Any hunter that has ever hunted Whitetail Deer will tell you that they are very wary animals and that hunting them is a lot more challenging than most people would believe.
Thus, while there is definitely a certain amount of luck involved, simply walking out into the woods, finding a likely place to set up your stand or ground blind, and then patiently waiting for a trophy buck to wander by is akin to the odds on winning the lottery in that while it might happen, it is not very likely to!
Thus, those hunters who successfully fill their tags each season do so based upon knowledge of the terrain they intend to hunt as well as knowledge of the species and the habits of the deer population in their location.
However, acquiring such knowledge often requires numerous hours spent reading books and magazine articles in the off season as well as numerous hours in the field actually observing deer in their natural habitat as well as the ability to piece together all of their accumulated knowledge into a coherent whole.
Therefore, in an effort to shorten this somewhat lengthy learning curve, below you will find ten tips that will make your next deer hunt more successful.
- USGS Topographical Maps – As mentioned above, the first step in becoming a successful deer hunter is to gain an intimate knowledge of the terrain you intend to hunt. However, many hunters have a very limited amount of time to spend on their sport and thus, spending the necessary amount of hours in the field exploring the terrain is simply not possible for them.
But, without this knowledge, hunting deer is like putting on a blindfold, taking aim at a target, and pulling the trigger in the hopes of hitting the intended target. Therefore, a very useful tool available from the United States Geological Service or one of their vendors is their 7 1/2 minute series topographical maps that display the lay of the land in great detail and notes such features as mountains, valley, creeks, swamps, and other important topographical features. Thus, by viewing one of these maps, a hunter can gain an excellent overview of the area that they intend to hunt without ever having set foot on it.
- Google Earth – In addition to USGS topographical maps, modern technology and access to the World Wide Web have provided hunters with the perfect tool to enable them to gain an even more detailed overview of the territory that they intend to hunt via a web site called Google Earth.
Thus, by using this amazing web site, hunters can view a real time satellite image of nearly any place on Earth and, while doing so, they can note any areas of dense foliage that may serve as a potential bedding area as well as any areas where the timber has been harvested and/or any agricultural fields that may serve as a food source as well as noting terrain that may serve as travel corridors between the two.
Therefore, when viewing Google Earth, make special note of these areas and then note any terrain that may enable the deer to travel between potential bedding areas and potential food sources without exposing themselves to the casual observer.
- Pre-season Scouting – Once you have gained a detailed overview of the area you intend to hunt by using both USGS topographical maps and Google Earth, then it’s time to get out and explore the terrain in person. However, doing so immediately prior the opening of the season will inevitably alert the deer in that location to your presence and thus, make them more wary than usual.
Therefore, it is very important that you do your scouting well in advance of the opening of the season so that so that the disturbance you create moving through their territory will have time to fade from their minds and the scent you leave behind will have time to dissipate so that they will return to their usual habits well prior to the opening of the season.
- Bedding Areas – When scouting an intended hunting location in person, you should start by locating any areas of extra-dense foliage that may serve as a bedding area for the deer. Because it’s nearly impossible for an animal to move through these areas undetected by the deer, they feel secure when bedding down in these locations and thus, they seek them out since they feel safe sleeping there.
Then, once you have located a patch that you believe might serve the purpose, rather than enter it, you should instead circumnavigate it while looking for any possible entrances and/or trails leading into the foliage and then make note of their location since these are excellent locations to set up a tree stand or ground blind.
- Food Sources – After you have located what you believe to be an active bedding area, you should then follow any trails you find away from the bedding areas to any possible food sources such as agricultural fields, areas where the timber has been harvested, wild fruit trees, etcetera.
Then, once you have located any favored food sources, you need to examine both the ground and the foliage in that area for tracks and droppings as well as any plants with stems or limbs that have been sheared off that might indicated the deer’s presence and make note of them.
However, you should also be aware that even if the deer are actively feeding in these areas, they are often not the best places to set up a tree stand or ground blind unless the deer are feeding under a lone fruit tree since deer commonly have numerous different areas where they feed at different times and thus, while they may visit any given food source on any given day, they may visit another instead. Therefore, instead of setting up at the food source, a better idea is to set up along a single trail leading to multiple food sources so that you can catch them coming and going.
- Travel Corridors – While the list of available travel corridors is as varied as the terrain deer inhabit, such corridors often include narrow bands of dense trees or brush, fence lines, ditches, creek bottoms, and windbreaks. Therefore, key locations are anywhere two or more of these travel corridors meet.
So, when viewing your intended hunting area via Google Earth, you should look for, and note the location of, any such travel corridors. Then, when scouting the area in person, you should closely examine any such travel corridors for signs of deer movement and, if you find it, then you should set up your tree stand or ground blind at the point where two or more of these corridors meet in order to maximize your chances of seeing a mature buck and getting a shot at him.
