Winter is the hardest time of year for hunting! Along with the change in weather to lower temperatures and less pleasant weather the deer change their behavior and become more scarce. The major reason for this is obviously so that they survive the winter. The combination of harsher temperatures and less food make it a hard time of year for the deer.
The first thing we will cover is the regulation of appetite in deer. According to various research the appetite of deer during winter is suppressed. This is due to the fact that less food is available. As a result it takes more energy to find food. In addition to this deer also use up more energy to digest the food they do find because of the colder conditions. The suppression of their appetite thus enables the deer to better survive the winter. Obviously, a decreased appetite means deer will not search as much for food and as a result spend less time moving around. Less time moving around equates to an increased difficulty in the hunter locating their prey as deer are most easily found when they are moving around.
The Winter Survival Instinct
The next survival instinct for deer is similar to that of a human during winter. That is to seek out shelter and warmth. Places that are sheltered from the prevailing wind are favorable to deer at these times of year. Areas that are sheltered may be protected faces and/or thicker vegetation. Also, warm northerly orientated faces are favorable allowing deer to warm up and absorb energy from the sun. There are also varying combination’s that may be favorable such as thick sheltered bush on a north facing hillside with access to small clearings where they can gain access to the sun. Mid height/elevation on the mountains/ridges is also likely to experience higher deer numbers. This is because it is out of the cold air that pools in the valley bottom and lower than the colder temperatures experienced with a higher altitude. These areas will also experience the sun for a decent period of time.
The next thing to be aware of is the species and sex of the deer you are hunting. The reason for this relates to the size of your quarry – larger animals have less surface area and as a result are less susceptible to cold. Therefore deer with more surface area (small deer) are more susceptible to cold. This may relate to your hunting goals in different ways. For example if you were hunting on Stewart Island and targeting Whitetail you would want to take into account that these smaller deer are more likely to be located closer to the sea or lower in the valleys.
Strange Daily Movement Patterns
Alternately, the larger deer (reds) are going to be able to cope better with the higher altitudes and colder weather. Hence they will more likely be found at higher elevations. In areas where your quarry is the same species, for example all red deer you will find the stags higher than the hinds. In addition to the the idea that smaller deer cool down quickly because of more surface area it is also apparent that they are able to heat up more quickly. Because of this the smaller deer will be first out in the sunshine and more likely to seek areas where they can gain access to the sun.
The daily movement patterns of deer during this time also change. In summer the deer are most active during dusk and dawn and often feed through the night. However in the winter colder temperatures change these times. The height of activity is experienced a bit after dawn when the sun is out and warming things up and a bit before dawn while there is still some warmth about. As well as this deer will tend to be more active through the day as opposed to their more nocturnal attitude during the summer months. The good news for the hunter is that you can stay in your sleeping bag on those cold winter mornings for a bit longer.
We hope this article is helpful to any hunters out there who are after a bit more information on winter hunting. The next bit of advice is the usual – get out there and keep doing it!
Hunters who spend the most time hunting will be most successful. We hope these tips get you through to spring when things will get a little easier.