As the snow falls across the Midwest and the rut comes to a close over the next week or so, deer behavior is going to shift to winter patterns. Some hunters lament the harder conditions to hunt it while others look forward to December all year. The same strategies you were using in October may suddenly appear to quit working. There are, however, some ways you can use the cold temperatures and snow to your advantage to keep hunting.
Changing Food Sources
While many agricultural fields have now been cleared and acorns are less visible on the forest floor, food is more than important than ever to deer during the winter. Body fat is the key to bucks recovering lost mass during the rut and preparing to weather the colder temperatures. If there is any standing corn left in nearby fields that will be a sure bet for late-season bucks. Likewise, while acorns may be harder for us to see, deer will still be searching for them under the snow near mast trees. Less obvious foods like sumac and woody browse will also draw crowds of deer in December. Look for areas where there is a lot of understory and short woody brush to find where deer are eating as winter sets in.
Like most mammals, deer will tend to try and conserve their energy during the winter months. This means that they will likely spend more time bedding each day. They are still crepuscular and will likely move at dawn and dusk, but when it is particularly cold some deer may wait to leave their beds until the afternoon when the temperature has risen a bit. Finding their bedding areas will be key to late-season hunting. Take advantage of the ability to move quieter on snow and set up closer to those bedding zones.
Use The Snow To Your Advantage
Snow can provide some advantages to hunters who stick out the cold to hunt in December. Footprints and sign become much easier to see. If you hit the woods to scout after a fresh snowfall and move quietly you may be able to follow tracks right to a bedding or feeding area. Glassing can pay off more as well. Now that the cover has come down it is much easier to see further distances with optics and brown deer can stand out a lot better against the white backdrop of snow.
Capitalize On Winter
The colder the temperatures and the harsher the weather, the fewer the hunters who will be in the woods. By adapting your strategy to chase deer in the winter, you can be ready to take advantage of the lower hunting pressure and snowfall. Understanding winter feeding and bedding patterns will pay dividends and sticking it out until the end of the season can pay off in some big ways.