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MDLO Late Muzz - Cold Hunting

Late Muzzleloader Season in Iowa is a very fun and highly productive hunt if done so correctly. Late Muzzleloader hunts are the most expensive per hour on the stand/blind due to the conditions and overhead needed to produce the hunt and only hunting the second half of the day. Yet, it is the most successful "gun/firearm" hunt that we offer for good reason.


Hunting with us in LM will require you to think, walk, react, execute, plan, and wait, not to mention battle the elements that Southern Iowa throws at you with Mother Nature putting her signature touch on it. That is okay, that is what makes this hunt special and well worth it. It is the only gun hunt we would do when planning a year out. Residents are able to play the weather, go get a tag over-the-counter, and jump into the farm. Non-residents must plan accordingly, and LM seems to have the most upsides.


Picture this, Southern Iowa landscape, nice crusty white snow glistening, your breath fogging up your immediate vision warming your forehead so slightly, the sun shines but without much warmth, the first deer enters your view and the evening parade to the dinner table begins. Not long after, tines appear. He's on the same trail the other deer were on, and he's starting his approach. It won't be long now. He's coming. The shakes start because the little shot of adrenaline just made your body wake up. Muzzleloader is loaded and ready to rock. Now it is up to the clock. Finally, he enters the plot. He's eating. He's calm. Check him through your scope. Yep, that's him. A mature Iowa whitetail. He raises his head as if he heard something only to go back to feeding like he can't get enough. You range him. 104 yards. Zero'd. Take an extra second to soak it all in around you. It's go time. Execute the breathing. Calm the mind and body while fighting the cold. Feel the trigger finger. It's still there and hasn't fallen off. Good. He's now behind a doe. Damnit. She needs to move. Keep breathing. She moves off enough to open the shot back up. Okay, let's do it. Find him in scope. Breathe. Cock the hammer. Breathe. Get a few solid breathes in. In through nose, out through the mouth. Don't fog up the scope, dumb***. Okay, that's wiped clean. Finger now on the trigger oh so slightly. Find the shoulder line, move just below center-mass, the heart/lung overlap, breathe, look, relax, inhale slowly, full exhale slowly, squeeze it off. Click - BOOM! Smoke everywhere. It's all white. Deer are scattering. Which one is he?! Heart pumping so fast you finally feel warm. Stand up. Find him. Reload. Find him again. Get him in the scope. There he is! He's down! grab the backpack (ya know, with your tag?) Start walking to the plot, it now appears different. Heart still pumping. There he is. Getting closer. You see his tines better now. You are getting closer to him than you've ever been. How awesome! Yep, this is real. This is it!


If only I could draw it up that easily, but yet, that is almost how all of our muzzleloader hunts end up. From the moment the buck appears, the memory storing and excitement start. Some guys wait a week for this to happen. Some guys have it happen the first night. That's hunting. Some don't have it happen at all. That's hunting. Yet, remember why you try. Remember why you battle the elements. You're here for that buck. Can't quit now. Late Muzz hunting is one of the most fun times to hunt. Below are pictures from our last LM hunting, myself and my buddy client in 2020. We killed the same night. The above storyline is almost on key for our hunts that evening. Missing some key details about positioning for the shot, ranging, etc., might be left out, but that's the uniqueness in every hunt beyond the excitement. It is fun!


PHOTOS ABOVE:

Top Left - I am pointing to confirm the trail going into this spot that the deer also found accommodating. This CRP farm was my buddy's so I wanted to make sure I chose the right entrance into the setup. Top Middle - My setup on the ground, in the snow, overlooking a bean plot that had already produced 2-3 studs that year (bow season and gun season); a beautiful LM spot. Top Right - The immediate result of dropped a buck hard when he's super old, sheds... Bottom Left - My best staging of him while trying to get out of dodge and back home three hours away before neighbors saw my phone light, my flashlight, or my truck lights. I like to be secretive, so trying to keep things on the D.L. Bottom Middle - Rack of the oldest LM deer I have ever shot with fresh blood yet. Bottom Right - My buddy's 160" buck he shot on my farm that same night while I was on the friend's farm 3 hours away.


