Going Deep for Deer
December 20, 2018
Deer hunters are always looking for an edge to help them harvest that buck of a lifetime. And as any successful deer hunter will acknowledge, information is the most valuable resource when hunting trophy whitetails.
A “tactic” is defined as an action or strategy that is carefully planned to achieve a specific goal. However, that doesn’t mean a specific tactic will work every single time. All good hunting tactics will work at times. But used at the wrong time, a hunting tactic that runs deer off your property will mostly help your neighbors.
In the past, gathering information involved long hours of boots on the ground to find deer sign, locate active trails and, hopefully, spot a trophy buck or two. Having to work for a living limits most hunters’ scouting sessions to a few weekends.
However, thanks to advances in technology, trail cameras allow monitoring of deer herds 24 hours a day. A series of strategically placed trail cameras located on well-used trails, food plots and scrapes can serve as “eyes in the woods.” The amount of nonintrusive information available is limited only by the number of trail cameras utilized.
Regardless of the number of cameras, these deer management tools provide hunters with three basic bits of information.
First, and most important, trail cameras allow hunters to see many of the bucks available in a hunting area. Nothing boosts a hunter’s confidence more than knowing that a trophy buck is in the vicinity.
Second, trail cameras lead hunters to the best time to hunt. Most trail cameras on the market today mark the date and time on each image. Knowing the specific time of day a big buck is on the move can help determine when you should be in a stand.
Finally, the third bit of information trail cameras provide is where to hunt, or in some cases, where not to hunt. Using a trail camera to identify and eliminate unproductive areas is just as important as identifying areas that are target-rich with trophy bucks.
There is a place and time for every type of deer stand. And when it comes to hunting whitetails, the more stands to choose from, the better the hunting. I utilize a total of 34 deer stands on my 700-acre hunting property. This broad selection of stand sites ensures I will have a place to hunt regardless of wind direction or season stage. In addition, I rarely hunt the same stand more than once per week. By limiting hunting pressure on any one stand, I avoid mature bucks becoming suspicious of my presence.
According to research findings, mature bucks adjust activity patterns and habitat selection to reduce the probability of encountering a hunter. Mature bucks quickly learn the location of a stand and take avoidance maneuvers by the third day of occupation by a hunter. Stands that have been on the same location for years are often avoided by mature bucks.
Certain stand locations will produce consistent results year after year. In most cases, these stand locations are best during a particular portion of the hunting season. Some stands produce better during the rut, others early or late in the season. With few exceptions, most top deer stand locations are productive for a limited time each season. The key is to identify when these stands are most productive and focus efforts during that narrow time period. I have found pockets of acorn trees that attracted deer for two or three weeks, but once the acorns stopped falling, deer activity came to a screeching halt.
One of the biggest mistakes deer hunters make is overusing a particular stand. We all have been guilty of this act, especially after spotting a trophy buck from a given stand. Against better judgment, we get stuck hunting that one location. We return to the stand time and time again, hoping the same buck will reappear. However, pressuring one hot stand is a sure way to turn it cold.
White-tailed deer are masters at adapting to changes in their environment. This is especially true when it comes to increases and decreases in hunting pressure. Prior to the rut, the best hunting strategy is to get away from other hunters. But as the rut intensifies, this strategy becomes less and less effective. During peak rut, a good strategy is waiting for cold fronts and staying out in the woods as much as possible. Find a hot doe, and a love-struck buck will not be too far behind.
As the rut tapers off, so does hunting pressure. For some unexplained reason, hunters begin to vacate the woods soon afterward. Deer respond to this reduction in hunting pressure by returning to more predictable patterns and becoming less wary.
Smart hunters take advantage of this situation by remaining patient and persistent and continuing to hunt through the late season. One thing is for sure: hunters will not reap late-season rewards unless they stay in the game to the end.
Having confidence in your abilities and hunting location is also extremely important when chasing pressured bucks. Believing that you have selected the right stand location will help you stay more focused on the job at hand. This inner confidence makes it much easier to keep your head in the game, remain in your stand longer and take advantage of the rare opportunity for taking a trophy buck.
Once in your stand, the time for second-guessing is gone. It is time to stop worrying about what’s happening at other stands and focus completely on the stand in which you are sitting. Unless something major happens, like a change in the weather, always stick to the game plan formulated the night before.
Every time I go afield, I “believe” that I will encounter a trophy buck. If I didn’t believe that, I may just as well have stayed home. Theodore Roosevelt, an excellent hunter in his own right, hit the nail on the head when he said, “Believe you can and you’re halfway there!”
Making Sense of Scents
There is a myriad of commercially produced scent-neutralizing products on the market these days, including scent-eliminating clothing and ozone-generating products. These products have been on the market for several years and have garnered much acclaim by the hunters. And based on the limited scientific data available, it appears that the ozone-generating products show the most promise. This is what many refer to as the “scent-free” approach.
However, we all know that hunting “scent-free” is a misnomer. It is impossible to eliminate all human scent while hunting. But we should always strive to reduce as much human odor as possible. If that means using commercial products that mask, mimic or neutralize scents, then by all means use them.
Because of a deer’s strong sense of smell, we must remember to always use our most important sense — common sense. Proper positioning and stand placement is everything when it comes to deer hunting. It is critical to hunt downwind of where you expect deer. If you keep downwind of a buck, there is very little chance that he will smell you, whether you are using scent eliminators or not.