Strip down your hunting and follow these crucial tips to bag warm-weather whitetails this season.
Sure, it might be a cliché, but if you’re a white-tailed deer hunter, the Good Old Days are, without question, right now.
With a national estimated population of between 25 and 28 million animals, it’s no wonder that some 10 million licensed hunters head afield every fall, each one in search of what is undeniably North America’s greatest and most popular game animal.
In much the same way as the population has changed, whitetail hunting gear and methodologies are radically different now in the 21st century.
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From high-tech scent elimination devices to cutting edge ammunition, and from state-of-the-art centerfire rifles to camouflage designed to bend light and make the wearer virtually invisible, deer hunters from coast to coast have at their disposal some of the finest equipment ever available to the outdoor community.
Still, and as any veteran whitetail hunter will tell you, fancy gadgets and shiny doo-dads don’t put 190-inch bucks on the wall, but they certainly can’t hurt.
Whitetails and Pressure
“To me, the whitetail is the ultimate survivalist,” said Jared Lurk, a long-time pro-staffer for Drury Outdoors, and cohost for the Bow Madness television series found on the Outdoor Channel. “Whitetails are very adaptable and very predator adept. They’re always going to figure you out before you figure them out.”
As survivalists, mature whitetail bucks seldom make mistakes. Humans, on the other hands, are known for their ability to blunder, even when convinced they’re doing everything as it should be done.
“The No. 1 mistake that whitetail hunters make? Intrusion,” Lurk said. “Intrusion before and during the season is the No. 1 thing hunters need to consider. Why? Because deer never let you know when you’ve made a mistake. A good hunter is a very smart hunter.”
Taking the wind and scent elimination practices into consideration, not only when hunting, but when setting up blinds or cameras prior to the season is all part of what Lurk calls this “non-intrusive behavior” on the part of the individual.
Intrusion, Lurk pointed out, is little more than pressure; unintentional, perhaps, as opposed to an active hunting situation, but potentially detrimental to a hunter’s overall success nonetheless.
“Pressure affects a whitetail’s tendency to get up during the day,” he said. “When a deer senses a predator, in this case a human being, they often react by decreasing their already minimal movement during daylight hours.”
Interestingly, Lurk’s field research has shown that whitetails in different parts of the country, even in parts of the same smaller region, can respond to human intrusion differently.
“There is a difference to how deer react,” he said. “Some deer may simply spend more time bedded during these daylight hours. Others will relocate to an entirely new area within their established range.”
A big whitetail buck slowly making his way through the snow toward a orange-clad hunter perched high in a maple is thought of as a traditional scene when it comes to deer hunting.
However, and as nice as cool temperatures and a good tracking snow can be, Mother Nature doesn’t always play nice when it comes to the weather. Southern whitetail hunters know this all too well, but no part of the country is immune to the challenges of early season heat. That heat affects both hunter and the hunted.
“You have special scent elimination issues when the weather’s warm,” said Tyler Porter, a veteran whitetail outfitter. “When it’s warm, you have to pace yourself getting to the stand. Sweat is a problem. Dress light, walk slow. I might even take a change of clothes into the stand with me, if it’s exceptionally warm.”
Porter, like many whitetail fanatics, is committed to the frequent application and reapplication of scent elimination spray throughout the entire course of each hunt. He also is a firm believer in the Ozonics (ozonicshunting.com) scent elimination technology. Still, his primary method for staying undetected during the early season is, as he refers to it, old school.
“The way these tools – scent sprays and the Ozonics units – have changed the hunting game has been phenomenal,” he said, “but you still have to play the wind. Always, always, always play the wind. If he smells you, even once, the jig may be up for the rest of the season.”
Warm temperatures also have a way of affecting deer movement; often, shutting it down for all but a brief window just prior to legal shooting time in the evening. Now, Porter said, is the time to watch television – not instead of hunting, but as a resource. “You have to watch the weather,” he added. “Weather is huge in the early season.”
During warm weather the deer aren’t burning any calories. “There’s no need for much movement, if any at all. So, you watch the weather,” Porter continued, “and you hope for a front. Any change, no matter how small. It may only be 10 degrees on the backside of a front, but that can be huge. It’s easy to get lazy, especially when it’s hot, but you just have to watch and be patient.”