People often associate hunting with the idea of a green forest and the tranquility of nature surrounding them. While that might be correct, hunters often face adverse weather conditions and rough terrain. The most unwelcoming hunting season is winter which is why hunting in the snow requires additional preparations and a higher awareness of your surroundings. Good base layers for cold weather are an essential part of your gear but there is a lot more that goes into the proper winter hunting preparation.
The absolute first thing that we need to discuss is what are the potential pros and cons of going out to hunt in the snow. Is it as dangerous as some people describe it? Or is it just like a regular hunt with a few minor inconveniences? Well, let’s find out!
Advantages & Disadvantages Of Snow Hunting
It may seem like I am stating the obvious at times when it comes to this topic but people most often neglect exactly those obvious things. You’d think that everyone is preparing for the low temperatures but they often aren’t. Hunters get frostbite and all sorts of other cold weather-related issues due to the insufficient padding on their clothes and lack of proper boots, gloves, and other accessory gear. Still, there are some great advantages out of this season. Here are a few…
- Animals are easier to spot (unless they have a white winter coat)
- A trail in the snow done by an animal is far easier to identify and track, especially if it is a blood trail
- There are less hiding spaces and the hunter’s view range is greatly increased
- When hunting with a white ghillie suit or other types of snow camo the hunter can become virtually invisible
- Unlike the fall season hunting, there won’t be mud and most importantly – no bugs!
Now, let’s take a look at the aspects that you won’t necessarily love about winter hunting…
- It is can be very cold and longer hunting sessions are going to be hard without good preparation
- As I mentioned earlier, there is a big risk for frostbite, especially with your hands and feet
- The fact that you can see other animals from far away means they can see you too if you aren’t properly disguised
- The terrain can be slippery. Be careful with steep inclines and hills as you can slip down
- You can’t cover your tracks and other hunters can find out about your secret hunting spot (if you have one)
The Various Aspects Of Your Hunt
There are numerous key points that I have to go through when it comes to preparing for winter deer hunting, for instance. The most important ones are:
- Terrain Research & Tracking
- Mental preparation
Let’s go through each of those individually now and see the role they will all play in your hunting experience.
When it comes to clothing, there is one very simple rule I always follow – always put one extra layer. Whether it is one extra layer of socks, or an extra shirt or even some thermal pants, it is always worth it. The general principle is that its always better to feel slightly warmer than slightly colder, as continuous exposure to cold can lead to a lot of issues for your body.
A good set of all-weather shooting/hunting gloves is definitely going to improve your experience. Not only will your hands stay warm but you will have a better grip and control over your rifle.
You can get goggles if it’s too windy and cold outside but having a bad pair will just make it hard to aim through your scope as you won’t be able to properly measure your eye relief distance and they can fog up easily.
Lastly, invest in a good pair of military-grade boots that will keep your feet dry and warm throughout the day.
Pro Tip: There are a lot of waterproof nano sprays out there which will prevent your boots from catching water or mud on them and therefore your socks will never get wet.
One of the hardest tasks for me was to find the best scope for a 308 rifle when I was starting. Most scopes were getting foggy and just weren’t clear enough for sub-zero conditions. Of course, later on, I realized that the good scopes start from a far greater price range than I initially though.
One good recommendation I can give is the Vortex Optics Viper HS-T Scope. it is adequately priced and is ideal for beginner to intermediate hunters and shooters.
Either way, here is the list of things I always make sure to bring with me when going out for a snowy weather hunt:
- A good scope
- My favorite rifle
- A good hunting knife
- Hunting Binoculars
- A Predator call
- My base layer clothes
- A compass (not always)
All of these items are essential to me as over time I’ve found a good use for each and every one of them. For some people, walkie-talkies or scope throw levers can be useless but I find them very handy, especially when I am hunting with friends and trying to track a deer or a moose.
The other items such as predator calls, great scopes, and binoculars are needed for various animal hunts. This is why I have dedicated a whole additional section to all that. Let’s check it out.
