Did 2020 mark your first season in the deer woods? Are you now ready to conquer the world, but have questions about your first deer hunt? Maybe you’ve even got a season or two under your belt but are still feeling a little green. Either way, you’re hungry for some proven tips and tactics that will be sure to put hide and hair in the deer cart. The to-come intel will help you do just that.
Forget Social Media
One tip, and it’s an important one for the newbie deer hunter, is to ignore social media. Social media makes deer hunting look easy, and possibly worse than making it look easy, amazingly fun all the time. The truth is, deer hunting is hard, and it can really suck. It’s not all sunshine and roses and encounters with big bucks. Eighty percent of the time, deer hunting is an absolute grind, and you need to know that going in. You need to keep answering the bell and be in the woods at prime times, even when sleep sounds like a lot better option.
Don’t get caught up in the hype of holding out for a gagger that’s in the “right” age class either. You can do this as you mature as a deer hunter, but holding out for a monster and passing multiple deer, especially if you’re hunting public dirt, is usually a recipe for lack of enjoyment and burnout. Set realistic goals. Do what makes you happy. Put some deer on the ground before you start being really picky. Develop a good shot sequence and be able to execute during the moment of truth. The best way to become a great deer hunter is to shoot lots of deer.
Have Multiple Plans!
Legendary boxer Mike Tyson said, while preparing for a fight with Evander Holyfield, “Everyone has a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth.” Remember this quote. Whitetails will punch you in the mouth often, and Mother Nature typically adds insult to injury.
Invest in a solid digital mapping platform — there are a pile of them out there — and spend time studying your hunt area. Look at the terrain. Know where food sources are, even if those food sources are a good distance away. Note heavy timber or dense brush — areas bucks and does will bed — as well as any water sources. Deer have to drink. In addition, look for funnels or other terrain features that tie the pieces of the puzzle (food, water and bedding) together.
As you learn your hunt area and spend hands-on time on it, have multiple places to sit. Of course, archery hunters will take to the trees or a ground blind, while rifle toters often sit on the ground (careful not to silhouette yourself) or climb into a shooting house. If you hunt with a rifle or crossbow and plan on hanging some treestands, be sure those stands have a shooting rail.
More places to sit means you can effectively play the wind and not spook deer before you ever see them. In addition to playing the wind game, you want to have bomb-proof entrance and exit routes to your sites. This may mean walking an extra mile and using the terrain to get into and out of your sites without alerting deer. Don’t get lazy. Poor woodsmanship will not be tolerated by whitetails.
When I first started hunting deer, I went morning and night, day after day during the month of October. While this strategy is a good one for the road-trip hunter or a rifle hunter facing a shortened season, it’s a recipe for burnout for the bowhunter. Being in the woods all the time during October heightens your human footprint, puts pressure on deer and stresses the mental mind.
If hot weather plagues your area in early October, stay home. Don’t go sit a field edge in the morning. Don’t go in at noon on a 90-degree low-pressure day and sit until dark. If other hunters aren’t putting pressure on your deer, be strategic with your in-the-woods strikes. Pay attention to the weather, specifically temperature drops and a rising barometer over 30 inches of mercury. Deer move really well on the front and back of weather systems. Wind can also get October deer on their feet. If you get four days of a south wind and then get a north breeze on day five, deer, especially bucks, will move. Moisture in the form of rain or snow is something else to pay attention to. If your hunt area receives some moisture, especially mid-October when bucks start laying down scrapes, be ready to get into the woods the second that rain stops. Bucks will want to get on their feet to freshen up scrapes and move about after being cooped up.
Yes, the moon is important too, but that’s another animal entirely. If you want to learn more about moon phases, I highly recommend the book Moon Struck! by veteran whitetail guru Jeff Murray.
Of course, the above-mentioned factors will tell you when to hunt come November as well, but when the rut hits, you need to shift your mindset into a hunt-every-chance-you-get phase. This is easy to do when you’re not suffering from stand burnout.
Come November, everyone plans on staying in the woods all day. Ninety percent of hunters don’t. In fact, most bail by 9 a.m. This is a monstrous mistake. No, not everyone is geared to stay in a treestand, blind or natural hide for 11 hours straight, but the last thing you want to do is leave a spot too early. If you can’t make an all-day sit, hold tight until noon, climb down, grab some lunch and be back in the woods by 1:30 p.m. at the latest.
If you can, climb down from your stand and eat at the base of your tree or walk to a locale where you can stretch out and relax without bumping deer. Often, a scenery change and some food is all a hunter needs to refocus.
My 20-plus years in the deer woods has taught me that if I play it smart and put in my time, I will earn a shot at a deer. The same will be true for you, and trust me, you want a grip-and-grin photo and meat for the grill and not a sob story to tell back at camp when your opportunity arrives. The difference between success and failure is a matter of taking an extra three seconds to settle that pin or steady those crosshairs. Don’t get in a rush to shoot. You have more time than you think you do. Take a breath and remember all those long practice sessions. Focus and execute.
No, it’s not everything you need to know, but it will help. Heed these five tips and shorten your whitetail learning curve.
Extra … 5 Bonus Tips
Your phone can wait. Stop texting, posting to your Instagram story and surfing the web. You’re hunting, and it can all happen in the blink of an eye.
Be a student of deer anatomy. Study charts and spend some time on YouTube. Understanding deer anatomy is vital to knowing how long you should give a hit deer before taking up the trail.
Know where the does are. If all you’re seeing is does, don’t panic. This is good news. If does are present in your area and you don’t bump them, the bucks will come.
Don’t go call crazy. Outdoor television makes grunting, rattling and snort-wheezing look like magic. I rarely rattle on public land, and only call to a buck if he isn’t heading my direction.
Move to the movement. If you observe serious deer movement, don’t wait. Move to the movement.
Many states allow you to shoot a doe and a buck with your tag or pay a small fee to add a doe tag. Do it. Nothing helps deer fever like shooting deer.