I had an unusual year in the fall of 2010. Typically, I would be able to hunt bow season, shotgun season, and late muzzleloader season for whitetails using a combination of my regular hunting licenses and tenant’s licenses. However, that year my schedule would only allow me to hunt the late muzzleloader season. Knowing this, I purchased my two allowable tags and waited for the day that I could finally go. I began my hunting on December 23rd and was lucky enough to harvest a nice 10 pointer that morning. Nothing huge, but good enough for the freezer!
That night we had a snow storm come through that left the landscape with a blanket of a foot or two of snow! As I looked out our window in the morning, the snow covered everything that I could see. The trees were burdened with inches of snow, the wind was still whipping it into clouds of whiteouts. The sting could be felt on my face even before I had gone outside. But for me, this was exciting. You see, extreme weather hunts are what I live for. And this day was prime for a good spot and stalk!
I had to convince my wife that morning that the conditions “beckoned” a good two-hour walk to my “good spots”. With a grin that visually spoke, “I don’t believe you”, she granted me the time and I threw on my gear!
My destination was a small grove of cedar trees that sat on the edge of a field. The cedars had low boughs and were often a place of refuge for deer during extreme weather conditions. As I set forth from my house on foot, the walking certainly proved difficult. Drifts had formed and some were strong enough to hold me, and some weren’t. It seemed that with every other step I was breaking through the crust and sinking to my thigh! But, with a little extra sweat, I was soon approaching the bedding area in those cedars.
I made sure to approach the cedars from downwind so that if something was there, it wouldn’t be aware of my presence. The wind was blowing a good 20 mph or more so I knew that any noise I made would be quieted and because of the resulting wind chill, most likely, my targets would be bedded.
As I made my way around the bend, I could see the cedar grove about 100 yards ahead of me. And not to my surprise, the silhouettes of four bedded deer were immediately recognizable. I continued to carry out my approach. I moved from tree to tree in an attempt to get as close as I could to the deer. Finally, I was just a mere 40 yards downwind of them. All four were staring out at the field, checking the wind, and enjoying the safety of the cedars.
I had plenty of time. Slowly, I slid around a tree and got a good seat at its base. I brought my knees up to rest my supporting arm and slowly looked through my scope to pick the largest deer for my shot. I began to scan from the left to the right noticing that all of them seemed mature and would be a good harvest. But as my scope moved to the fourth deer, my heart began to pump a bit more than usual! The image of a 12-point buck that I had not seen before!
Hunting the Extremes
Iowa has some of the best whitetail hunting in the country. Our deer are conditioned to survive in some extreme conditions through the year. Extreme heat, humidity, drought, extreme cold, deep snow, and more seem pretty common weather here in the middle of our nation. But these conditions also, if understood, can prove to be some of the best times to hunt for deer hunters.
In order to be successful, you need to have a bit of a “tough outer shell”, understand deer and their tendencies, and be ready to put forth some extreme efforts if you want success. Let’s talk about some of the conditions that you will meet here in Iowa if you will be hunting for whitetail.
In Iowa, October 1st marks the first date of deer hunting. It begins with archery and in most cases, October still proves to be a “warm” month in our year. For the most part, evenings and night time temperatures are dropping, but daytime temps are still in the comfortable range demanding maybe a sweatshirt on occasion. But along with warmer temperatures, comes rain.
For me, there is nothing more miserable that hunting in the rain. Personally, I will take anything over hunting in the rain. When you’re wet, you’re cold, and that doesn’t sit well with me! However, depending on the conditions of the front that is delivering the rain, hunting can still be good, if not better for pursuing deer!
Let’s talk about some benefits. First off, rain is a noise maker! When those drops are coming down, they are bound to hit something in their path. And for a hunter, that can work to your advantage. Walking to a stand, spot and stalking, even the occasional cough can be covered up by the noise of a million different drops hitting the leaves and forest floor around you! You want to be “quiet”, use the rain!
A second benefit to a hunter is the scent control. Now, this is not 100% fool proof, but I do believe that during a rain, your scent is a little less noticeable. Just as water can be a tracking dog’s worst enemy, it can also be a hunter’s best friend. Your scent will not linger as much on a wet day as it would on a dry day. You still have to be wise about your wind direction, but know that you will have a bit of an advantage in this situation.
The good thing is, deer still move on rainy days! The need to feed, drink, and follow a few does (although it’s too early for the rut) will still cause those deer to move. Bottom line, they can’t escape the rain. They just deal with it. And for the most part, that means their routines will continue on in a somewhat normal pattern. Now, this will depend on what the wind is doing while it’s raining and the heaviness of the rain.
Along with the rain showers that sometimes show up in the late fall comes the wind. And if you’re hunting in Iowa, you can bet that windy days are going to be plentiful. Just look at all the windmills going up all over our state. They wouldn’t be erected if those companies weren’t investing in a “windy” state. Once again, wind could be an enemy or you could choose to use it to your advantage.
Personally, if the wind is blowing more than 25 mph, I tend not to head outside for a hunt. First and foremost, you can bet that you will be losing a lot of your body temperature to it as it blows through every fiber of your layers. No matter how well you dress, the wind will get the best of you! If you are a stand hunter, you also run the risk of putting yourself in danger. As if being high off the ground isn’t enough, you don’t want to add the danger of a swaying tree that could make you lose your balance as you are climbing in and out! (Please know that I do not hunt without a harness!)
