October 10, 2017
Deer hunting all day is no easy task, something I've learned from personal experience! Nothing is more frustrating than sitting in your favorite stand for hours on end when the animals aren't moving.
It's especially frustrating when bad weather decides to set in, making things even more difficult.
However, that's why it's called hunting.
But when you've waited all year to spend time in the field, deer hunting all day is the best way to maximize your chances of bagging a buck, especially the biggest ones out there that seem to morph into ghosts when you most hope to see them.
The traditional approach to deer hunting always has been targeting the high-percentage hours when the deer typically are on the move — early in the morning and late in the afternoon/evening.
But there also are advantages to hunting throughout the morning and afternoon, and if you haven't considered a longer sit, you certainly should do so this fall.
That extra hunting time could pay off with your tagging out and maybe killing the largest buck of your lifetime.
When discussing the all-day deer hunt, there are three approaches to the pursuit: the biological, which centers on why deer might move at non-peak times; the physical, which focuses on preparing your gear and body; and the mental, the most important of all, especially if you don't enjoy long waits.
Deer exhibit similar tendencies across most regions, but if you look closer beyond their standard behavior, you will discover that they don't always do the same things. Case in point: the rut, which has bucks on the move in search of receptive does.
There's just no better time than during the breeding season for you to hunt longer and harder.
Mature bucks simply are tough animals to hunt and pattern, and they don't get old for no reasons at all. During most of the hunting season they always seem to stay just out of range, but during the rut they only have one thing on their minds, so their behavior changes and they become much more likely to be seen and heard.
The rut also makes big bucks do some strange things. I once saw a huge non-typical buck bird-dogging a doe that eventually bedded down during late morning.
The buck stayed right by her side, plopping down well out of gun range and staying there for more than three hours as the clock moved well past noon.
The doe got up about 1 o'clock and moved off, the buck staying nearby the whole time. Had she come my way, the outcome of the hunt would have been very different.
That incident illustrates just how much buck behavior can shift and why you should remain in your deer stand or blind as long as possible.
You just never know when that one doe might bring a bruiser of a buck right by you.
Rutting conditions vary from region to region. However, if you see or hear accounts of young bucks chasing does, it's usually an indicator that the rut is picking up.
Older bucks tend to begin seeking suitable mates after the younger ones do, and being in your stand around those times could make the difference in seeing deer you might never see otherwise.
In addition to the rut, you also can bank on mother nature to key deer movement, including during different periods of the moon phase or when adverse weather pops up.
There long has been a debate on how periods of a full moon affect deer, mostly centering on what those time frames do to feeding activity. It had been respected as gospel that deer fed more and were more active during overnight hours when the moon was larger and they were much less active when it was totally dark at night.
However, there have been numerous studies by respected members of the deer-hunting community — including noted biologists spanning multiple states — that show the exact opposite effect.
That being said, I personally have found that when I hunt during a full moon, spending more time in the field means seeing more deer, particularly in the early afternoon.
That's earlier than I might typically head for my hunting spot during other occasions with less moon glare.
It should be noted that deer often do the exact opposite of what you expect them to do, and so regardless of whether the moon is full or not, you still should plan to stay out longer than you normally would.
When it comes to weather, the same differing opinions can be found from east to west, north to south.
Many notable hunters swear by hunting only in good weather since deer are more apt to bed down and ride out a rainstorm, heavy snowfall or howling winds.
Other veteran hunters preach about hunting harder under adverse weather conditions since they could spur deer movement. Again, there's really no consensus, which is a good thing since it shows that you can have success at filling a tag even when you may not think your all-day efforts will pay off.
The usual deer-hunting routine involves rolling out early, well before sunrise, getting into your spot unseen by prying dark eyes, and sitting for a few hours after daybreak and then calling it a morning to head back in to grab more coffee and a bite to eat.
The midday hours may include a nap or ballgame on TV back at camp before you head out in the late afternoon, hoping to catch a buck on the prowl before dusk.
However, as the previous biological anecdote shows, you may be missing out on seeing deer that you otherwise never would. That's all fine and dandy, but hunting those extra hours can be tough, you might say.
That's why it's vital to plan accordingly for your all-day excursions, focusing on comfort and maintaining your strength.
It's no joke. Sitting all day, or for more than a few hours, can be hard work. Some tree stands and elevated platforms are meant to be efficient — but not necessarily relaxing — making all-day hunts much tougher.
It's not out of the question no matter where you're sitting to get up every few hours if your joints start aching, but the longer you're able to rest your body the more chances you'll have at success.
Comfort also rests in your gear selection, notably when it's cold or rainy, or both. Staying dry is key if you're hunting in the open. Hypothermia can creep in if you're not conscientious about what you wear.
Make sure you take extra clothes along, including extreme cold-weather gear, on longer hunts. It's certainly better to have it and not need it than vice-versa.
Physical planning also includes staying sharp, which means packing appropriate food and drink. You'd be surprised how quickly hunger and thirst kick in on those all-day excursions, especially if you're moving around at all, going mobile to cover more territory in hopes of finding your buck.
I enjoy hearty deer camp food and drink as much as anyone, but I also know you can hunt better by eating smarter.
It's much easier to awake and rise when you haven't gone overboard on the carbs or adult beverages the night before. Deer camp cuisine should be a good mix of fruits and veggies with good doses of protein thrown in.
Personally, there's nothing like grilling up ribeyes under a moonlit sky at least one night, hoping to catch sight of a shooting star.
Getting your mind right is likely the toughest part of deer hunting all day long, and for good reason: it's not easy. I've hunted long and hard without seeing a single deer morning, noon or night, and it's downright frustrating.
It certainly makes you question your tactics, but as the old saying goes, "You can't shoot 'em from the couch."
There's nothing at all wrong with taking along a distraction or two for those bouts of tough deer hunting. I've finished an entire novel in a deer stand when the bucks weren't moving, and with smartphones and strong cellular service, even in remote areas you can still stay connected to the outside world. That certainly can break up the monotony on slow days.
It's also never a bad idea to simply enjoy being outdoors — after all, it's why you're there in the first place, spending time and effort at the pursuit. It also could mean spotting an elusive buck that's skulking through your stand setup.
I've lost count of how many times a good deer simply materialized out of nowhere, and not far away, either! It's how they grow old, and they're great at it, which means that you also need to be up to the task.
By deer hunting longer, with more focus, you can up the ante when targeting one of the most elusive game animals most hunters will ever come across. At the end of the day, each hunter counts success in his own way.
Myself, I revel in being outdoors during the fall and winter, and deer hunting has been passed down in my family from generation to generation, the reward for my efforts simply in the "being there" moments.
However, I also have found success in filling buck tags the old-fashioned way: with lots of effort and maintaining a solid and easy-to-follow approach.
Whether you count your victories by the Boone and Crockett or Pope and Young record books, or simply by benefitting from moments afield, there's no better time to spend all day doing what you enjoy.
Regardless of the outcome, you won't head back to deer camp disappointed.
Note: This article was originally published in September 2015 in Game & Fish magazines. Click here to subscribe