Tag out in frigid temps by mapping out a plan that will keep you warm and dry.
As Old Man Winter creeps into the South, many deer hunters may opt out for a cozy spot in front of the fireplace. Frigid air can turn some away from the cold and dreary woods. Cold can be a relative term. To some folks, anything below 50 degrees Fahrenheit is cold. But for others the temperature has to be below freezing to be considered cold.
Across the Cotton State, cold air from north to south can bring a major variation in temperatures. When the cold air moves in, deer activity will be on the increase. Most deer chasers may not want to venture out to their stands in sub-freezing air, but they are missing out on a perfect opportunity to fill a slot on their buck tag.
Granted, Alabama is not known for bitter cold winters. However, sometimes a shot of cold air from the North Country will blow in for a few days. Deer hunters who have prepared and kept an eye on the weather will be ready to hit their stands in search of bitter cold bucks.
If you grew up hunting in the South, you probably learned about dressing in layers.This meant several different shirts, jackets, pants and a set of thermals to stay warm during the morning hours. As the day progressed and temperatures climbed, layers could be removed for the hunter to remain comfortable. During extreme cold situations, hunters may need to don heavy-insulated outerwear to fight off the chill.
“Your hands and feet will get cold the quickest,” advises Craig Straley of Lincoln, Ala. Straley is originally from Ohio and has hunted deer all across the U.S.
He recommends high-quality boots with around 1,000 grams of Thinsulate insulation. This type of boot will help keep your feet warm during cold weather while sitting in a blind or on a stand. Heavy hunting socks will also assist in keeping your feet and toes warm for a more comfortable hunt in the cold.
Hands are another part of the body where cold temperatures can affect your hunting. Gloves with Thinsulate or other insulating material should protect from the effects of frigid temps. Another smart choice for hunting in snow or ice is waterproof gloves. These will keep your hands and fingers dry while avoiding heat-robbing moisture.
“Heavy gloves can get in the way of shooting,” comments Straley. “Gloves that are too thick will not fit in the trigger guard on your rifle and may prevent you from pulling the trigger.”
Hunters should consider not only the weather conditions for the day but also the type of hunting they will be doing. If stalk-hunting, thinner layers can be worn to avoid sweating while moving through the woods. Acrylic and neoprene undergarments worn next to the skin will whisk away moisture to keep you dry and warm.
If a long walk is required to a stand or shooting house, hunters should carry their outerwear for the hike in. Once at your hunting location, put on the heavier outer garments to shed off the cold while sitting. Small portable propane heaters can also be used in extreme cold conditions.
“I like to use a small heater if the temperature gets below 20 F,” Straley says. “I will place the heater in the stand on the floor between my legs.”
He advises that caution be used when moving around in the stand or blind so as not to tip over the heater. Straley says the heaters are small enough to place in a backpack for the walk to the stand. Also, he recommends the disposable style hand warmers, one in each pocket. The hand warmers can also be placed inside the boot if needed.
Usually, bitter cold temperatures don’t last over a couple of days in Alabama. However, hunters will want to practice shooting their rifles with their bulky outer garments. The thick clothing will change how the rifle and scope fit the hunter.
When the weatherman or woman mentions an approach of a cold front, serious deer hunters should take note. Cold fronts signal a coming change in the weather for the region. Generally, temperatures can be forecast with relative accuracy for the next few days. Hunters should pay attention to how low the air temps will drop.
Approaching cold fronts will trigger significant changes in temperatures and sky conditions, depending on how strong the front. Nighttime lows can drop as much as 20 degrees or more. The second day after the frontal passage will be the coldest night.
“Cold air coming in will make the deer active,” comments Ken Ballard of Riverside, Ala. “With rain and windy conditions coming in, the deer will be up feeding and moving around.”
Ballard says the deer will head for the thickest stuff they can find during the worst of the weather. Hunters can expect the wind direction to be blowing from the north or northwest after a passing cold front. They can use this information to plan their hunt in colder temps.
