December 22, 2023
I was a late-season whitetail rookie. I'd been fortunate to tag my archery whitetails during October and November and had yet to begin expanding my whitetail adventures out of state.
That season, though, was different. The early season was dismal, and hot weather plagued the rut. Now it was late December, a frozen blanket of white covered the ground, and temperatures were well below zero.
The buck wasn't a giant, but he was old and respectable. And, honestly, I was ready to cut my Hoyt loose. That's when things went very wrong.
There are several reasons why things didn’t go as planned. The first was me being unable to pull my bow back smoothly. Secondly, after several attempts and finally reaching full draw, the buck was teetering on the edge of my effective range. My clothing was bulky and cumbersome, and I struggled to get my anchor points. Then, when I shot, my bowstring slapped the heavy sleeve of my coat. It was an absolute trainwreck that I could have prevented.
And here’s how you can ensure this never happens to you!
Outdoor clothing manufacturers have upped their game, and some incredible late-season garments are on the market. However, when stand hunting for whitetails, the cold can still creep in.
When temperatures drop, the body's nervous system tells the muscles to tighten and constrict blood vessels, restricting blood flow. Muscles can quickly become stiff and achy.
Doing lots of cold-weather shooting is imperative if you plan to bowhunt in winter. Dress warm, but not too warm, so your body can feel the cold. Then, when the muscles are nice and frigid, stand, hold your bow straight in front of you, and come to full draw. If you can't do it or have to point your riser toward the heavens or the ground and go hurky-jerky to get the bow back, turn your draw weight down. Next, repeat the process and simulate drawing angles that could present themselves while sitting in a tree stand. Having your bow set at 65 or 70 pounds will only do you good if you can pull the weight when cold.
Two years ago, my son killed a buck at 31 yards pulling 42 pounds. Don't be afraid to lower your draw weight!
Practice In Late-Season Gear
You need to practice shooting while cold, but you also need to practice shooting in the cold with the late-season apparel you plan to wear. As soon as I get in my tree stand or blind, I like to draw from every position possible to know I can do it smoothly.
I often practice in my late-season gear during periods of heat to continue refining my garment choices. I want to be warm but don't want to feel like a mummy. If you practice in late-season attire, you'll quickly learn what clothing will work and what clothing won't. You'll know if a speeding bowstring will slap your sleeve — if you need to add an arm guard or shooting sleeve. You will discover, especially if you're chasing wintertime whitetails on the ground, if a bino harness combined with a heavy coat and underlayers will cause string/arrow interference.
While practicing wearing late-season gear, I recommend shooting at different angles, distances and body positions.
Check Ranges & Noise
Modern-day bows are marvels. Still, it is possible for sub-zero temperatures to stiffen strings and limbs, which can alter the accuracy of your rig at different ranges. I have also had times when I shot my bow on a frigid, calm winter day, and it sounded like a bomb going off.
I regularly lock my bow in the garage overnight and let it get good and cold. Then, first thing in the morning, I check ranges from 20 yards to the furthest distance I feel comfortable shooting during the late season. I also listen for any added noise.
My Late-Season Go-Tos
I want to toss in my late-season clothing gear list quickly. It's tried and true and has proven effective in the worst conditions imaginable.
You can't beat Sitka's Fanatic Bib and Jacket combo. Add your favorite go-to layering system underneath, place the Fanatic WS Beanie on your dome and Fanatic Gloves on your hands, and you can withstand almost any harsh weather situation. The clothing is a tad bulky (because it has to be), but it's very flexible. And if you practice in it, the Fanatic Series is ideal.
Other late-season must-haves include the ALPS Ember Hand Warmer, LaCrosse Alpha Evolution 1600G Boots and Weston's Heated Vest and socks.
Wrap the Ember Hand Warmer around your waist, add some Hot Hands, and create a furnace for your hands. Combine LaCrosse 1600G Alpha Evolutions with Heated Socks from Weston, and your feet will never get cold. I love battery-operated socks, and those from Weston are the best I've found. Lastly, the Weston Heated Vest is a must-have. It hugs the core tightly, is battery-operated, and allows you to toggle between three heat settings quickly.
Getting Hot & Cold
No one likes to be cold, and I've been guilty of putting on all my late-season gear and walking a mile to a public-land deer stand. Don't do this. Your hunt will be over before it begins. You'll shiver in the tree or blind, impacting your decision-making and shooting accuracy.
Instead, strap your outer layers to your pack and wear your base and mid-layer garments to your hunt location. Don't turn on any battery-operated clothing, especially socks. Walk slowly, and try to keep your sweat to an absolute minimum.
When you get to your hunt site, dress in your outer layers, get in your stand or blind, and then turn on your battery-operated garments.
Back At Home
Do some bow care when you get home. Be sure to clean any ice or snow off your bow and bow-mounted accessories. Clean and dry your bow before storing it. You should also check your string. Does it look good? Or do you need to add some string wax? These are small tips that can make a big difference.
The late season can be one of the best times of year to tag a monster buck. Rut-worn bucks are on a strict bed-to-food and food-to-bed routine. Unraveling that routine and putting an arrow where it needs to go will be keys to late-season success. Without following this article's tips, you should never head into the winter woods.