So, I’m going to start this one off with a confession; When it comes to deer hunting, I don’t know it all. There, I came out and said it.
What I do know, for damn sure though, is that NOBODY knows it all, and if they tell you they do you need to run for the hills or find your information elsewhere. That being said, below are some sure-fire ways that’ll help you avoid eating “tag soup” this season.
Bring a Flashlight
Top of the list, make sure you’ve got some source of a portable light with you in the field. Be it a headlamp, handheld, clip-on, etc., just make sure you have a way to see in the dark. Deer are crepuscular, meaning they see best in the dim light of dawn and dusk – and mature bucks prefer moving very early and late or in the dark. Beat them to where they want to be by getting out in the field early enough – read: before dawn. No matter how well you think you know your deer hunting spots, it’s always a good idea to have a flashlight to light your way and avoid hurting yourself at the start of the season.
Avoid Unnecessary Movement
Nothing will burn a prime deer hunting spot better than recklessly moving about. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the sit and stalk approach, but during the time spent sitting, that’s exactly what I’m doing….Sitting and glassing, not fumbling around with gear or chatting it up with my hunting partners. You’d be surprised by just how much unnecessary noise deer hunters make when in the field, most of it from unwarranted movement.
Scout Your Hunting Spots
Unless you’re incredibly lucky, you won’t be shooting many bucks if you don’t know where they’re living. That takes scouting, which takes time, which none of us seems to have enough of. Pre-season scouting should uncover big tracks, old buck rub lines and deer scrapes, bedding thickets, and travel routes between bedding areas and feeding areas. During the season, scouting on-the-go, and plenty of glassing, then hunting over hot sign that day, is perhaps the best way to possibly get a shot at a deer. Hunting the same old spots is convenient and easy, but that age-old saying around, “nothing easy is worthwhile, and nothing worthwhile is easy”, rings true here. Deer hunters that go the distance and put in the work fair far better than those who don’t.
Take Care of Your Gear
Opening day of deer hunting season is no time to take the squeak out of your sling mounts, find out your boots leak, or wonder where your spotting scope covers are. The devil is in the details, as they say. Make sure you take care of them before opening day.
Sight in Your Rifle
We’ve all heard the stories, monster buck comes stomping in at 150 yards, dead in the crosshairs, pull the trigger and nothing but dust kicking up in front of him. It can’t be the rifle. Until you check it later and find it is off by a foot. Sight in your rifle with the EXACT ammo you plan on using in the field. Too many deer hunters have neglected this one important piece of information and have lived with regret since. This is especially true for those hunters who now have to shoot non-toxic ammo. Spoiler alert, the ballistics aren’t the same as lead.
Bucks are tough to pattern during the deer rut because they are constantly on the move in search of estrous does. The best place to find them during the day is in a funnel located between a known doe bedding area and known doe feeding area, or between two known doe bedding areas. It’s really as simple as that. Scouting the area comes in to play here again, and if you’ve done your homework it’ll pay off in spades.
Note the Direction of the Wind
It’s crazy just how much wind plays into deer hunting. A switch in the wind and you can go from being in the best possible spot to the worst, really quickly. Staying downwind is the most important part of your hunt. If he catches your scent, it’s over. There are a variety of tools out there to help with this but nothing is as simple or more reliable than a good wind checker. Simply pop the flip-top up and squeeze out some dust in order to check the wind and get a true bearing on where your scent is headed.
Big game hunters used to think that all those scent-eliminating and controlling products were a gimmick — until they seriously field-tested them, and the controlled lab test results came out. When used as advertised, most scent control systems work quite well. You’ll be able to find scent control for pretty much everything: laundry, shampoo, antiperspirant, soap, etc. Use it as advertised and you’ll ensure your scent is covered.
Squirrel or Deer?
Whether it’s your first deer hunt or your 101st, squirrels make a crazy amount of noise that sounds a whole helluva lot like a deer. STAY ALERT. One of these days it’s not going to be a squirrel making the noise but a giant buck that has already managed to sneak past you.
Explore New Areas
We all prefer hunting deer in areas with which we have become familiar and have had past success. That being said, what happens if one year you lose access to your usual spot, or the deer herd takes a nosedive due to disease, or hunting pressure pushes everything out, or the land gets sold? It’s always a good idea to have multiple backup spots available. Get out there, do some scouting, knock on some doors if needed. With the advent of technology like OnX, you can “digitally scout” some areas you might be interested in checking out, and by doing a little homework you can get contact information that’ll allow you to reach out to landowners and ask for permission to hunt directly.
Knock on Doors
To the point above, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get permission from landowners to hunt their properties. Don’t trespass, plain and simple. It’s not worth it and it’s one of the most disrespectful things you as a hunter can do. If you can easily find the landowners’ info, like a phone number, for example, shoot them a call and introduce yourself and ask for access to their property in exchange for mending fences, or cleaning up around the area. Better yet though, if they live on the land drop by with a pie or other type of gift and introduce yourself in person and see if you can trade labor for access. Most landowners know that access to private land is hard to come by and in reality, they just want respectful people who won’t damage their property.
Keep Tabs on the Weather
Google is your friend; it could also save your life. Pay attention to the weather in your general area. Do research ahead of time on what the forecast has in store for the area you’ll be hunting in. Not only will this provide you with information on what you’ll need to bring with you from a layering standpoint, but it’ll also inform of you what to expect from the deer. Check the weather and check it often, nothing worse than being caught unprepared by mother nature.
Binoculars and Spotting Scopes
Always remember – binoculars are for spotting, rifle scopes are for killing. They are not interchangeable in this regard. Using your rifle scope for spotting is not only dangerous, but it’s also highly inefficient. Binoculars and spotting scopes are purpose-built for the task at hand. Find a spot and spend some time glassing, you’ll immediately see the benefits of using binoculars or spotting scopes over a rifle scope. Also, you can’t ever underscore the importance of a good range finder. Get one and you’ll see what I mean.
The deer hunter who thinks he has it all figured out is one of two things – incredibly naïve and inexperienced, or completely out of tune with the world around them. No matter how much time you have in the field, how many sportsman channels you watch, or how many mounts you have on the wall, we hunters will never know it all when it comes to deer behavior. The more knowledge you have, the better hunter you’ll be, and the more you will enjoy your days in the field. Never stop striving to learn or implementing new techniques. When it comes to deer hunters, it’s possible to even teach the old-timers some new tricks.
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