- Super Stands – When scouting in mountainous terrain, you should be aware that mature bucks tend to prefer traveling parallel to ridges about two-thirds of the way down from the crest. But, in order to maximize your chances of seeing deer in this type of terrain, you should look for locations where two or more ridges intersect or, even better, look for a location where a series of ridges drop into a valley because deer use distinctive landmarks such as the crests of ridges or places where several ridges descend into a valley as reference points for their travels.Also, when deer choose to cross a ridge, they invariably do so at saddles (which are depressions in the ridge) because they enable the deer to move from one side of the ridge to the other without outlining themselves against the skyline. However, when hunting in lowlands and coastal plains, you should consider placing your stand deep in extra-thick cover where you see deer trails entering or exiting the brush.But, be aware that hunting in thick cover requires an all-day commitment because any time you climb up to, or down from, your stand, the deer will hear you and either hold fast or slink away without your knowledge and, too much disturbance can cause them to abandon that area in favor of one that is undisturbed.
- Pattern Your Deer – Although deer physiology and mentality is essentially the same across the entire species, different deer populations have different habits and this is especially true for mature bucks. Therefore, if you are truly serious about harvesting a mature buck, you need to spend time in the field patterning individual animals. However, like pre-season scouting, this needs to be done well in advance of the opening of the season so that your presence will have time to fade from the deer’s mind.However, a good place to start is by locating last year’s rubs and scrapes since bucks tend to claim the same territory year after year and they tend to follow the same routes when looking for a mate within their territory. Also, you should be aware that mature bucks are extremely wary and thus, they have a strong preference for not exposing themselves to view.
Therefore, once you have located an active bedding area, spend the day on the inside edges of these areas watching their entrance/exit trails and note what times of day they rise and travel as well as what trails they use. In addition, for those hunters who lack the time necessary to observe the deer in person, trail cameras are an excellent way to gain an idea of when they move and what trails they use. Then, once you have the deer in your location patterned, place your tree stand or ground blind accordingly once the season opens.
- Draw the Deer to Your Stand – Because deer hunters often have a very limited amount of time to spend pursuing their favorite game species, they often lack the time necessary to thoroughly scout their intended hunting area in person or to pattern the deer that inhabit their hunting area. Therefore, another way to maximize your chances of seeing a mature buck is to take steps to draw the deer to your stand by using one of the various types of attractant scents.Thus, you should be aware that deer attractant scents are divided into two categories consisting of food attractant scents and sex attractant scents. However, when using food attractant scents, it is very important that you use a scent that is appropriate to the type of foliage you are hunting. For instance, while White Oak acorn and Persimmon scents are appropriate for hunting in deciduous forests, they are not appropriate for hunting in coniferous forests.
Also, while most hunters are aware of doe-in-estrous scents which work extremely well during the short period immediately prior to, and during, the rut, they are not appropriate for use either early or late in the season. However, dominate buck scents work well throughout the season since any dominate buck will want to investigate what he perceives to be an intruder to his territory and a challenger to his dominance of the does in that area.
In addition, in order to take further advantage of deer’s innate curiosity, you should combine your use of either doe-in-estrous scents and/or dominate buck scents with a deer call capable of creating multiple deer vocalizations since deer regularly communicate with each other in order to determine both location and sex.
However, when a deer follows a scent trail and/or the sound of a deer call, they fully expect to see another deer when they arrive at the source of the scent or call. But, if they do not do so, then it may very well trigger their instinct that something is not quite right with the situation and thus, they may fail to approach to within shooting range. Therefore, you should also consider deploying a deer decoy in combination with your attractant scents and calls in order to give the deer something to focus on when they arrive at the scene and to draw them closer for clean shot.
- Eliminate Your Human Odor – While most hunters are aware of the need to hunt downwind of the direction from which they expect the deer to approach, many hunters also mistakenly believe that simply climbing into a tree stand placed well above the ground is enough to conceal their human scent from the deer.
However, the fact is that moving air acts in the same manner as moving water in that it swirls and eddies around any obstructions. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that you take steps to mask you your human odor by making use of cover scents. But, an even better approach is to eliminate your human odor by using products such as a Scent-A-Way Max Odorless Scent Control Kit from Hunters Specialties (http://www.hunterspec.com/product/scent-way-max-odorless-scent-control-kit) in combination with specialized scent control camouflage clothing since doing so will make you virtually invisible to the deer.
So, as the old adage says, “knowledge is power” and thus, by making use of the ten tips listed above and incorporating them into your deer hunting strategy, not only is your next deer hunt likely to be more successful, the ten tips listed above will enable you to successfully hunt deer even in unfamiliar locations.
However, more so than any of the others, the real keys to successfully hunting deer is to first locate their active bedding areas and then locate their active food sources and then identify the trails the deer are using to travel to and from those two locations and then set up your tree stand or ground blind along one of those trails and, especially in those locations where two or more tails meet and, by doing so, you maximize your chances of seeing and harvesting a mature buck.