The statewide deer season for muzzleloaders starts Monday and runs through Thursday. In Wildlife Management Districts 12, 13, 15-18, 20-26 and 29, it continues from Dec. 8 through 13. The second week’s black-powder hunt falls roughly into the bottom half of the state with the exception of WMDs 27 and 28 in southeastern Washington County.

Muzzle-loading offers quite a bonus to folks who didn’t shoot a whitetail in November’s regular firearms hunt, particularly since the later season comes with more of a certainty of winter weather that offers deer hunters three advantages: Dropping temperatures to get deer moving; tracking proves much easier in snow cover; and deer show up better against the white background.

Even with these aids, deer hunting in late November and early December still means a low success ratio. Despite plummeting temperatures, deer in areas with intense hunting pressure in the regular firearms season hide more in bedding thickets during daylight, particularly in the first week of the black-powder hunt, causing a problem. If hunters take a stand through the day and deer aren’t moving, they won’t get shots.

If folks still-hunt where deer sleep, it’s difficult to sneak close enough for a shot. Deer may become more diurnal in the second week if hunters are scarce the first week, which is often the case.

When deer are bedding, hunting alone can be fruitless, but two or three hunters using a strategy might tip the odds. They form a side-by-side line with each person 100 to 300 yards apart and still-hunt through the woods two steps at a time with wind blowing perpendicular to their walking direction. If one of them kicks up a deer, the fleeing prey will usually run into the wind, hopefully toward a hunter still-hunting off to the side.

However, a deer forced into running with the wind will turn as soon as possible to get its nose back into the breeze to smell what’s ahead in its path. Folks can bet on that outcome and take the winnings to the bank.

Because no hunter is taking a stand in front of walking hunters, this above tactic is legal and not considered deer driving. Two or three folks are sneaking through the woods a quiet two steps at a time, hoping a jumped deer runs in front of a still-hunting companion off to the side.

On wet days, hunters can move in silence, but on days with dry or frozen leaves, hunters can walk one or two steps at a time, stepping carefully like a deer.

A grunt call helps with this subterfuge because in deer language, a one-second grunt allegedly means, “Hi, I’m a deer and am over here.” A grunt like this every 15 minutes has worked for me at times.

And while shooting deer photos, I have watched and listened to deer for long periods, which taught me the proper grunt sound.

However, a lone hunter can take a stand in the black-powder season, and two time periods work best for this tactic – at dawn and just before dark. Discerning hunters stand downwind of a well-used trail between bedding and foraging spots well before daylight or sunset and possibly have whitetails walk past.

Even though deer often choose darkness for feeding, they occasionally move on the connecting trail between their bedroom and dining room in the lowering light of evening and before full light of early morning. This plan depends on a deer or two leaving the forage shortly after daylight or heading to food before dark and giving a shooter a shot during legal shooting time.

It’s crucial for hunters on a stand to set up downwind of a trail; avoid leaving human scent on the deer path by walking across it; and scrape away leaves down to a circular patch of soil, so the hunter can silently shift feet to turn to shoot should a deer approach from an odd direction. Hunters who pay attention to these three details often succeed at shooting winter venison.

When on a stand, cover scent helps, but some hunters think a skunk sprinkled with expensive French perfume smells like a skunk sprinkled with expensive French perfume. In the same token, a hunter with cover scent smells like a hunter with cover scent.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at

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