Conditions were right that night in Southern Iowa, weather, pressure, snow, deer, it all was solid from what I could tell. I was hunting 1 acre of beans and he was hunting 100 acres of beans, yes, a standing bean crop left in due to poor farming practices. The deer appreciated it though! He made a stalk to get this buck in range and made it count. I knew we had good deer around that farm, and the snow and cold allowed him to capitalize on it.


WHEN

Late Muzzleloader Season opens the Monday following the Second Regular Gun (Gun 2) Season, usually the Monday before Christmas and closes January 10th every year. That about 3 weeks of late season when the bow season is actually reopened for their "late split". The early split is Oct 1st - Nov 30th* (until Gun 1 opens). So, three weeks of late December and early January hunting. This is also when bucks are battling cold, lack of food, remaining rut action (on yearlings or late popping does), predation, and Mother Nature in general while recovering from the rut trying to gain fat for the winter months that last through February. In a more detailed fashion, the best "when" to hunt is the night right before, during, and after a snow storm with a big cold front. High pressure and rising (30.01" and up) is a huge add-on. Hunting a southerly warm wind is not as good. So, there is a "when" component to the weather.


HOW

Deer are spending most of their time conserving or gaining energy through rest and nutrition during this stretch of time. It is naturally colder out so you know that bedding/cover and the majority of focus, fat & protein-filled foods. They need this to stay warm while recovering from the rut. We end up hunting the dinner table, some sort of a grain field (corn or beans) or even a great remaining brassica blend stand. Ideally, having all three together would be the best possible spot. That is easier said than done though. Most of your big bucks are resting during the day, conserving energy, or getting up to eat multiple times a day, especially as temps drop in the evening hours into the first hours of darkness. Most of your big bucks are also already bedded by sun-up after getting their fill. So, we hunt around noon on into dark, likely 60+ minutes after sunset. We do not hunt mornings for risk of disturbing the evening hunt. We like to be 100yds +/- off of the field's main areas (as dictated by the deer, the field, the terrain, and the entrance/exit from the site). This leaves a 100-300yd shot opportunity. Once there, it is simply a waiting game. No calling or rattling, no decoy, no scent attractions. It's the simplest hunt because we just have to wait that deer out. He will feed. We just hope it is in daylight and on our spot. In your best neighborhoods, there is low-pressure and not many, if any, competing late season food sources. However, we need snow to make all of the cut crop fields to become irrelevant to our standing crops. That is a big deal. No snow is tough because that opens up every deer food drive-thru option in the neighborhood. It is Iowa, there are cut fields everywhere. Yet, get onto food, sit & wait. That is it.


WHY

Hunting Late Muzzleloader provides a unique advantage to hunters if Mother Nature works as it should. We know the later in the year that it gets, the higher the probability it is for snow, cold temps, and a need to feed. Yet, when we get into the 40s during this stretch, no snow remains, and deer can find food literally everywhere a field was picked, it is a hard hunt. Yet, we know it is likely to be cold enough to force the deer to feed unlike any other time of the year, and that is almost as powerful as the rut when it comes to producing daylight bucks. Hunters obviously want firearm options as not everyone is a bowhunter. This is the best firearm option but it is the most expensive for good reason. It costs a lot of money to produce these hunts. MDLO has to operate as if that expense is not relevant to them (but obviously their hunters) and make the most for the money spent. Also, the two prior gun seasons each year (Gun 1, Gun 2) allow party-hunting and deer drives. The "orange army" goes out across Iowa and whacks hard. The big bucks often become nocturnal and find their little sanctuary to avoid the pressure. The only thing that gets them back into a daylight routine is the need for them to feed on food due to cold and snow. It is nature. Late Muzzleloader Season is the best chance to get a big buck with a firearm compared to the other options.


