Food is often times the only reason a deer will move this time of year. With frigid temperatures setting in and a long winter ahead of them deer will often times bed all day and feed throughout the night. This is when you begin seeing deer herd up in large quantities around a “hot” food source. So what food is preferred this time of year? In the upper Midwest deer will generally head towards a standing corn field for an easy high carbohydrate meal. If there’s a standing bean field around that’s a good possibility as well. On the other hand if you hunt private land and you’ve done your work in the offseason by planting any sort of cold weather food plot; now’s your time to reap the benefits. Build it and they will come holds true for these crafty critters as well!
2) Split the Difference
You found the food, that’s step “A”, now all you is “B” find the most likely bedding and “C” determine how they get from A-B. Sounds easy right? It can be, but it can also be extremely frustrating. Here is a good plan of attack. If you live in northern climates typically there is snow on the ground before the season closes. What I like to do is set up 20 yards off these often times heavily rutted trails that head to the food source, which allows you to sit back a bit so the deer don’t pick you out in the sparse cover. It also gives you an easy chip shot.
Here comes the tricky part; how far off the food source do you hunt? For me a lot of my experience comes from hunting public land. The deer have been hit hard and are just about 100% nocturnal, especially if they have anything growing out of their head. Play it safe. Start on the cautious side of things, maybe only 40 yards off the field. A lot of this is determined by the dynamics of the property. If they bed near the food, you may have no other option than to hunt over the food source. I’d rather be cautious, gradually moving closer to the anticipated bedding area then bump them to another county! A good technique to help quickly determine this is the use of trail cameras. Set the camera(s) 10-20 yards off the food source on trails you think might be worth hunting to determine when the deer are entering the field. Compare this time to legal shooting time to help determine how far the deer might be traveling from bed to the food source. The longer the time the further the distance is a good rule of thumb to go by! Implementing trail cameras also lets you see what bucks from your hit-list made it through so far.
3) Be Prepared
Though you may not be sitting all day, Mother Nature can make it pretty brutal this time of year! Dress warm. The last thing you want to happen is have a shooter come in and be unable to draw back because you’re so cold (yes this has happened to me before). I like to keep the layers thin and tight. If you have bulky clothes on and you resemble the Pillsbury Doughboy (done this too) it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to cleanly draw back and release an arrow. It’s a fine line to flirt with so I recommend shooting a few practice arrows in your attire prior to heading to the stand.
Let us know if these tips help you bag a late season buck or if you have any other tips that you find useful!