After a day or so, the general weather conditions should be a little calmer. However, in mid to late December it would not be uncommon for air temps to drop into the teens, especially in the northern part of the state. As high pressure moves over the area, the skies will clear and the air temperature will drop.
Windy ways and days
One negative that accompanies cold fronts is wind. Combine this with the colder air and the wind can cut through you like a knife. The wind chill index is something deer hunters should consider when outside. Wind chill is how the temperature feels to warm-blooded creatures, such as us humans, on exposed skin. Cold winds can rob the body quickly of heat, which can lead to frostbite or hypothermia.
According to the National Weather Service wind chill chart, a 30 F temperature in calm air can feel like 19 F with a wind speed of 15 mph. Deer are also affected by wind chill, but they have a built-in coat of hair and fur for their protection. But they have other reasons to avoid strong, blustery winds.
“Deer do not like the wind,” Straley says. “They will find a place like a thicket or deep gulley to get out of the wind.”
Straley says a deer’s ability to hear and smell is reduced by the factors of breezy conditions. Bucks and does will move to the backside of a hill or inside a large thicket to avoid the wind. Hunters planning out their hunt knowing the wind direction and their hunting property can set up in a likely spot that will be holding deer.
Buck hunters will want to set their stand where they can see a little farther out and still have some protection from the wind. Hunters should still keep their clothes scent-free and use cover scents or odor-eliminating sprays to avoid spreading any human scent downrange to the buck.
Sometimes, a couple of cold fronts back to back can move through and keep the region in freeze- like air for several days. Deer and other wildlife will especially need more food during times of bitter cold. Buck chasers should place their stands or blinds near some type of food source during the cold snap.
“During cold weather, deer are going to be in the crop fields,” Straley comments. “Old corn or soybean fields will usually draw in some deer.”
During cold days and nights, deer will require carbohydrates such as corn, beans and other grains. Fields where crops have been harvested may still have some grain left over or spilled during the cutting process. Acorns are another good source of carbs for deer. Hunters should check out oak flats or bottoms for any remaining acorns a buck may be feasting on.
If the agricultural field is close by a thicket of pines or other heavy brush, this is where the hunter should set his stand for a buck. During extreme cold-weather days, big bucks may venture out into the cut-crop fields in search of food even in the middle of the day.
“Know the trails bucks will use to enter or exit the field,” Ballard advises. “Look for buck tracks along the field edges to learn their travel routes.”
Tracks can be determined to be fresh right after a rain. If new tracks are on top of older tracks, that can be considered a high-use trail. Game cameras can also be set up along the field edges to monitor buck movement in and out of the fields. During the winter months, cold fronts will come through about once per week on average. The timing will allow buck hunters to map out their strategy.
When crop fields are empty and the acorns no longer available, green fields or food plots can supply some nutrition for hungry deer. The urge for most hunters is to set up overlooking the field. However, wise buck hunters will fix their stands back away from the food plot.
“Again, look for trails from the bedding areas or thickets leading to the food plot,” says Ballard. “The does and younger bucks may enter the field first and the older bucks will lag behind.”
Ballard advises if the field begins to fill up with deer and the hunter is perched on the edge, he could be spotted by one of the many deer. Later in the season, deer are more edgy when stepping out in open areas. A hunter stationed farther back in the woods will find the deer a little more at ease in the cover.
Other areas that can offer a buck some food are creek drainages and swamp edges. Even though the weather is cold, there are still some forbs available. Hunters should seek out greenbrier, honeysuckle and similar forage in these areas. These types of areas, usually a little thicker with underbrush, offer the buck a little more protection from the elements and concealment.
During super cold days, which do happen in the Heart of Dixie, buck hunters may want to sleep in a little later and hit the woods around mid-morning. Other hunters may not be able to hold out and have headed back to the truck for some hot java. Their movement could push a buck in your direction.
Granted, we do live in the South and cold weather usually doesn’t hang around too long. However, we can have our share of some frigid temps from time to time. But we hope you will be prepared and on the next cold snap tag out on a bitter cold buck.