even dark before entering the fields. I don’t know how many times I have sat in the truck looking at does thinking there are no bucks in the area, only to set a stand up 75 yards from the field edge and kill a good one a couple of days later.
With an area picked for a stand, let’s get one hung. A point I would like to stress is that steel + frozen tree = noise when you shift your weight, so to dampen the sound, I always wrap cloth sports tape on areas of the stand that touch the tree bark. This will take care of most of the unwanted noise that may occur. Another hint is to melt bow wax into any moving parts. This too will help quiet a frozen stand. As for the height of the stand, I like to be up at least 25 feet. With the leaves and cover gone, deer can catch you moving, and your silhouette a lot easier. A good way to help break up your silhouette in the stand is to cut oak branches from another area. Using plastic tie straps, attach the branches on and around your stand. I use oak because it will hold its leaves through most of the winter. I do not use climbers during these cold trips, climbers do not grip frozen trees worth a S***, I have taken a ride down the tree once or twice when the stand lost its bite.
We have a stand area picked and a stand hung, so let’s look at what we need to carry in the woods and what we need to do to our equipment to keep it operational in these harsh conditions.
1.) Open a set of chemical hand warmers and toe warmers, and put them in your boots and pockets before you leave the truck. These little gems take a little time to build heat in extreme cold.
2.) Shoot your bow with all of the clothes you intend to wear in the stand at the target at home. This is to find out if there is anything hindering your draw and release. Also, frozen bows shoot differently than a warm one.
3.) Sight your bow in at less poundage than you usually shoot. Cold shoulders have a hard time pulling heavy weight after a couple of hours in below freezing temps.
4.) Use a dry lube on your moving bow parts. This helps with the draw.
5.) Carry extra batteries for your tracking light. They fade quick in cold temps.
6.) Take a cell phone with you so if something happens you can call for help. (Note to self-turn the phone off before you get into the stand. Deer do not like to jam to my ring tone.)
7.) Take a camera with you to the stand. You cannot believe what you will see this time of the year.
8.) Use your body restraint and life line at all times going up and coming down in the stand. You are not as nimble with 15 extra pounds of gear on.
9.) Draw your bow a couple times an hour to keep loose.
10.) Don’t lay your bow in the snow when climbing up into your stand. It will pack into places you don’t want it.
11.) Watch weather patterns. Deer will move a lot earlier before fronts approach in cold weather.
12.) Go to the truck and put on some lighter weight clothes before tracking a hit deer. If you sweat, you freeze!
13.) Don’t give up on a hit deer. Winter fat can plug arrow holes, leaving little or no blood. If you lose the trail, return the next day and look until you pick the trail back up.
14.) There may still be a few unbred does in the area, so don’t be afraid to do a little calling and rattling. Just keep your call under your coat. A call with a frozen reed doesn’t make any noise!
15.) Take additional time when field dressing your trophy. It’s hard to tell what you are cutting with numb hands. The next CUT you make might be you.
16.) Use this time to start your scouting for the next season, in the snow old scrapes, and big rub lines can be spotted much easier when the foliage is off the under growth. Make notes of these key spots for stand placement next season.
I have been fortunate to take several late season bucks over the last years. In fact, I have taken a couple I never saw during the rut or had any idea they were even in the area. These are a few weeks during the year you can have the woods to yourself, so get off you’re @#$ and get after it. What you get may surprise you. At worst, you can work off a couple of those unwanted pounds you gained over the holidays!
SEE ‘YA IN A TREE or WINTER SPORT SHOW