This Is How Deer Survive Winter Weather

deer in snowA polar vortex is gripping the northern half of the U.S., creating brutal conditions. It’s minus 10 this morning in Paradise Hill, Saskatchewan where I hunt a lot, and around zero and dropping in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

How do northern whitetails survive this intense cold and snow?

Chris Whittier, a researcher and professor at Tufts University, explains it well in this article:

…deer physically prepare for the winter by better insulating their bodies. In the fall, deer gradually trade their summer hair coat for a winter one, which consists of thicker, longer, and darker hairs called guard hairs, while also growing in a much thicker undercoat.

This winter coat absorbs more sunlight and traps more body heat than the summer coat, and provides an extraordinary amount of protection from the cold. Deer also have oil-producing glands in their skin that help make their hair water repellent, which is especially valuable in the snow. For further insulation, their bodies also begin to retain more fat in layers during the fall.

Chris points out that beginning in January, deer change their behavior:

They are generally less active, sometimes dropping their metabolism by half, which allows them to save energy and eat less. Deer may physically hunker down during particularly harsh weather—not moving for days, even to eat— which is made possible by relying on their fat stores.

Finally, in brutal conditions, deer gravitate to stands of thick spruce, pine and other conifer trees, which provide thermal cover from wind and snow. They may hunker down in there for days, rising only to nibble twigs, stems, grasses, and other plants that might be available.

That deer can survive the brutal winter of a place like Saskatchewan, and grow huge racks the following summer, amazes me.

Mississippi Woman, 101 Years Young, Still Shooting Deer

MS woman 101

Photo Source: Clarion-Ledger

The Clarion-Ledger reports that Bertha Vickers of Morgantown was having a tough season. She’d been seeing deer, but couldn’t close the deal.

But her luck changed a few days after her birthday.

Vickers celebrated turning 101 and was back in her hunting blind, hoping for a chance.

She spotted a small doe. “I decided to wait for a bigger one,” Vickers said. “Before long, a bigger doe came out and I shot.

Read the full story to see what happened next.

Bertha’s grandson skinned the deer, and she helped cut it up.

“When you’re as old as I am, you naturally think each one could be your last one, but I’m going to go as long as I can,” Vickers told the Clarion-Ledger. “I enjoy it. I love being outside.”

Ultimate Guide To Hunting Shed Antlers

shedsGoogle shed hunting and up pops more than 1 million links to a mind-bogging array of antler info. There are shed-hunting clubs, a shed-antler record book and Facebook pages. Tens of thousands of articles and blogs have been published and posted on how and where to hunt for antlers. Television shows on antler hunting air on Sportsman Channel each year. I produced a shed episode for Big Deer TV a few years ago and it was one of the most popular shows of the year.

There is a good chance you are at least a semi-obsessed antler hunter, or that you will get into it very soon. Either way, here’s stuff you need to know.

When to Shed Hunt

When your hunting season ends in December or January, there is no rest for the weary. The second season of antler hunting commences immediately as the bone starts plunking off the bucks’ heads.

“Bucks lose their antlers anywhere from late December to March, and it’s primarily because of the increasing daylight hours in late winter and spring,” says Missouri biologist Grant Woods. “Inside that window, the health of bucks in an individual herd dictates when the antlers will drop. Grant says bucks that were malnourished, overly stressed or perhaps injured the previous fall will shed their antlers weeks earlier than healthy bucks that lived on private land with nutritious feed in fall and winter.

Monitor the bucks in your area as best as you can. From late December on, keep your trail cameras running at bait sites (if that is legal in your state). At the very least ride around and glass deer that feed in fields. The day you see bucks with one antler or, better yet, none, start looking.

Where and How to Find Sheds

Most people naturally look for antlers in the same areas where they hunt bucks in the fall. You might find some bone in those places, but you might not.

As a general rule, from January through March, 90 percent of the whitetails are congregated in 10% of the habitat that has the best available food sources. This is where you need to hunt.

“I find very few sheds in the same area I hunt, it’s just not the place where the deer spend the winter,” says South Dakota shed fanatic Kelly Kirsch, who picks up more than 100 antlers each year. “You need to branch out and find where the deer yard up and feed this time of year, what type of crops they are on. Out here winter wheat is great.”

