Snow while hunting: friend or foe?

Photo credit: Luke Dusenbury

Whether you are hunting Arizona, Idaho or anywhere in between, it is possible — and often likely — that the high country gets snow as early as September and as late as June. Snow has a lot of benefits when it comes to hunting, but also some disadvantages. If you can plan to use the benefits to your advantage and overcome the disadvantages you can be more successful during any season for any animal you are hunting. Overall, the most important thing is to be in the mountains hunting if you want to harvest deer, elk or other animals, which makes understanding the good, the bad and how to benefit from snow in all situations important. This knowledge and experience will help make you the best big game hunter you can be and get the most out of your limited days afield.

The good

When it comes to snow, there are three main ways that we can obviously benefit from it being on the ground. The first way is animal visibility even in the thickest of terrain. Wild animals blend in excellently with the brown terrain and, without snow, they are difficult to spot. When we get even the lightest coating of snow on the ground, animals seem to pop out to our eyes. Whenever I start glassing with snow I can see animals with my naked eye — even at long distances. The second way that snow benefits us is by being able to see animal tracks in it. Whether we are trying to dog a moving herd or just trying to determine what elevation the animals are calling home, snow helps. Snow even allows us to tell the difference between a big buck track and a doe or a big bull elk track or a cow. This type of information can help us get closer to harvesting big game and, specifically, bucks and bulls. The final and obvious way that snow helps us is with animal tracking after your shot. Nothing sticks out more to us than red blood on top of white snow. Even the smallest drop is easily spotted, making tracking and recovering animals so much easier.

The bad

Snow can be an obvious benefit, but also has a lot of negatives when it comes to hunting that we need to keep in mind. Planning for snow appropriately will make us better hunters and have better experiences. The first obstacle that snow can create is travel restrictions. Whether we are driving or hiking, snow that is too deep can create a dangerous and tiring adventure for us. Having good tires, chains or an ATV can help us navigate snow and ice-covered roads safely to reach our spots. Having good waterproof and insulated boots or, even, snow shoes can allow you to hike further with warmer feet. Always having some extra boots and a boot dryer at the truck can also give you dry feet the next morning, which is crucial to a long day afield. 

Get the gear you need for late-season hunts here

Photo credit: Brady Miller

Snow can also create visibility problems for us. Sometimes this visibility restriction is from an active snowstorm. If we are trying to stalk or stick with a herd at a close distance, snow can help; however, if we are trying to glass, it can really restrict our visibility. Even on a sunny day, the sun reflecting on the snow can create a situation that is too bright and straining on the eyes. Bringing sunglasses may keep you from squinting all day and getting a headache. Another common snow-related problem is wetness. Whenever glassing when there is snow on the ground, a glassing stool (like a Hillsound BTR Stool or a glassing pad like the Sthealhy Hunter or Therm-A-Rest Z Seat), small tarp or waterproof pants can keep your pants and butt from getting wet and cold — even after sitting and glassing for a long time. A good pair of gaiters can also keep your ankles from getting wet and keep your boots dry, too.

Photo credit: Chris Neville

Overall, hunting in the snow can be a prime time to find and harvest animals in the West. They often go to feed earlier and are active on south-facing slopes where the snow is the shallowest. The animals are more visible, easier to track and recover, which makes your overall success rate better. As long as you plan to have trouble driving and hiking, stay as dry and warm as possible and bring backup equipment and clothing, you should be in a good position this hunting season. Many people do not like to hunt in the snow, which creates less competition. Animals like deer and elk are used to the winter and will often stay in places they feel safe — even if there is a foot or two of snow on the ground. Be there and make an opportunity count on a bull or buck that is holding tight to some late-season high country.

Remember, a great tool such as our Terrain Analysis tool on GOHUNT Maps is key for locating areas where you might find animals on late-season hunts. Learn more about how to use this tool to your advantage below:

Terrain Analysis tool for late-season hunts


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