Down to the wire: the lower the temperature drops in the late season, the more serious the deer become about feeding. Take advantage of the cold for some red-hot action!
Roughly half a dozen years ago, the Adkins diet was everywhere you looked. I'll even bet several people you know lost a bunch of weight on the Adkins diet. I bought into the fad and lost 40 pounds over the course of about a year. I consider myself fortunate that I have kept most of it off. So what does the Adkins diet have to do with whitetail hunting? Before you scoff and turn the page, give me a minute to explain.
The Adkins diet is based on the differences between proteins and carbohydrates. In short, "carbs" are more easily stored by your body than protein. Protein is used to build muscle and is used up quite quickly by the body. Most proteins are not easily stored. Carbs on the other hand, are primarily composed of sugars, and your body is very good at converting carbs into storage for use at a later date. Storage, of course, is in the form of fat.
On the Adkins diet, you eat a diet heavy in proteins, and low in carbs.--a lot of meat, eggs, milk, cheese and poultry. You eliminate sugars, breads, beans and potatoes--anything high in carbs. The diet really works--and it works fast--but it is hard to maintain because your body craves carbs and needs at least some to survive.
Whitetail deer crave certain foods too. Like your body and mine, a deer's body sends messages to its brain that it needs certain nutrients, and the deer naturally seek out the foods that contain those nutrients. So a basic understanding of which foods in your area contain those nutrients can go a long way towards understanding where the bucks will be feeding on any given day.
There are three macronutrients that all humans and animals need: protein, carbohydrates and fats. Understanding when bucks crave these nutrients and where they will find them goes a long way towards figuring out their movement patterns, particularly during the late season, when their patterns become quite predictable. By examining where the deer find what they need to eat on a daily basis and where they bed, we can put together a pattern for intercepting them on their daily travels to and from these locations.
WHY DEER CRAVE PROTEIN & CARBS
Bucks eat little during the rut and they are on the move at all hours of the day. After the rut, bucks are run down. Their fat reserves are gone, and even their muscle mass is diminished. Nothing restores muscle faster than protein, and soybeans are loaded with protein. On average, soybeans are 13 percent protein, compared to 3.2 percent for corn. Field corn is composed of 19 percent carbohydrates, while soybeans are about 11 percent carbohydrates. Most mast crops are super high in carbohydrates and fat. Acorns, especially the meaty varieties like those from white oaks, offer a large dose of fat and carbs. Honey Locust pods are high in proteins and fats. You get the idea.
During the late season, bucks seek protein to restore muscles and carbs and fat to restore fat reserves. High carb foods provide energy to create body heat. Comfields left standing in December into early January will be swarmed by deer. In cut comfields, deer will glean waste corn from the ground as long as it is available, and they can easily smell even a single kernel through a foot of snow.
Interestingly, deer can eat raw soybeans, which are toxic to humans and any animal with only one stomach. Because deer are ruminants, their stomach saturates the soybeans before they are regurgitated and chewed, which renders them digestible. Since soybeans provide quick energy through a combination of proteins and carbs, deer will often seek them out during the coldest weather. A stretch of sub-zero weather will move deer off the corn and acorns and onto the soybeans because of the quick turnaround of energy they offer. During these periods of deep-freeze weather, immediate energy is more important than storage of fat. Food plots of soybeans or late-standing soybean fields attract more deer than corn does during the harshest weather. When the weather moderates, they may move back to the high-carb food sources.
Standing comfields offer a combination of bedding cover and feed. During mild stretches of the early winter, deer often stay in the com around the clock. They feel safe in the cover and it provides protection from the wind as well as easily accessible food.
So bucks are seeking out specific kinds of foods based on which foods are higher in either carbs or proteins, and they will gravitate towards the food sources that offer the combination they need at that given time. But mature bucks especially do not blindly wander around looking for these foods. There are other factors involved.
By the time the rut is over, most northern farm country is covered in a layer of snow and cold weather has set in. A buck's daily activity pattern is a tradeoff between security and the need for high-quality food. The need for sustenance often becomes so strong that they will take risks that they would not take at any other time during the year. You may see a buck feeding in a cut cornfield at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. But that will only be the case if there is escape cover nearby.
A mature buck will not feed in the open unless he feels secure and has an avenue of escape. The best place to find these afternoon feeders is where they have a brushy draw they can dive into at the hint of danger or possibly a creek-bottom thicket along the edge of the field. I have even seen them disappear into a big field of tall cover such as switchgrass or scrub cedars.