Hunting Tip: If you are a fan of night hunting you can invest in a good night vision scope. Those scopes work very well in lower temperatures but come with a steeper price tag.
Terrain Research & Tracking
Every animal has a different pattern of living, feeding, moving, and mating. Apart from that, all animals prefer a certain habitat to live in. This is why you have to know the terrain better than the animal knows it and know where you can cut it off or confront it with your fellow hunters.
Knowing the area in which you are about to go also helps with hunting tactics as it will be harder to lose track of an animal. Generally, having a compass isn’t a bad idea, especially if you are hunting in new territories for you. If you find blood trails you can identify where the animal is headed to (a shelter, for example). The best way to navigate through unknown or even well-known lands, however, will always be a good handheld GPS tracker. This is why more and more hunters rely on these devices each year. With the advancement of mobile technologies, these trackers have become a trustworthy companion both in terms of navigating and in terms of setting waypoints around the hunting grounds you’ve covered.
I have compiled a few short paragraphs on the most important hunting tips I can come up for both the small game and the big game me and my friends hunt. Let’s start with the most important one.
Deer Tracking & Hunting
Still hunting is by far the best deer hunting methods at this time of the year. Ironically, we never stay “still” like the ones that sit on a tree stand for days. We track, prowl, and hunt down the deer that are growing more and more desperate in the late winter weather.
There are two essential rules to this type of hunting and if you want to be successful you should always follow them:
- Make as little sound as possible
- Moving into the wind
Being quiet will allow you to slip in a comfortable range without the deer noticing you. That way, you can take a clean and easy shot.
Moving against the wind makes sure that your scent isn’t picked up by the animal you are going after. Tracking deer isn’t hard, as they usually gather at small cover spots near food sources to minimize their exposure. Once you find a solid track stay on it, following the two principals of still hunting.
Winter whitetail hunting isn’t easy but the bad conditions often work in your favor. The worse the weather – the better! Wind allows you to stay concealed while wet snow will soften the sound of your steps. A blanket of snow also gives you a good read on the deer’s tracks.
If you want to learn all there is to know about deer hunting, check out my dedicated article on the best deer hunting tips for beginners!
Moose Tracking & Hunting
With moose snow again plays into your advantage. Nothing beats the feeling of finding a fresh moose track and sticking to it. Still, tracking these animals isn’t as easy as you might think, as they cover huge areas in no time. If you learn to guess their speed and tell that by their footprints you can speed up and slow down as they do so until eventually, you find it.
Speaking of finding it, I have always found it fascinating how well moose blend with their environment. You’d think black on white can’t be hard to see or shoot at, right? Well, yes and no. If a moose stays still it is sometimes impossible to notice it without really looking into that area. When they are in their bedding areas it is virtually impossible to tell them apart from a rock. I have lots of friends that have gone by a moose and it then suddenly gets up and runs away from underneath their noses.
Look for fresh signs such as browsing and warm/not frozen excrement. If you find these signs, you can either continue following the track or set up a spot around 100 yards away. In most cases, they come back.
Most often moose browse at the first and last lights of the day. The cold weather yields higher chances of a moose to come out in the daylight. Basically, they need to eat more, and by spending more time eating they become less and less nocturnal, and thus more and more vulnerable to getting caught by you. If you are willing to withstand the most extreme colds, you will surely be rewarded.
A scope that will definitely make your life easier when it comes to moose hunting is the Athlon Optics Ares BTR. It is excellent in its clarity and is a good addition to a more powerful rifle.
Fox Tracking & Hunting
Foxes usually hide during the day in their hiding spots but extreme cold and the winter harshness force them to come out more and more in the day instead of the night. Most farm owners will turn their backs as soon as you say “deer hunting” but will give you a warm welcome if you say “fox hunting” or “coyote hunting”, as those animals give them trouble with their own livestock.
Hunting any nocturnal animal can be a challenge. This is why most hunters rely on traps when it comes to foxes. Still, some people would prefer tracking and shooting a fox on their own. It can be hard due to their elusive nature but it is well worth it at the end.
