July 07, 2017
In the course of an autumn deer hunting campaign, perhaps nothing else accounts for more changes in the behavior of a local deer herd than the pressure of hunters moving into the woods.
From the opening days of bow season to the appearance of smokepolers during muzzleloader season to the orange army of gun season, deer can't help but notice and react to the increased presence of human beings intruding into their woodsy home.
"Our bow season opens on October 1st and we still get regular deer movement (for a few days), the deer we have been seeing on our cameras (for a few weeks)," said Ralph Cianciarulo, a longtime big buck guru from the deer rich state of Illinois.
"But after the (first couple of) weekends with everyone hunting, the buck movement slows. And when that happens, we do the same. We don't try to pressure our hunting areas for we know the best time is yet to come (with the November rut)."
According to the other half of the popular hunting couple that puts on the Archer's Choice and The Choice programs for Outdoor Channel, some hunters make a crucial mistake by being too eager and hunting too much when the season begins.
"So many hunters keep on hunting (even as deer movement slows) and they don't realize that they are (helping) push the movement of deer back to being nocturnal," said Vicki.
The success of a season isn't determined by how many days you actually end up sitting in a stand, but how many effective sits you make. After all, the goal is to eventually put your hard earned deer tag on a bruiser buck. (Photo courtesy of Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo)
Keep in mind that such activity from other hunters can even have a negative effect on the properties that you hunt. And that can be true even if you're ultimately playing your own deer hunting cards just right.
To help combat that, the Cianciarulos rely on the tactic of having deer sanctuaries on their hunting ground, areas that they never step foot in.
"If you can control the effect of deer hunting pressure on whitetails in your area, you can still see some good buck movement, (even during the earlier and middle days) of the season," said Ralph.
"We believe this is where having a sanctuary area on our property really can pay off with some big dividends," adds Vicki. "The more pressure we have in the areas where we hunt, the more we use this tactic.
"And if you will be disciplined enough to never hunt beyond the perimeters of such sanctuary areas, you will still see good movement."
Keep in mind that Ralph and Vicki aren't the only Outdoor Channel hunting experts noting the negative effects that hunting pressure can have on a local deer herd.
"Hunting pressure changes how they react," agrees Hunt Masters host Gregg Ritz, a New Hampshire resident who spends plenty of time in the deer rich Midwest each fall.
Such knowledge helps to dictate how Ritz hunts during the middle portion of the season prior to the frenzy of the rut kicking in.
"If there are abnormally warm temperatures at this time of the season, my recommendation is don't even bother with hunting (until the weather changes) because all you're doing is educating deer," he said.
Another thing that Ritz does is to avoid hunting a single stand site too often, no matter how tempting it is or how foolproof he believes his entry and exit routes are.
"I never hunt a stand more than three days (in a row)," said Ritz. "After that point, deer will have figured out how you're coming in and how you're going out. I promise you, you'll see diminished activity if you hunt more than three days (in a row on a single stand)."
Are there other options to consider? Ritz says yes.
"You can go to another farm or you can wait a week before going to that stand again," he said. "If you hunt a stand too often - especially on successive days - all you're doing is hurting your opportunity (to see and kill a big buck)."
Realtree Outdoors executive producer and co-host David Blanton agrees, noting that hunters have to be careful with their in-season movement and activities.
Please note that Blanton isn't suggesting that hunters become so passive that they nearly avoid going into the woods at all. Traveling as he does from one state to another during a fall season of hunting and filming, the Georgia resident knows that you can't tag a monster buck unless you're sitting in a stand when he walks by.
In fact, Blanton will often tweak existing stand locations or even hang entirely new stand set-ups - including a cameraman's treestand - upon arriving at a hunting property and carefully assessing the current conditions and movement patterns.
It's just that he's going to be extra cautious about when he does that, how he does that and where he does that.
"I'm not afraid to make stand adjustments if necessary," he said. "As long as I don't feel like I'm running the risk of blowing deer out of an area, with the wind in my favor, I don't mind going in and adjusting stand sites."
That being said, Blanton notes that he is careful: "Deer still need their (sense of) sanctuary," he said.
To avoid violating that sense of security that deer want to have, Blanton will do whatever is necessary to make the moves on the chess board that he needs to make while keeping the deer in the dark, so to speak.
At times, that means doing such hunting chores in the middle of the day - or even in the middle of the night where legal - when deer aren't physically present in a particular hunting spot.
And always, this happens with Blanton paying careful attention to the wind direction when adjusting stands or actually traveling into one and climbing up to hunt.
"The (right) wind direction is always your ally when hanging a stand or hunting," said Blanton. "And obviously, taking measures to eliminate or control human scent is a very important part of successful hunting strategies.
"But so is avoiding the possibility of making too much noise, something that I really try and cut down on, especially when I make an in season stand adjustment or hang a new set-up entirely," he added.
Does Blanton's strategy work? Well, he has dozens of successful hunts over the years traveling around North America and making stand adjustments while bowhunting, muzzleloader hunting and gun hunting for big monster bucks. In light of that evidence, the guess here is that it absolutely works.
Want to help mitigate the negative effects of hunting pressure on your deer grounds? Then have deer sanctuaries that you never hunt beyond the perimeters of. (Photo courtesy of Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo)
"For sure, there have been plenty of times that I've rehung an existing stand or put up a new one and gone back in and killed a buck the first time I've made a sit there," says Blanton.
Finally, keep in mind that memories of a successful hunting season don't revolve around how many sits a hunter gets to make during the course of any given fall, but how many effective sits they get to make.
After all, the idea isn't to mark a couple of dozen dates off of the calendar in terms of how often we've been able to hunt, but to instead make smart decisions that maximize our chances to put an unused deer tag on a hard earned bruiser buck.
"We like to hunt the early part of the season (like most other hunters do)," said Vicki. "But then we don't do much until the later part of the season when the rut kicks in and the hunting gets good.
"Why ruin your area (with hunting pressure) earlier in the season and simply push the deer around to become nocturnal?"
To which her bowhunting husband Ralph adds: "I live by the hunting idea that I would rather have 10 great days of hunting in a season rather than 25 not so good ones."
And one look at the big Midwestern bucks adorning the wall of the Cianciarulo home in Illinois gives ample proof that they fully know what they're talking about.