If you can find these avenues of escape, you have the beginning of a pattern that could put that buck in your truck, because these bucks will often enter the field from this escape cover.
Late-Season Salad Bar Average Nutrient content of Common Crop foods (as %) Carbohydrates Proteins Fait Com 19% 3.2% 1.18% Soybeans 11% 13% 6.8% Sorghum 75% 11.3% 3.3% Wheat 71% 13.7% 2.7% As you can see, wheat offers a huge dose of carbs, but it is extremely rare to find ripe wheat in the late season, plus a deer has to consume huge amounts of the small wheat seeds to get the same benefit that it would get from corn or soybeans. Sorghum is also high in carbs but it tends to be a farm crop in the more southern latitudes where the winters are not as harsh.--Bernie Barringer
THERMAL COVER & BEDDING AREAS
When not feeding, bucks need to feel secure in bedding areas that provide protection from the elements. Thick cover offers protection from biting winter winds, and on cloudy or snowy days, most deer will be tucked in tight right in the middle of the thickest stuff around. And they will use the same beds day after day.
Mature bucks tend to bed on the south side of the cover, and they often lie with a fallen tree at their back to protect them from the cold north wind. You can recognize these buck beds in the snow because the dominant bucks will use the best position available and the rest of the deer will have to settle for second best. These beds will be larger of course, and you will sometimes see large tracks and other evidence in the snow that a buck is using the bed. Sometimes bucks will sleep with their head resting on one side of their antlers. I haven't seen it often but it is a gift when you can find a nice imprint of an antler in the snow.
Because thermal cover is dense, trails zigzag through it, but you can find where they exit the cover if you spend the time looking it over. The great thing about heavy thermal cover in the winter is that you can move in and bump the deer out of it, scout it out well, and they will be back using it in a short time because it is the only game in town. They need the benefits of this premier cover, and they will be back after one disturbance.
SOLAR BEDDING AREAS
The second most common bedding areas in the winter are south-facing open slopes that get a lot of sun. Whitetails tend to use these areas when there is little wind and they can soak up the sun's warming rays. Look for open timber where the sun can get through. These areas will typically have a lot of beds because the deer will get up and move as the shadow of a tree falls on them. So they may actually use three or four beds during the course of the day.
Once again, even these open wooded hillsides will often have a distinct trail leading from them. The deer tend to congregate in one area before leaving the area to feed.
INTERCEPTING THE BUCKS
Now that we have established where they are likely to be feeding and bedding on a given day, it's a much easier task to get in a position to intercept bucks between the two. Patterning deer during this time is about as close to a slam dunk as there is in whitetail hunting, especially when there is snow on the ground and nothing is left to the imagination. It's all right there in plain sight.
Well-worn trails provide evidence of their travel patterns that can help the bowhunter or the muzzleloader decide where to set up an ambush. Today's front stuffers offer accuracy at a great range, so setting up on the edge of the field or anywhere you can see a long distance is appropriate. A ground blind right in the middle of the food is often the perfect spot. When setting up over a vast field, keep in mind that the tops of hills are often cleared of snow by the wind and offer deer the easiest access to the food.
Keep in mind the escape cover that we discussed earlier. It is very com?mon for bucks to approach the field through the escape cover and make their way out into the field cautiously. The most mature bucks will typically enter the field last. Trail cameras placed along the trails are a huge benefit to knowing which bucks are using the trails coming into the field. It's critical to know which deer are using, the food source; you would hate to drop the hammer on a 140 when there is a 160 about to come out.
While muzzleloader hunters have a much longer range, a bowhunter must get up close and personal. That generally means setting up off the field a ways. Often mature bucks will hang up for a while before entering the field. A bowhunter in a treestand 50 yards from the field's edge may have the advantage of getting a shot at a buck that won't expose himself in the open field before dark.
In summary, pay attention to the weather conditions and the temperature to make an educated guess on any given day as to where the deer are likely to be bedding. Factor in which food sources they might choose that day based on what their body would be calling for. Know your area ahead of time so you can pre?dict where the bucks are likely to be that afternoon and move right in.
Hunting mature bucks is a game of making educated guesses as to where to be and when to be there. The more information you have, the more educated your guess will be. It's a matter of upping your odds by putting all the pieces of the puzzle together: The right macronutrients, the right bedding areas and the ambush points between them.
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|Publication:||North American Whitetail|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2012|
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