For all the excitement that’s generated about deer hunting, it never ceases to amaze me how few hunters are in the woods from around 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. That’s when tired sportsmen vacate the woods and head for camp or the nearest diner for a meal and a nap. When you add those lost hours up at the end of a typical deer season, you’ve probably eaten or slept through a minimum of 96 hours, or a dozen 8-hour days — time that will be sorely missed when the season closes.
WHY SKIP LUNCH?
I learned my lesson on lunchtime bucks at the tender age of 14 while hunting with my dad. His rule was for me to stay put until he came to get me, and so I did as I was told. For one reason or another, he was usually late coming to find me for lunch, so I’d stay on stand, my stomach in hungry knots. I’d often see (or hear) other hunters leaving the woods for lunch, and I wanted to join them.
On one particular hunt, I stayed out in pouring rain and was shivering with hypothermia (a term that didn’t even exist in 1965), mad as could be because everyone else was back at camp. I caught movement on the trail above me and immediately thought to myself, “Finally, Dad’s here for lunch. Let’s get out of here!”
Something made me wait just a few seconds longer before packing up, and it’s a good thing I did, because a nice 8-point buck bounded over a log and stood broadside, looking back over his shoulder at the main logging road that, he and I knew, other hunters were using to get back to camp.
It was an easy shot at 25 yards, and by the time Dad got to me I’d finished tagging and gutting the deer.
Young, impressionable and big on lessons learned, I became an all-day deer hunter, especially after seeing the faces of the others at camp who had to put their chili and sandwiches down in order to help drag my buck out of the woods.
I’ve been fortunate to hunt deer throughout the U.S. for more than 45 years, and it’s a rare day when I leave the woods for lunch. I’ve probably killed 20 deer in that so-called “dead” mid-day period from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. I don’t fill my tag every day, just often enough to remind me that I need to stay in the woods all day, not just during the peak deer movement periods of dawn and dusk.
Deer will move at mid-day of their own volition, or hunter traffic will cause them to skitter off to safer havens. Hunters with the fortitude to remain on stand throughout the day will increase their odds for success — an important consideration in a sport where a fair percentage of hunters fail to fill their tags.
The first thing to consider when planning an all-day hunt is how you are going to manage to stay out there all day. That means you must bring some kind of lunch with you. “Lunch” can include a bottle of water and an apple; a sandwich and a Thermos of coffee; a pot of hot tea and some granola . . . the choice is yours. Make it small, lightweight, nutritious and satisfying, but bring it with you in the morning and, of course, pack it all out at the end of the day.
SIT OR STILL-HUNT?
Like most hunters, I have a morning and evening hunt plan. There are some stands that produce better at certain times of the day, so of course your focus should be on those. But, at mid-day the rules change. Deer may get up and wander for a few minutes to feed or change bedding locations, all to avoid hunters tramping through prime cover on their way back to camp. Most of those hunters are focused on food, not deer. Consider them your personal drivers. Position yourself where you need to be in order to ambush deer that are moving about to avoid being spotted.
I normally leave my morning stand around noon (to take advantage of the early lunch crowd). When the woods become quiet again, I’ll head for higher country, a cover seam where deer tend to meander at mid-day, a crop field edge, a well-used crossing or some other area that was No. 2 or No. 3 on my list of hotspots for that day. I’ll settle in for a couple of hours, have my tea and sandwich, and just keep an eye on things for an hour or two.
As the cover and weather dictate, I may decide to still-hunt my way to my evening stand, perhaps walking slowly along a creek bed, field edge, hedgerow or other area where deer are likely to be found at mid-day.
Not long ago I hiked up a 1,000-foot “hill” on a state forest where local hunters focus on the lowland farm fringes at dawn and dusk. I had the feeling there were deer using the woods high above the agricultural areas as bedding sites. The trouble was that the entire mountainside had no roads or trails on it — access was on foot, hand over hand and straight up. I figured I could make the climb, still-hunt the ridge and be back at my evening stand by 3 p.m.
Guided by a nagging feeling there were deer up there, I set out around 11 a.m. Meanwhile, the valley resounded with the echoes of slamming doors and muddy 4-wheelers heading for the parking area.
I reached the top in about an hour, enjoyed my lunch, and then still-hunted across the spine of the ridge. I was about to head down to my late-day stand when I ran headlong into a huge 10-pointer that was idly rubbing his antlers on a sapling just down the ridge from me. It was quite a challenge to gut the big buck on that steep slope, but, thankfully, the drag was all downhill from there!
Remember what I said about being young and impressionable? During my last year of high school I spent a full month in the woods because I was due to ship out to boot camp after the season ended. I spent every day in the woods but the effort took its toll on me. One sunny afternoon I took a quick nap, my gun in the leaves at my side. You guessed it: I awoke to a loud snort — a huge buck was standing 10 yards from me! I reached for my gun but it was already too late; the deer bounded away and disappeared into the brush. Another lesson learned: Don’t let your lunchtime buck catch you napping!
GO, HUNT, STAY ALL DAY!
There is no guaranteed rule to follow in mid-day hunting. Go with your gut instinct based on what you know about the area, the deer, the state of the rut and the movement of other hunters in the area. All of the action can take place in a few seconds, so go with what seems to be the best approach in your area. A secluded corner of a farm field can be a magnet for deer at mid-day. The same thing goes for water crossings or individual fruit-bearing trees, non-harvested crops, and so on.
A small patch of cover can produce as many deer as a vast woodlot, and if yo
u’ve studied the most recent sign, you should have some picture of where the deer prefer to be. Get there first, stay put and use those mid-day hours to your full advantage.