February 10, 2022
Hunters know that whitetail deer can be patterned, and also that deer can pattern hunters who hunt the same places or use the same trails.
Research using tracking collars has shown that deer avoid certain areas or move around during times of pressure.
This means if you want to see deer and have better chances of success next season, you need to learn how to not ruin your favorite deer-hunting spot.
It’s easy to get into a routine or comfort zone with our hunting areas. We find or create trails to stand locations, put up stands or hunting blinds, maybe hang some trail cameras. We then walk the same trails to and from those blinds and stands, power in to change SD cards or batteries in the camera, freshen up the mineral site or do something else. Before long, if you’re honest, you realize you’re in a comfort zone in which deer can easily pattern and avoid.
If you’re looking for good ways to ruin your deer-hunting spots, here are a handful to consider so you can avoid making these mistakes.
1. Too Much Intrusion
Years ago, it was vogue to have a sanctuary in which you never intruded, or at the least went in only to change a camera’s SD card and batteries. The idea was to leave the area completely alone so deer would have a safe space. That’s not a bad idea.
The converse is going into an area all the time, including during the season. You trundle in, maybe in stinky clothes and boots, make noise, possibly even ride in on an ATV. Your thought process is that deer will get used to it, like at a farm.
That justification may not hold water, though. On a farm or big ranch, they’re out there every day doing something: tending to cattle, working in the barn, fixing fences, something. You’re out there, maybe at the most, on the weekends or a couple of days a week. Your intrusion isn’t consistent enough "like on a farm." You’re intrusion is possibly just enough to make deer stay away.
Find that fine line between "too much" and "sanctuary," and possibly lean toward the latter if possible.
2. Changing the Landscape
A few years ago I got access to land and decided to make it better. I packed my rake, weed string trimmer, hedge clippers, loppers and noisy leaf blower in the truck and went to work.
I cut limbs, trimmed saplings, created openings where "weeds" had been, opened shooting lanes for ladder stands and ground blinds, trimmed paths where I saw deer tracks, and created new paths to get to the stands and blinds.
At the ground-blind areas, I used the string trimmer to cut to bare dirt a "floor" for inside the blind. The rake got rid of all those layers of decaying leaves, and the leaf blower helped blow everything into a few giant piles. It looked nice and tidy, all clean and ready to go months before the season opened.
And then I didn’t see a deer on my cameras in there for months. Nor did I see the coyotes, bobcats or other game. Everything disappeared or quit using those areas until later in the year. It was a reminder that we’re messing around in the animals’ homes. Rearranging their furniture, so to speak, or cleaning up to make it more comfortable and cool-looking to us probably isn’t the best thing to do. I still create cleaner paths to get to stands or blinds, but that’s about it. Leave the gardening to gardens.
You’re never going to completely eliminate your body odor, and likely won’t be able to do that with your cap, shirt, pants and boots. White-tailed deer have an incredible sense of smell. You’ve seen it while in the stand when a relaxed buck or doe suddenly freezes, lifts their nose in the air and starts to get anxious.
Whatever molecules that we may be emitting, or something else we can’t smell, a deer can smell them. We stink. Our vehicles stink. Our boots and clothes that are doused in uber-killer eliminator wash-spray still stinks. They, or our bodies, may not smell as badly if we use those products, but we’re still stinky to deer.
That means doing everything we can to eliminate as much of the odor as possible. Bathing and washing our clothes with scent killer products and using sprays and cover scents is an advantage. Spraying backpacks and gear with scent-killers is a plus. Keeping clothing and gear in airtight boxes is a good idea.
Most importantly, use the wind to your advantage on stands or when in hunting areas. Minimize your odor intrusion whenever possible, whether you’re hunting or doing anything else in the area.
This probably is one of the top two or three problems hunters create when ruining their hunting spots. You can do this for game other than deer, too. Waterfowl and upland bird hunters can overshoot spots. If you pound the same wood duck roost for 60 days, or the same quail or pheasant areas, you’re going to kill the dumb ones and run off the smart ones.
Deer are pretty smart about hunting pressure. Barge into the same stands or blinds repeatedly, especially when the wind is wrong, and you’re creating a mess. It may be tough to not hunt a stand or area during marginal times. But avoiding them then and the worst times, and hunting only during the best periods and on the best wind, is best.
5. Hunting the Wrong Times
Joining overhunting on the medal podium is hunting at the wrong time. These are not the same things but they may overlap. Hunting the wrong times can be as simple as going out when the wind is not in your favor. Hunting the wrong wind is easy to figure out, or should be if you pay attention to your stands and the forecast.
One area I hunt is great on a south wind. That direction blows my scent away from the travel routes and gives me good access to stands. A north or northwest wind is not as good. With an east wind, I may as well stay home.
You may choose to hunt after noon because deer are moving best then, instead of in the morning. Or they move primarily in the morning, but for whatever reason not as well later on. It may be best to choose a stand early in the season but ignore it months later during the peak rut. Knowing when and where to go seems like a simple statement. But the most successful deer hunters take all factors into account — trail camera information, weather, time of the season — and make the most of it.