OVERHEAD MONEY & EFFORT

Food plots cost a lot of money. Whether we are buying back crop from the farmers who planted it or we are planting it ourselves or contracting someone to do it for us, it is a serious amount of money per acre. The current market price per acre of beans or corn is well north of $750/acre, more likely $1,000 to $1,250 an acre. That is what the farmer is due to make if he sells that harvest at market, privately or not. Furthermore, the cost of putting in our own plot is slightly more than this on a good day, maybe more. Whether it be time, equipment, resources, or product, this is expensive work. Here are some current costs from what our research shows:


- Mowing off brush/grass - $50/hour + Fuel

Time: about 2 hours per 1 acre

Fuel: about $25-50 per 1 acre

Total: $125-$150/acre

- Spraying off brush/grass (per treatment) - $50/hour + Fuel + Herbicide

Time: about 1 hour per 1 acre @ 3mph per spraying guidelines

Fuel: about $25-50 per 1 acre

Herbicide: $50 per 1 acre

Total: $125-$150/acre

- Burning or Re-Mowing off brush/grass - $50/hour + Fuel

Time: about 2 hours per 1 acre

Fuel: about $25-50 per 1 acre

Total: $125-$150/acre

- Fertilizing of Dirt (Pre-Till) - $50/hour + both Fuel & Fertilizer

Time: about 2 hours per 1 acre

Fuel: about $25-50 per 1 acre

Fertilizer: about $100 per acre

Total: $225-$250/acre

- Tilling (if not no-till) - $50/hour + Fuel

Time: about 2 hours per 1 acre

Fuel: about $25-50 per 1 acre

Total: $125-$150/acre

- Seeding (till or no-till) - $50/hour + Fuel + Seed

Time: about 2 hours per 1 acre

Fuel: about $25-50 per 1 acre

Seed: about $100/acre

Total: $225-$250/acre

- Finishing Plot (roll or cultipack) - $50/hour + Fuel

Time: about 1 hour per 1 acre

Fuel: about $25-50 per 1 acre

Total: $75-$100/acre

- Fertilizing of Dirt (Post-Till before Rain) - $50/hour + Fuel

Time: about 2 hours per 1 acre

Fuel: about $25-50 per 1 acre

Fertilizer: about $100 per acre

Total: $225-$250/acre

- Spraying of Crops (per treatment) - $50/hour + Fuel + Herbicide

Time: about 1 hour per 1 acre @ 3mph per spraying guidelines

Fuel: about $25-50 per 1 acre

Herbicide: $50 per 1 acre

Total: $125-$150/acre

- Total Estimate Per Acre: $1,375-$1,600


We can round this to $1,250 per acre if we are able to purchase in bulk (versus one or two individual plots. For grain plots, we want to have 2-4 acres of crops to hunt from per plot, potentially even 2 plots per late muzzleloader hunter. Whether we buy it back or plant it ourselves, that is likely going to cost $1,250/acre x 4 acres = $5,000. Since we don't think we will have many Late Muzzleloader customers paying that price exclusively just for plots, the benefits of outfitting comes into play. All MDLO hunters get to share cost this. This is why it is so important for the minimum number of hunters to book each year to allow for this type of cost-sharing to occur. The lower the number of clients, the lower the cash flow, the lower the output. We have calculated our Hunt Availabilities to accomodate the perfect amount, but in the case that we do not have enough hunters book to allow for adequate cost-sharing, either of two options may occur: 1) we have less food plots to hunt or 2) we ask the LM hunters to throw in more money to produce this. The hunt cost is relative to this, so be sure to ask us how we sit by July 1st after tag results have posted.


If you are able to find a LM hunt in Southern Iowa over standing crops, say 4-8 acres worth of crop, for less than $5000, either the outfit is losing money on it (potential write-off?) or they are running a lot of guys through to make up for their lower costs (textbook Illinois outfitter routine). This is where your research, your questions asked and answers provided are very important. Make sure you understand the setup, the hunt, and the outfitter/guide.


We have done enough late muzzleloader hunts to know what should be done and what shouldn't be done. Often times, that is respective to the farm and weather. Yet, our hunts are designed to give you the best outcome, attract deer, kill the most mature buck in the plot that is over 4yr olds, and hopefully not have a shed buck at the end of it like I did. Yet, this hunt is the closest to a rut bow hunt that we offer, in terms of hunt quality and likelihood of success. We'd love to have you come hunt late December and early January with us after Christmas. It may cost you a bit more, but rest assured, that food plot expense is well worth it. Just think how exciting it could be!

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