Here’s how he scores

Field and Stream - - THE CLOSER -

• If you man­age your hunt­ing ground, suc­cess in the win­ter starts in the sum­mer, be­cause it’s your off­sea­son work that makes it all hap­pen. The first key is to iden­tify the best win­ter bed­ding ar­eas, which around here means brushy south­fac­ing slopes. Then you plant your food plots as close to those bed­ding slopes as pos­si­ble, know­ing that you’ll need good ac­cess to and from your hunt­ing spots. • Plant­ing your own food helps, a lot, but it’s not a must for suc­cess now. There are plenty of ag fields pulling bucks off south­fac­ing slopes across the Mid­west. Sac­ri­fice a lit­tle hunt­ing time and glass at prime time to find out where the deer are feed­ing. • I move all my trail cams to food sources now to learn which are the hottest. The key is to switch them to time-lapse mode to get a field-wide view. Set them to cap­ture the last few hours of shoot­ing light, and use the high­est res­o­lu­tion, be­cause you’ll be zoom­ing in a lot to iden­tify the best bucks.

• There’s no magic bul­let in terms of what to plant. Deer crave green for­age in win­ter be­cause they don’t get much of it then. So we plant plenty of clover and bras­si­cas, and as long as the deer can get at it, those are our go-to plots. But we also plant soy­beans and corn, in case the snow is deep. You have to cover all the bases. • You can kill deer from a tree­stand now, but a blind makes it eas­ier. It gets you out of the wind and helps hide your fid­get­ing. We put ours 6 to 8 feet up on wooden plat­forms, above a deer’s line of sight. But you still have to be very care­ful about move­ment in­side the blind. • Plots at the bot­tom of a bed­ding slope are tough to hunt be­cause deer are look­ing down at you as you come in. Un­less you’ve got a ditch or creek bed that leads al­most to the blind, the best op­tion is to plant some kind of screen­ing cover, like switch­grass, that al­lows you to sneak in.

• The hard­est part is leav­ing your blind with­out spook­ing a field full of deer. The best so­lu­tion is to have some­one drive into the field and right to your hide with a truck or trac­tor. That doesn’t bother farm­land deer. Lack­ing that, I’ll just wait un­til full dark and walk out if it’s windy. I know my scent isn’t blow­ing to the feed­ing deer, so all they have is the sound of some­thing walk­ing. On calmer nights, I’ll owl­hoot or coy­ote-howl, which al­most al­ways clears the field and al­lows me to slip out of there, know­ing they’ll be back by my next hunt. • Nor­mally, I pre­fer to hunt cloudy days, but not dur­ing the late sea­son. Sunny days with high pres­sure— mean­ing a barom­e­ter of at least 30.1—are hands down the best now. There is one ex­cep­tion: Re­ally high­pres­sure days, where the barom­e­ter is 34 or so, make the deer lethar­gic. I can’t ex­plain it. I just know what my ex­pe­ri­ence has shown. •

Most hunters know that a bit­ter­cold day, es­pe­cially the first cou­ple of the sea­son, can re­ally get deer on their feet and feed­ing. But my jour­nals have proven to me that the first warm day or two after a big cold front is just as good. Not only will deer feed, but they’ll also be out early. And this goes for even the big­gest deer, so you want to be sure to be in your blind then. • Hunt­ing now re­quires a short mem­ory. It’s so cold, stuff doesn’t work like it should, and the deer are psy­chotic. Every­thing is a strug­gle, and it’s easy to fail night after night. But you have to keep your head in the game be­cause even­tu­ally, maybe in the next few min­utes, you’ll get your chance to kill an ab­so­lute gi­ant.

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