Focus on Frozen Food for Winter Deer

Winter is here. Focus on these frozen food sources to improve your chances of scoring a giant buck.

Focus on Frozen Food for Winter Deer

Late-season success means keying on viable late-season food sources. Often, finding the right source can dictate the difference between filling your tag or going home empty-handed. (Photo by Bob Robb)

The big 9 stepped into the cornfield at about 2 p.m. I gently slid the safety forward, and the crack of my muzzleloader shattered the silence. And just that quickly, it was all worth it. The sub-zero temps, biting wind, wind-chapped cheeks and my unstoppable runny nose meant nothing.

It was mid-December, the rut was over, and all the other hunters were on the couch watching football, or so it seemed. Like many times before, I’d found better hunting in bitter post-rut weather than during the rut itself.

Frozen Food
The author with a trophy whitetail that he harvested late in the season while keying in on the 'frozen food section.' (Photo by Bob Robb)

PREDICTABILITY

As the mercury plummets in late season, deer often become more patternable. This, thanks to a combination of the drive to feed, food availability, harsh weather and little or no hunting pressure. While there’s no guarantee the early to mid-December time frame will produce hot deer activity each year, excellent action is often missed by those who choose to remain home. Several factors contribute to a deer’s patternability late in the season. These include:

  • Hard-to-find eats. In Northern regions, most crops have been harvested, and acorns and nutritious leaves have been eaten or buried under early snowfalls. Deer congregate on remaining foods and deplete them further.
  • The need to feed. A deer’s metabolism has not yet reached its full-on winter slowdown, meaning hunger can be relentless as the deer struggle to maintain energy reserves in increasingly bitter weather. When they find what they want, they’ll stay close to the food as long as it lasts.
  • Rut recovery. In addition to the increased energy demands all whitetails face, bucks must recover from the rut. All they can do is regain energy and stamina, because it is almost impossible to gain weight now.
  • Relating to fields. Large agricultural fields generally offer the most abundant and accessible foods, so that’s where deer usually head. Also, the combination of hunger and bitter temperatures encourage deer to make daylight appearances, when it’s warmer and they expend less energy obtaining calories.
  • Hunter-free zones. Generally speaking, hunting pressure tails off after the rut, making deer feel more secure when moving at dawn and twilight.
Frozen Food
A good map can help locate food sources you may have not known existed. A cellphone weather app can help you predict weather patterns too and further your success afield. (Photo by Bob Robb)

IT’S RELATIVELY EASY

Unless an unexpected heat wave, extended rain or a gradual cooling trend that eases deer into winter comes, the arrival of snow makes it easier to scout for feeding areas and all-important travel routes from afar. I’ve often done it from my truck with a binocular or spotting scope, looking for beaten-down trails through leafless trees bordering crops.


Which crops are key? Soybeans, corn or brassicas will draw deer like a kid to a candy store. So, too, do alfalfa and winter wheat that remain upright, their leaves and stems accessible beneath light snow. Deer will hit these fields if food is accessible. Also, remember that deer prefer corn, soybeans or cowpeas lying on top of the ground or snow. Though they will, they do not like to pluck food from standing stalks. In fact, they’ll walk past row after row of standing crops and scavenge for hours on harvested fields.


There is a lot of debate among food plotters as to whether corn, soybeans or brassicas work best for late-season forage. If you have enough ground, planting varieties of all three, with planting times and locations staggered, as both disperse feeding activity and increase the time window in which late-season deer visit these sites.

Frozen Food
Deer love corn. Here, the author has located a late-season source which draws whitetail in like a magnet. (Photo by Bob Robb)

THE HUNT

Late-season hunting techniques are simple. Watch the wind and set up along a field edge, preferably in the afternoon. Why afternoon and not morning? I’ve found that in truly bitter weather, the deer remain bedded on east- and south-facing hillsides. Here, the sun warms the ground first thing, and deer usually don’t get up and moving until the air has warmed up. Also, the snow can be super crunchy before sunup, making sneaking into a stand virtually impossible.

This tactic can be adapted if it turns unseasonably warm and rain appears. Now, few mature deer will appear on feeding grounds until last light, or later. Hunting bedding area edges makes more sense than waiting along a field edge. Your hope is to see deer head for their feeding grounds when it’s still light. If you must hunt mornings, your best bet is to set up along a trail between the food source and bedding area. Remaining undetected is everything, so remember that sound travels far and fast on a calm, cold morning.

Lastly, keep in mind when it turns cold, deer prefer bedding as near to food sources as possible. This will reduce energy demands when they move to feed. As such, look for dense bedding cover near food. Deer retreat to these thick sanctuaries to avoid human activity and/or to escape energy-robbing wind chills. In super-bitter weather, the deer will often bed on south- and east-facing slopes that warm up first.


WHAT ABOUT BIG TIMBER?

Hunting big timber during the intense cold can be challenging, to say the least. That’s because, while farmland deer head for crops, big timber deer exist largely on woody browse, which means their food supply is more varied and spread over large areas.

