Northern whitetails live without suffering in an enormous range of temperatures, sparse red and wiry fur keeping them comfortable during the heat of summer and tan and heavier fur with a cottony underlining enabling them to survive 40-below-zero in winter. Unusually warm or cold fall and early winter temperatures can dramatically curtail daytime activities of whitetails with winter fur, however, not uncommonly forcing them to bed in deep shade where unlikely to be bothered by hunters from early morning to sundown when temperatures in the 60s or 70s or convince them to remain in their beds in areas where protected from wind during normal feeding hours when temperatures are 10–40 below-zero, then temporarily subsisting on fat stores.
Yet, there are periods when temperatures are extreme, hot or cold, when odds for hunting success can not only be quite good, but unusually great. While it is unseasonably warm during daylight hours, for example, whitetails will usually be quite active (feeding) during the first legal shooting hour of the day beginning one-half hour before sunrise. In such weather, therefore, set your alarm clock for 4 AM and get to your favorite feeding area stand site thirty minutes before first light (following fluorescent tacks pinned to tree trunks 10–20 yards apart that light up like Christmas tree light in the beam of a flashlight). The last legal half-hour of the day can be productive too, though less so.
When it is very cold in November or December, it usually doesn’t stay very cold unduely long. After a few days, watch for or keep track of local weather forecasts so you don’t miss thaws or near-thaws with the wind calm or light, usually happening sometime between 10AM and 3PM. During a midday thaw or neathaw following a spell of frigid temperatures, every deer in the woods will be on the move, heading to feeding areas, feeding for an hour or two, then heading back to bedding areas. Never waste one minute of time eating lunch in camp or your vehicle midday while one of the best opportunities of the year to take a deer is occurring. My three sons and I almost always take 1–2 bucks midday when this happens. As winter progresses, expect midday feeding every day the temperature is in the high-20s or above and the wind is calm or light.
Similarly, after several days of unseasonably warm temperatures when the temperature finally cools to normal levels or cooler (in the 20s, for example) and the wind is calm or light, expect all deer in the woods to be on the move midday, feeding. We’ve taken several mature bucks midday when this has happened.
Keep in mind, too, northern whitetails with winter fur are most active, feeding later in the morning and beginning earlier in the afternoon while the temperature is between 20 and 40 degrees and the wind is calm or light, whether it is sunny or cloudy and whether or not it is raining or snowing lightly.
Whatever the weather, hunt anyway. A big buck might show up when you least expect it like the the one pictured above, taken my son, Dave, during an unusually warm November morning. Consider also gritting your teeth and hunting when it is extremely cold and you doubt deer will be moving. While your partners are sitting around the cracking woodstove back in camp, playing cribbage, a big, rut-crazed buck might show up even when it’s 27 below zero and the wind is whipping sheets of snow past your stand site. This I know.