Other prime food sources are standing soybeans, or a late-cut bean field with some pods still on the ground; alfalfa and clover; scrubby fields with green shrubs, berries and locust trees with pods. Standing corn is great anywhere, and corn stubble is good.

While feed is the number one place to look brushy, wooded staging areas within 100 yards or so of the beans or corn is a close second. From there, branch out a bit and look in winter bedding areas. Montana shed-hunting fanatic Dick Idol told me he finds 50 percent of his biggest sheds in thick covers where mature bucks hide in winter, and along trails that link those sanctuaries with nearby feed fields.

Now that you know where to look, and having gained permission to shed hunt as many of those fields and covers as you can, get out there and go. The best shed hunters cover 10, 15, up to 20 miles per day. Great exercise! Wear your best, comfortable hiking boots and carry plenty of water.

As you walk look close, real close. “Many people look right over sheds,” notes whitetail expert Terry Drury. “They look too far out in front of where they’re walking. Take it slow and look straight down at the ground, scan every square foot. Sometimes you’ll spot a whole antler, or maybe just a tine sticking up. Some sheds are white, others are brown and blend into the grass and leaves. You’ve got to look close.”

Go when you can, but consider that antlers are easiest to spot on an overcast day. If there’s light rain, great, bone will shine.  Antlers are hardest to pick out in full, harsh sunshine.

A few more tricks to up your shed count:

  • Pick up a deer trail that wends from a feed field and follow it a half-mile or more, until you come to a thick and obvious bedding area. In late winter that might be a brushy southern exposure that gets midday sunlight, or the east side of a grassy ridge or knoll where deer hunker out of a bitter northwest wind. You’ll find some bone in either type thicket, or along the trail that leads to and from it.
  • If you find a good number of sheds in a spot one year, you will probably find more there the next year if crops in the area remain the same.
  • Mark every spot where you find a big bone on a map and in your notes, and check those places first next winter, before another shed hunter beats you to it.


Illinois Late-Season Bow Buck

IL flat 2019 jan

Today’s guest post from Flatlander, longtime friend of BIG DEER:  

Hey Mike, reporting in on the last week of the Illinois archery season. We’ve had 10 inches of snow dumped upon us, and the deer are still a slave to their stomachs.

I’ve been playing cat and mouse with a buck we’ve called “Captain Hook” for his unique brow tines. He was elusive during the pre-rut and disappeared for almost 6 weeks.  Most recent trail cams at Christmas revealed he was alive and back, moving among our food plots.

Cold temps and flooded low ground had deer on their feet on the warmest part of the day, when I had a close encounter with Captain Hook on New Year’s Eve. A doe below my stand didn’t like what she saw and blew the buck out of the area. Fast forward to this past Saturday night and the big 10 came in again only to wind me from several hundred yards. I’d apparently gotten sloppy on my ritual of scent control.

I went home and washed everything and stored it an ozone container…scrubbed my boots and even cut my hair short and scoured my body before the hunt. I went in as scent free as humanly possible.

An hour before sunset 33 deer came by including 6 nice bucks, one amazing 12-pointer in the mix but no shot.

The last deer to move through was Captain Hook, following a one horn buck in to the sugar beets. This was his one and only mistake this season, and it was my best day afield this year!

As you always say, “Hunt hard and stay after it. Success will come if diligent!”

Good luck to all in the coming year and God bless, Matt “Flatlander” Cheever

Way to stick with it Flatlander, congrats man!

Why Some Bucks Shed Antlers Early

SD shed 1I am hearing reports of bucks shedding their antlers early this year. What causes this?

QDMA biologist Kip Adams points to a couple of things. “Nutrition is important, as bucks in good physical condition generally retain their antlers longer than those who are nutritionally stressed,” he says. “Widespread early antler casting (in your area) may signify a nutritionally stressed herd resulting from too many deer for what the habitat can support.”

Kip says that in northern states, mature bucks typically shed their antlers earlier than younger, smaller deer. “(Older) bucks skip many meals during the breeding season, and those that rut hard may be in poor post-rut condition… even when abundant forage is available for deer. These bucks are choice candidates for early antler casting.”