Bill Anderson and I sat in his 4x4 waiting for a let-up in the blizzard that had already dumped about two feet of snow. Visibility was so poor that hunting seemed impossible. We could only make out ghostlike images of trees just 15 feet away. Driving to our hunting area on the South Valley State Forest in southwestern New York had been a challenge, and we were not anxious to drive back home without hunting.
I had made the mistake of passing a couple small bucks early in the season. Now the season was down to the last couple days. Conditions were about as bad as they could get, and there was little likelihood of significant improvement.
A jug of tea and a box of chocolate-covered donuts later Bill's patience wore out.
"I came here to hunt, and I'm going to hunt," he declared. "Maybe I can't see very well, but neither can the deer. The deer are all going to be laid up under hemlocks. I'm going to hunt into the wind through this valley and see if I can sneak up on a buck."
"Then I'll get up in that logged area in case you push anything that way," I responded.
Luck was with us. By the time we put on our parkas and gloves, the snow abruptly stopped. Visibility did not improve much, though. A thick coating of powdery snow on tree limbs made walking and seeing difficult.
My partner agreed to wait 15 minutes before going into the hemlocks to give me time to get into position. I followed a logging trail up a hillside where I could see down across the logged area, climbing on top of a stump for an even better view.
Minutes later, the muffled sound of a 12-gauge slug gun roared from my partner's direction, only a couple hundred yards downhill. Shaking brush and clouds of snow indicated deer were headed my way. As they got closer I could make out patches of brown, then the shapes of the deer. They emerged from the shroud of snow-covered brush about 25 yards from my stand, first three does, then a forkhorn. A well-placed slug filled my tag.
Dragging was easy on the snow and downhill slope. Anderson was waiting at the road with his buck, a long spike.
In hindsight, the blizzard might have been the best thing that could have happened for us. It led us to the deer, and made them reluctant to move. My partner had shot his buck in its bed.
"That buck laid there looking right at me, not 10 yards away," he said. "When I shot it, deer jumped up all around me. Some went toward you, some ran back across the road."
Deer retreat into cover that provides protection from snowstorms. Anywhere you find hemlock trees, this is the first place to look for deer during and immediately following snowstorms. Hemlock trees provide excellent snow cover because their limbs hang low to the ground and act as giant umbrellas.
In flat or gently rolling farmland, thick wind rows might be the best cover. Snow clinging to thick brush often creates a tunnel-like effect where deer have excellent protection from snow and wind.
In mountains, where you generally find bucks on the high ridges, deer seek shelter at lower elevations. Check the deep cuts and hollows. These places may have the additional benefit of hemlocks which require moister soils than the oaks and pines that grow higher on the slopes.
Coordinated still-hunting and stand-hunting is the perfect tactic for hunting snowstorm deer. Anderson and I have done this together for so long that we seldom have to discuss hunting plans. We alternate between standing and still-hunting so we each have equal opportunities. This tactic has produced many late season bucks.
The problem with the still-hunting part is that seeing deer can be difficult to impossible. Snow clinging to limbs often provides complete cover. Snow also accumulates on deer. You must hunt very slowly, more slowly than most hunters can tolerate. Deer realize they are well hidden, so they will let you pass very closely without moving. Skillful still-hunting can catch them in their beds. But once they move, they quickly disappear.
The stand-hunter generally has the best chance of seeing deer if there are adequate shooting lanes. Shooting at running deer is a waste of ammunition in thick cover that is covered with snow. It can also wound deer that are not recovered. Ideally, the hunter on stand should be far enough from the still-hunter for the deer to quit running. But with increasing distance, the odds of seeing deer pushed by the still-hunter decreases. Deer generally do not run as far in deep snow as they do on bare ground, though, another advantage of snowstorm hunting.
Scope covers are essential for snowstorm hunting. Snow falling from the sky or from the trees will cover your scope. Both Anderson and I prefer the flip-up type of scope covers such as the Butler Creek Blizzard Scope Caps. These are see-through scope caps, a big advantage for quick shots. If the caps are covered with snow, they can be flipped open in a second.
Difficult hunting conditions can spoil a deer hunt, or they can be turned to your advantage. The next time you confront a snowstorm, think like a deer. Where is the best place to seek shelter from the storm? Finding deer just might be easier than it was before the storm.
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