Story by Tom Pagliaroli

No doubt about it: the two-week deep freeze will certainly make the winter archery deer season live up to its reputation as the most challenging hunting period of the calendar year.

Waterfowlers gunning the coastal zone will heartily disagree through chattering teeth, but we’ll get to the wings over icy waters next week.

Established in 1976 as a 7-day season to expand hunting opportunities, the popularity of the winter bow exercise grew in increments as cold weather clothing and equipment improved, and has witnessed a veritable explosion in growth when the crossbow was legalized as a hunting tool several years ago.

During the 2017 winter bow season, 3,104 whitetails were tagged, and it’s possible this year’s tally could come close, match or even exceed this tally, if, and it’s a huge if, the weather cooperates.

And so far, it doesn’t look that way, at least in the early going.

Besides the skin-numbing temperatures (eased significantly if ensconced in a heated blind), the ground cover of snow presents a problem. Sure, the snow makes it easier to spot an approaching deer, the corollary being getting to the stand is a very loud and attention-getting endeavor as the crunching through the frozen snow telegraphs your approach far and wide.

Moderating temperatures are the key to deer movement and feeding, so keep a close eye on the forecast and moving fronts. The whitetails have to chow to keep warm, and if there is an approaching weather system bringing snow (or rain) they will be in transit to feeding areas from a day to just a few hours prior to the arrival.

Unless you have a whitetail highway pinpointed and know the commuter times, baiting is the surest way to get a deer within arrow or bolt range. Corn, sugar beets, apples, and sweet potatoes are the mainstays, and sweetening with dry attractants such as Redneck’s Pride Deer Stuff II, Big & J or C’mere Deer will add exponentially to the enticement.

The season runs through January 31 except in Deer Management Zones 7-15, and 17, 36, 41, 49, 50 and 51 where it extends through February 17. DMZ 51 is in the heart of The Hawk listening area.

Legal hunting time is half-hour before sunrise and half-hour after sunset.

Bag limits vary. Check pages 38-40 in the NJ Hunting & Trapping Digest or go to www.njfishandwildlife.com and click on the deer hunting link.

To Feed or Not to Feed: Sure, we all want to help wildlife when it comes to the difficulties of the fight-to-survive winter season, especially when deer are concerned. I mean, who doesn’t want to help Bambi ‘n Ma Deer? Shelled corn is the most popular winter diet reinforcement. However, as emphasized during last Saturday’s interview on Rack & Fin Radio, bureau of wildlife management chief Carole Stanko strongly advises against supplemental feeding. Said Stanko,” Deer have evolved over thousands of years to survive the hardships of the winter season. Their digestive enzymes change with the seasons, and a heavy carbohydrate diet during the winter can actually be detrimental to the deer’s health because digestion will be very difficult.”

If one feels compelled to augment a whitetail’s meager winter diet, make sure that protein is in the mix The Produce Pride by Tractor Supply is a sweet feed that is used by many in deer country to give the critters a helping hand during the lean winter months, and reports are that the whitetails do fine by it.

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