Click to subscribe to Game & Fish Magazine

Remember that a whitetail’s basic energy needs often exceed the fuel it extracts from woody browse such as the twigs and buds of ash, hemlock, aspen, maple, hazelwood and red osier dogwood. Even with a low metabolism and an inactive lifestyle that comes later in winter, the only woody browse that can sustain deer through 100 days in a deeryard is white cedar, but whitetails require 3 to 6 pounds of it daily, a major undertaking in heavily-browsed deeryards.

Big timber whitetails also seek out “Old Man’s Beard,” a gray arboreal lichen resembling Spanish moss. These lichens grow on dead or dying spruce and balsam trees. If you find deer tracks converging on a long-dead tree that toppled recently, look for lichen “beards” on branches beyond the deer’s reach. Lichens are part algae and part fungus, and are rich in nutrition, especially the “micro-nutrients” that help deer survive harsh winters.


Frozen Food
Oftentimes giving it a go from the ground can prove successful. Make use of natural terrain features to disguise your presence. (Photo by Bob Robb)

YARDING UP AND RUBS

If you know where the deer yard up in winter and can find their traditional trails to yarding areas, setting up here with loads of patience can pay big dividends. Studies have revealed that the triggering mechanism for deer yard migrations is generally temperatures of 19 degrees or less for at least five consecutive days. Of course, big timber deer don’t move as one—some leave early, some much later, with young deer and does usually going first and mature bucks trailing the pack.

Also, don’t disregard rub lines from earlier in the year. If a rub line leads between a buck’s bedding and feeding areas, and you find signs that a buck is back on that route, hunt it. Start near the food and try it for a couple of days. Move steadily closer toward his daytime sanctuary if you don’t find better options.

Frozen Food
Monitor the weather forecast closely for any sudden changes. Both unexpected warm and cold fronts can force deer to move. (Photo by Bob Robb)

HUNT WEATHER FRONTS

Once you locate a food source peppered with deer sign, monitor the forecast closely for sudden weather changes. Scientific research tells us both warm and cold fronts motivate deer to move. Smartphone apps make it possible to stay in-tune with the impending weather 24/7. Both weather.com and wunderground.com are reliable weather resources.

Keep in mind, deer generally fall into nocturnal feeding patterns during lengthy periods of warmer temperatures. But when a cold snap is on the way, deer sense the barometric change, and get on their feet earlier than usual. Likewise, deer move really well when a lengthy cold spell with wicked winds and pulverizing snow reduces to calm and moderate conditions. When fronts are approaching, remember, they greatly increase your chances of a daylight encounter.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

13 Fishing Omen Black Baitcasting Rod

13 Fishing Omen Black Baitcasting Rod

Multiple time FLW Costa winner Jessi Mizell is no stranger to catching big Florida bass on a popping frog. As he tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead, with the new 13 Fishing Omen Black baitcasting rod, the job just got easier.

MLF Pro Tips: How to Fish a New Lake

MLF Pro Tips: How to Fish a New Lake

Major League Fishing pros Alton Jones, Jeff Sprague, Anthony Gagliardi and James Watson share their thoughts on how to approach fishing a new lake for bass.

Berkley

Berkley's Surge Shad

Major League Fishing pro Scott Suggs has relied on the Berkley Surge Shad lure concept for years, using similar designs to capture MLF titles and a $1 million dollar FLW Forrest Cup win. With new features in the Surge Shad, Suggs tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead that even he can find success out on the water!

New Spinning Reel for Finesse Fishermen

New Spinning Reel for Finesse Fishermen

As Pure Fishing's Andrew Upshaw explains, reel making giant Abu Garcia has done it again at ICAST 2019 with a new spinning reel geared towards finesse fishermen.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

When it comes to fishing baits, you won't find a more unusual variety than the strange brews of smelly ingredients often used to catch catfish. Catfish

How To Make Your Own Catfish Dough Bait

Keith Sutton - August 04, 2015

When it comes to fishing baits, you won't find a more unusual variety than the strange brews...

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes. Wild Game

10 Recipes for Your Backyard Get Together

Game & Fish Online Staff

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes.

Who needs live bait when the big 'gills are so eager to strike these lures? Other Freshwater

5 Great Lures For Bluegills

Stephen D. Carpenteri - March 10, 2011

Who needs live bait when the big 'gills are so eager to strike these lures?

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish time after time. Catfish

10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About

Anietra Hamper

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish...

See More Trending Articles

More Whitetail

Amid CWD concerns, the evolving regulation of attractants may change the way you hunt. Whitetail

Deer-Urine Bans: The New Normal?

Carolee Anita Boyles - March 27, 2020

Amid CWD concerns, the evolving regulation of attractants may change the way you hunt.

Most major deer-urine scent companies are adopting the technology. Whitetail

Commercial CWD Test for Deer Scents Available, in Wide Use

Game & Fish Digital Staff - February 20, 2020

Most major deer-urine scent companies are adopting the technology.

Winter is here. Focus on these frozen food sources to improve your chances of scoring a giant buck. Whitetail

Focus on Frozen Food for Winter Deer

Bob Robb - December 27, 2019

Winter is here. Focus on these frozen food sources to improve your chances of scoring a giant...

Become a better poor-weather deer hunter. Whitetail

Make Bad Weather a Deer-Hunting Bonus

Terry Madewell - November 27, 2019

Become a better poor-weather deer hunter.

See More Whitetail

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now