Whitetail Deer: Tips for Tagging a Cold-Footed Buck

Cold Feat

Illustration by Pete Sucheski

Even the hottest food source can turn cold and desolate when deep snows cover the grub and ground the deer. Bucks may seem to vanish, but this could be the easiest time to find them if you know what to look for. Here’s your three-step plan for locating and tagging a snowbound bruiser.

1. Go for the Green
When snow gets deep, bucks congregate in the relatively few thickets remaining after deciduous leaves fall. That makes those whitetails a little easier to find. But the real key is green browse. Thickets dotted with honeysuckle, galax, and certain species of rhododendron, mountain laurel, and greenbrier provide whitetails with protective cover and late-season food sources when nothing else is available. If you don't know where they exist on your property, speed-scout the edges of your thickest cover at midday, using binoculars to locate green browse as well as any sign of deer activity.

2. Sneak and Stand
Once you've located a promising thicket, make an educated guess as to where a good buck may be bedded. Odds are he'll lie in the thickest, lowest-lying cover to block the cold winter winds. Now go to the biggest patch of green browse farthest downwind from there. If you see fresh droppings, tracks, and trails winding through the snow, quietly hang a stand. Otherwise, move a little closer to the bed until you do. Then set up and sit until dark. The first hunt is often your best chance to score.

3. Get Scary Close
If your buck doesn't show on the first or second evening—and with the season winding down—it's time to roll the dice. At midday, go to your stand but don't get in. Carefully inch closer to the low-lying bedding cover and look for several trails that converge and lead directly to the buck's lair. You are dangerously close, so don't try to hang a stand. Instead, back off just a bit and sit on the ground, on a portable stool, or in a small pop-up blind in a place where you have a good vantage but are well hidden. If you busted that buck, you'll need to find a new thicket tomorrow. If you didn't, you'll need to find a taxidermist.