White-tailed deer are fickle creatures, no doubt about it. And geographically speaking, whitetails differ greatly, yet most core characteristics remain the same.
For example, deer in the Dakotas don’t mind a daily 20-mph wind, while whitetails in Georgia won’t get out of their beds if the wind is blowing like that.
The rut occurs at different times north to south, but they all display the same behavior leading up to, during and after the rut: Rubbing, scraping, chasing, etc. Really, it would be hard to nail down more than a few dramatic differences in deer across their home ranges.
But one thing is for certain; they are curious and skeptical creatures that notice things. If you think for one minute you can pop up a blind, put it on the edge of your favorite cornfield or food plot and just hunt it, you’re sorely mistaken.
Deer don't take intrusion well, and that requires hunters to plan several weeks and months ahead of a hunt.
When it comes to treestands, however, if the right tree can be located and a hunter is very cautious, he can perform a spot set, or hang-and-hunt, and totally take them by surprise. That’s a tactic for hardcore hunters in the right scenario.
Certain shapes alarm deer immediately, but after a period of interaction, they’ll eventually accept it.
How about shooting houses, ground blinds, block-style licks and feeders? Sure, we’ve all seen photos of big bucks licking the inside of a corn feeder, or devouring a salt block, but it rarely starts out that way.
After two decades chasing whitetails, and accruing well over a million trail-camera photos in half that time, I am convinced it's the hard, easy-to-distinguish edges they have a problem with.
Like I said, deer are a fickle critter, but that’s why big bucks get big and old does get old. The following are a few items whitetails don’t like, but they will eventually get used to and accept as normal.
Licks and Feeders
Depending on where you live and what the state regulations say in regards to baiting and minerals, feeders and licks are a popular way to attract deer during the pre-season for photos, during the hunting season and during the postseason for herd reconnaissance.
There is absolutely a value in getting them to stop in front of your cameras or in your shooting lanes. But depending on when you place each item and when you expect favorable results, the time it takes for deer to find and accept your offering might surprise you.
It doesn’t happen over night.
For many years I’ve managed a substantial number of trail cameras, and I’ve found that the best way to invite a deer to hang out in front of a camera is to lure him in with food. Again, where it’s legal.
If you’re on a new property that has not been managed before, there are a few things to keep in mind regarding your mineral or food delivery program.
First, if you happen to hunt on pastured ground, and the landowner keeps salt blocks out for his cattle, you can bet the deer will take advantage of that. In that scenario the block shape really doesn’t bother them and they don’t associate it with danger because it’s a normal part of their life. They recognize it and utilize it regularly.
However, if you drop a new salt or trace mineral block out on a property that has never seen livestock or a mineral block like that, you’re in for a surprise. The deer won’t like it at first.
In my experience, it takes weeks for the deer, especially mature, skeptical does to accept a mineral block and they don’t like its shape. It clearly bothers them for some unknown reason — I’m guessing it’s the defined unnatural edges. I have many pictures showing does and bucks approaching the block with extreme caution for a couple of weeks before finally giving in and sampling it.
Rest assured, once they do, they’ll keep coming back.
I experimented with breaking the blocks apart and using the loose granular trace mineral, both of which worked immediately with zero skepticism. That information told me they don’t like the hard edges of a traditional lick block.
There’s your lesson, take a 3-pound sledge and break it apart and you’ll shorten their learning curve. Your trail cameras will immediately begin collecting quality photos.
The same holds true for feeders. It just takes them a while to accept it. If you’re hoping the feeder will help during hunting season, I’d suggest getting it set up in the middle of summer so they have a few months to get used to it being there, and anticipate food being readily available.
In short, you’ve got to give each of these items time to work. Once the deer have been trained to accept a lick and a feeder, they’ll naturally become more comfortable with new licks and feeders you establish on your property. Just balance your expectations and timing, and you’ll end up with favorable results.
Their apprehension about some shapes, and how that apprehension is different by geographical region is quite silly, if you ask me.
Shooting Houses and Blinds
If you pop up a blind hoping to kill a deer from it that very evening, good luck. Does, especially mature does, will not accept it right away. You could bury it beneath a pile of brush and grass, maybe corn stalks, but even then some, if not most, deer will figure it out.
When it comes shooting houses and elevated blinds for whitetails, you need to set it up and give them time to accept it, just like licks and feeders.
It takes time, nothing else.
I’d even go so far as to say that you really don’t need to brush in a blind if it’s going to be sitting for several weeks to a couple of months before you hunt it. However, if your time is in short supply, I do suggest brushing it in to the fullest extent. Make it become a part of the background.
Shooting houses are more of a permanent structure and the deer seem to accept those quicker than a recently placed ground blind. Just like the examples above, time cures all suspicions.
Earlier this fall, I put up a new Ameristep Distorter hub-style blind, and did not brush it in. The deer consistently using the immediate area quickly accepted the blind. I believe it became a part of the background much easier than a tradition blind would have.
The blind eliminates those hard, obvious edges that deer seem to hate.
That’s my theory anyways.
Justification for Quality Camo
I wear Mossy Oak, always have. I believe in it. But that’s not to say other camo brands are any less effective. I’d also admit that a big part of camo sales every year are due to how they appeal to the hunter, not necessarily it’s application in the field.
And I’m all right with that. I like implementing camo into my daily style whenever it makes sense. But you won’t see me hunting without it.
The true application, however, needs to be considered and utilized if you expect to be successful in the field. Deer don't’ see color the way we do, and frankly I don’t believe we can actually determine what level of colors they are actually capable of seeing. But they do see shades and hard edges.
Every year hunters across the world kill big deer, and other critters without ever donning a stitch of camo. Some may have surprised their game, while others just wore dull flannel. And that works, but being able to blend into your surroundings is critical to being successful in the deer or turkey woods.
I do my best to wear black anytime I'm inside a ground blind or shooting house. Why? To become a part of the backdrop. Breaking up the human outline is what matters. A pair of faded old Carhartt bibs and a broke-in flannel shirt will sometimes get the job done. But not always.
I say wear the kind of camo that best matches the terrain and vegetation you’ll be hunting. Sure, that’s a simple and obvious statement, but don’t mistake my point. Camouflage certainly appeals to hunters everywhere, but it’s true application is to fool a deer’s eye, eliminate the hard edges we know that deer don’t like.
And that’s very important.
It’s important to understand what sets off a wily old whitetail doe or buck, and obvious hard edges will ruin a hunt as quickly as a bad wind. Consider that the next time you’re putting out a lick or hunting blind, and I bet the results will speak for themselves.