It’s been nearly three months since the first deer season opened in Iowa. The days are shorter and the temps are lower but there is still hunting to do. Its time for late season archery/muzzleloader hunting for whitetail! No matter if you didn’t fill your tag the first go around or just love to hunt the late season, one thing is for sure, that late December and early January season gives you a great chance at shooting a trophy whitetail. Yes the conditions are harsher than the early seasons but whitetail bucks are still susceptible to harvest because one thing is on their mind…FOOD! A whitetails desire to consume food for the upcoming winter months makes them just as easy to pattern as it was during the late summer and early fall.
Check out the 20 tips provided below on how to harvest a big buck during the late seasons here in Iowa.
- Food reigns king during the late season. Bucks are trying to pack on the pounds they lost during the rut and gun seasons; nearly 30% of body weight can be lost during that period of time. Concentrate most of your hunting efforts on or near viable food sources that deer are using.
- If you can find a partially picked cornfield, set a blind in the unpicked portion facing the picked portion of the field. Make sure to cover-in the blind with corn stubble and stocks.
- During the late season, bucks and all deer for that matter will bed closer to food sources to save energy during the cold months of winter.
- Deer will want bedding areas during the late season with dense vegetation and undergrowth where they feel safe from the weather and intruders.
- Field edges are a key hunting spot location and should be hunted, but days are shorter now and bucks are the last to enter the field. Make sure and set up where you know daylight won’t be an issue. Staging areas 20-30 yards inside a field edge are great spots to shoot a lingering buck.
- Bucks like to bed on south facing slopes with dense thick cover near food sources as the sun heats the southern slopes quicker during the winter months.
- Deer don’t want to move long distances to feed and bed. Often times food sources and bedding areas will be 100-200 yards away from each other, provided the cover is ideal and food is available.
- Winter storms and cold snaps are great times to hunt, more specifically right before the storm approaches and right after the storm clears. Deer can sense the approaching storms and will feed heavily to sustain themselves for the next 24-36 hours. After the storm has passed you can be sure that deer will be on their feet looking to replenish the nutrients they have lost by hunkering down due to the storm.
- The best time to hunt during the late season is during the afternoon and evening when the day is at its warmest. You can most certainly hunt the morning hours but deer tend to bed for the day before the sunrises during the winter months. Plus you risk busting deer out of a field on the walk in during the morning causing them to find another food source.
- Bucks return to their core areas during the late season and will often freshen rubs and scrapes near bedding and food sources. If you see fresh sign near bedding areas set up in between the bedding area and the travel route to the food source.
- During winter months deer become more nocturnal in part because of the energy saving benefits of being up on their feet during the night hours and bedding during the daylight hours.
- Cloudy days are great to get out during the morning and earlier in the afternoon. Cloud cover can extend feeding during the morning and evening hours due to the low light conditions.
- Fresh snowfall gives a muzzleloader hunter a great opportunity to track and stalk a big buck by the tracks it leaves in the snow.
- Remember deer are skittish due to the nearly three months of hunting pressure. Move slowly and quietly regardless if you are in a blind, stand, or still-hunting.
- Scent control is still very important during late season. Play the wind in your favor so the wary deer will not detect you.
- Dress in layers! Heat gets trapped in the multiple layers keeping you warm for longer periods of time.
- Bulky winter layers can be a hassle to shoot your weapon in. Make sure you practice with all those layers on.
- Don’t sweat! Take your time walking in and be cautious not to get overheated to the point where you start to sweat. As you settle into your stand, perspiration will dramatically chill your body reducing your ability to sit longer.
- Pack food and water. Pack quick sugar boosting foods, along with foods high in protein and fat. These foods will fuel the body for long cold sits. Stay away from caffeine and stick with water. Caffeine is a diuretic, which will cause you to urinate more often, not a good thing when hunting whitetails in the cold. A thermos of warm soup is a good idea to warm the body.
- Play it safe, winter weather is harsh in Iowa. No deer is worth getting injured over. Take everything into account and plan accordingly.
The late season should be regarded as a prime opportunity to hunt mature Iowa whitetails. Don’t let the cold and the edgy deer deter you from packing it up for the year. Bucks need and will seek out food to put on the weight they lost during the rut and to sustain them for the next few months of winter. That is your golden ticket to tag a big late season Iowa buck. Hone in on where they are feeding and where they are bedding along with the other tips provided above to increase your odds.