Almy: Big storms offer chances for bucks
Hunting before a major snowstorm blows in can be immensely productive because deer can sense it coming and will be up and moving. Hunting immediately after it clears out can also be excellent because deer will be hungry and getting up to feed after hunkering down during the storm.
But what if this scenario unfolds: the storm comes on the day you have off work and it’s the only time you can hunt? What if you scheduled vacation time and want to be out there, whether there’s a storm or not, rather than staying in camp?
Well, the truth is, you can harvest a good buck right in the middle of a snowstorm. And in some ways it’s easier than when it’s not snowing. That’s because the deer will be concentrated for you instead of scattered in different feed areas or searching for late estrous does.
During major snowstorms, bucks will be bedded down in 1) the thickest conifer growth you can find, 2) in remote areas, 3) in their core home range.
The remoteness is because it’s late season and they’ve been pounded for months. They want to escape the pressure and recuperate in a quiet spot after the rigors of the rut.
They are in their core home area because that’s where bucks go when the major rut is finished. Finally, they are usually hunkered in conifers because of the security cover and thermal protection from wind and snow these evergreens offer.
If there happen to be some secondary food sources nearby such as honeysuckle, grapes, laurel, greenbrier, persimmons and forbs, that’s a plus, but not essential. If the storm lasts more than a day they may slip over and browse on those tidbits.
For the most part, though, they’ll simply hunker down in the evergreens. The dense branches provide protection from the snow, break the wind and offer temperatures several degrees warmer than surrounding open hardwoods.
The species depends on your area. Cedars, pine, spruce, hemlock — all offer thermal refuge and attract bucks in a snowstorm.
Both aerial photos and Google Earth will show these potential storm hotspots. You may already know where most of them lie where you hunt from previous trips and scouting.
It’s best not to pressure these areas earlier in the season so they’ll not only be thermal refuges, but also simply late-season sanctuaries that attract bucks as the rut winds down.
The added effect of the storm will push even more bucks into these evergreen hideouts.
It doesn’t hurt to confirm deer are using the area by finding sign, but you really don’t need to. Bucks will often pile into these conifer sanctuaries before the snow starts. So there might not be any tracks in the snow leading in to them. Simply assume they hold a good buck and hunt accordingly.
Strategy: Tactics for snowstorm bucks can be narrowed down to one approach. Stand hunting is out. They’re not moving. And still hunting is out because the cover we’re talking about is jungle-thick and impossible to sneak through quietly and unobtrusively.
One option is left: quick-strike, surgically-executed drives. Depending on the size of the thicket, anywhere from 3-5 hunters can be used.
Study the terrain and cover and post hunters at the most likely exit points. These include strips of brush or fingers of conifers jutting out from the main cover, ditches or draws with thick shrubs and weeds, and both the end and starting-point of the drive.
If you have enough people, also place one hunter watching the next nearest patch of thick evergreen cover. That’s where any bucks that escape will likely head for.
You can either drive into the wind or cross-wind. Walk silently, using a crow or owl call if you need to keep in contact in the super-thick cover.
Have everyone know their safe shooting lanes and wear lots of blaze orange. Use either iron sights or low-power fog-proof scopes with water-repelling surfaces.
Don’t waste a hunting day just because it’s snowing. Gather some friends and drive the cedar, pine, hemlock and spruce thickets.
You may tag a monster. Even if you don’t, it beats watching TV or listening to stale jokes back in camp.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.