If you are licensed you can take out as many foxes as you can from October all the way until February. The spots I’ve noticed to be easier for fox hunting are the edges of the forests and the wide-open spaces. I generally try to stay away from the deep woods. Foxes love the wide-open country grounds to hunt at, so that is where you should focus your attention as well.
Coyote Tracking & Hunting
I’ve dedicated two huge articles on how to hunt coyotes at night and the mistakes people make when hunting for those animals but still it is never a bad idea to summarize a few things. One of the major key points when it comes to hunting coyotes are:
- Don’t be too noisy. Stay quiet and don’t talk loudly. When you are at your spot try making little to no noises.
- Be patient. Don’t give up after using your coyote call for 5 minutes. I’ve found the best results in the first 1 hour.
- Scout your area well
- Don’t overuse a single spot
- Never underestimate the coyote. It is a very smart predator.
- Pay attention to your surroundings. Sometimes the coyote is there but you aren’t seeing it.
Go to my article to see which are the ten most common coyote hunting mistakes rookies do. Now, let’s talk about the hunter’s favorite animal – the hog.
Hog Tracking & Hunting
Hogs are one of the animals with the most extreme sense of smell out there. They have poor eyesight and a good hearing sense but they can smell you from way too far away. Moreover, they are very sensitive to new types of smells so a hunter will scare them away. When they start running they usually do it for miles until they feel that they are completely safe.
Still, they leave a lot of traces and clues that you can track, such as:
- They leave fresh droppings
- They root around all over the woods which leaves very characteristic traces behind them. They also avoid wide-open spaces
- Their tracks are short and wide compared to deer ones with which they are confused
- They mostly travel in groups so you will see many tracks at the same place
- They are constantly on the move (can travel more than 15 miles a day)
- Their herds are often loud and can be heard (you mostly hear the squealing and grunting)
My best tips for hunting hogs are to choose the morning for your hunt or the last hours of the day. Bad weather also makes them go out and eat more. Don’t waste your time searching for them in the middle of the day, as they are mostly hidden and asleep at that time. If you find a pig work your way closer to it or its herd by walking towards the wind. That way you can stay even concealed up to distances of around 50 yards.
One more important advice is to be as quiet as possible. Once you take the kill shot, field dress the pig as soon as possible as they produce a lot of heat.
Lastly, I want to talk about the mental preparation. Winter is cold and you have to get used to the fact that in most cases conditions won’t be comfortable and it is not going to be as a walk into the woods. Prepare yourself for long stays on hunting spots and feeling cold in your fingers. I like to start taking cold showers months before the winter season. That way, when the time comes for me to stay out all day with my rifle my body is already used to the temperatures.
Now, let’s get into some of the most common questions that readers have when it comes to this particular topic…
Frequently Asked Questions
Where do deer sleep in snow?
Deer do not fall into hibernation during winter. This means that every time the temperatures drop very low, they will have to find a place to stay warm throughout the night. Those are mostly the shelters underneath coniferous trees such as:
How do deer not freeze in the winter?
Deer really have a thick cover of hair and there is one more hidden trick that they use when it comes to sub-zero temperatures. The hairs of their coat are hollow and they can trap air creating a barrier between their bodies and the outside temperatures. That way, all the heat that they produce can stay relatively unchanged at the surface of their skin.
At what temperature do deer move the most?
From my experience, it varies from state to state. The average temperatures deer prefer is from 20 to 60 degrees. That is considering all other conditions such as wind, moisture, and rut timing are ideal.
Without adequate preparation, hunting in the snow can be a dangerous endeavor. Always make sure that you are properly equipped for the journey and the weather ahead of you. Beware of things such as frostbite and slippery slopes. The best thing you can do is always put an extra layer of clothing and invest in a great ghillie suit. Those will keep you warm and hidden from the unsuspecting eyes. Plan ahead your route and look for landmarks to guide you through more easily. It is easier to get lost in a snowy forest/field than you’d think if you aren’t really familiar with the area. Finally, it is always a great idea to bring a friend or two (or even more). The more people you are in your hunting group the better it will be for everyone if something goes wrong.