It’s cold outside! And it’s no secret that winter blasted us early this year. So when I suggest you give up the morning hunt and concentrate on evening ambushes, it might bring a smile to your face on your next late-season outing. It means sleeping in and, of course, not having to brave the bone-chilling morning temperatures.
But why would you give up the morning and only gamble on an evening meeting for your big buck encounter?
First, it’s generally warmer in the afternoons. Some of you might have heated shooting houses or even live in climates where a morning hunt won’t cost you some toes or fingers, but for many whitetail hunters morning is the coldest time of the day. Typically, the temperature crashes right at sunrise and this could critically cut your ability to stay in stand long enough to waylay a buck.
Not only will the cold hamper your ability to stay put longer, but it can slow muscle response, freeze fingers and even frost your facemask. All of these factors affect how well you’ll be able to draw your bow or pull the trigger on your muzzleloader.
Second, in extreme cold conditions—particularly in Northern latitudes—whitetail activity drops off to almost zero in the mornings. Whitetails are survivalists, so they know that it’s better for overall survival to hunker down and conserve calories as opposed to be out roaming in the mornings.
My personal observations indicate activity begins buzzing later in the morning as the sun warms the landscape and it really shows from midafternoon until dusk. That’s the warmest time of the day and deer don’t have to burn as many calories while on the hunt for food.
Lastly, even if conditions allow and you really want to hunt the morning, you have to take into consideration the behavior of the deer themselves. Your focal point is food because post-rut deer are focused almost solely on beefing back up after losing up to 25 percent of their body mass during the rut.
Then ask yourself: Will I bump deer as I travel to my stand in the dark? Any intrusions could change the pattern of deer, pushing them toward a more nocturnal feeding pattern instead of showing themselves in the afternoon glow. And always give yourself an evening exit for your afternoon hunt. Instead of putting your stand on a field edge, back it into the woods or set it adjacent to terrain to screen your departure.
Late-season hunts can be some of the most productive hunts of the year because bucks are forced to expose themselves for calorie restocking. Play it safe and consider forgoing the morning hunt as a key strategy this winter.