Here’s how he scores
• 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.