So, what’s your best option on a windy day? Hit the hills! That’s right, you have to head for the hills or ravines that those deer will be bedded in as they try to escape the wind that is causing them the same cold that you will experience.
From experience, I have never had luck sitting in a stand on the edge of a field on a windy day. I think wind does a couple things to deer. First, it causes them to lose body heat. Thus, their natural instinct is to get out of the constant beating of the wind and conserve what they have. Second, the rapidly moving wind messes with their ability to hear and smell. Think about all the smells that they have to sort through in every breath. It could make a deer pretty nervous. And on top of that, if the wind is whipping, you’d better know it’s spreading your scent twice as far!
My best suggestion would be to walk those tops of hills and ravines. Make sure you are walking with the wind in your face as you cautiously move towards the edge and look for those deer that are bedded halfway down, tucked into a log or some brush. Trust me, that’s where they will be. And my muzzleloader will attest to that truth over 12 times in the last 3-4 years!
Snow can be a hunter’s best friend or worst enemy! But even when it’s tough, your hunts can become exciting very quickly because of snow. Let me list some of the immediate benefits that a layer of snow can bring for a hunter. It makes tracking easier (tracks and blood), it makes the deer easier to spot and see, it triggers a need for deer to feed more aggressively, it quiets the forest floor for quieter stalking, and much more.
But to hunt in snowy conditions, you have to be a level above the rest. Whether you are sitting in a tree stand, or walking as part of a drive. Snow will test your endurance and abilities in many ways and if you are going to be successful, you have to willing to “push through” these challenges to persevere. Trust me, working hard in snowy conditions will pay off big! It’s done so for me more than once!
Snow does a couple things that I really key in to when I’m hunting. As I mentioned earlier, it forces deer to feed more aggressively. The reason for this, basic physical needs. You see, in order to maintain your heat, your body needs to burn calories. In order to get calories to burn, you need to eat. And in extreme conditions like these for deer, they will begin to come out to those plots and fields a bit earlier than normal in the evening. They may even stay out a bit later in the morning until they go back to bed. They also might be found on their feet during the mid-day in extreme conditions as they just feel the need to stay warm. All these feeding situations could be used to your advantage. You’d better pick a spot near a food source!
Snow also makes things easy to see. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come to the top edge of a ravine and have been able to easily spot a deer bedded some distance down the hill. If you know what you’re looking for, they will stick out like a sore thumb! And here’s the advantage in this situation. Most of the time, you can “strategize” a way to get close and get a shot without them even knowing it! The snow will also muffle any noises you make as you move into position.
Like I said earlier, if you can endure the depths of snow, you will have some great success in snowy situations!
This is where you separate the men from the boys! No kidding! My dad first took me along deer hunting when I was 9 years old. And I remember clearly when he told me, “Ryan, if you complain at all about the cold, I’m taking you home and that will be the end of it!” So, our first morning out, we sat up in an old oak tree. My dad on the branch above me. After sitting for an hour, he said he looked down and saw my whole body shaking uncontrollably. But, NO sound came from my lips! He knew right then and there that I would make an excellent deer hunter.
But cold can be the most brutal thing an Iowa deer hunter can experience. Sometimes there is no need for wind either. Those sub-zero mornings when the cold just bites at every inch of your body makes it very tough to stay put and hope for something to come! But, amid the torture of enduring extremely cold conditions, some of your greatest trophies could be taken!
Typically, these temperatures come during the Iowa shotgun seasons and the late muzzleloader seasons. You can expect that cold temperatures could throw you a curve ball during those months.
The deer will not be able to sit idle for too long in these conditions. Just like us, they need to maintain their body heat, and as I mentioned before, the greatest way of doing that is eating. Now, at the beginning of a cold streak, you may not see too many. If the deer have fed well throughout the fall, they will most likely have some “reserves” to go on for a few days. However, much more than that, deer will HAVE to move towards those fields to feed. And where should you be at that time? Right there to meet them!
Just remember a Mr. Buddy heater and a blind can be a good thing during these types of hunts! It will allow you to stay out much longer and you will have better chances at harvesting that Iowa giant!
Back to the Story
As I sat in a drift of at least two feet of snow, my scope got me up close and personal with a beautiful 3 ½ year old buck that was in a perfect position for me to harvest.
I took some deep breaths in an attempt to calm my heart and breathing. You could say that buck fever set in very quickly and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity because of it.
I slowly took my crosshairs and followed his neckline down from the back of his head to between his shoulder blades. I settled in, pulled the hammer back on my 50 caliber CVA till I heard the “click”, and slowly began to pull the trigger!
With an explosion that was followed by a cloud of smoke I saw the three other does bolt in all directions from the cedars. I quickly stood up to see if my aim was true and there, as the smoke cleared, lay my biggest muzzloader buck to date. A 150 inch Iowa whitetail that is now hanging on my office wall!
Once again, one thing I can promise you, Mother Nature will deal you her best during the Iowa deer seasons. But, be brave enough to battle through those conditions and I promise you, your reward will be well worth it! Good luck!