Why Sharp Edges Matter to Suspicious Whitetails

Why Sharp Edges Matter to Suspicious Whitetails

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. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)

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.

White-tailed deer are naturally curious, which is largely why they get so smart with age. An unfamiliar item that has hard edges is often approached with extreme caution and skepticism until a period of time has passed. This buck circled the mineral block for several days before sampling it. Then it took a week or so before he revisited it. A fine example of how deer react to objects with hard edges. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)

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 erecting this new shooting house, this same buck passed by numerous times over a several-day period with the same sneaky, head-down look while staring at the new structure. However, he’s since accepted it and pays it no attention. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)

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.

The only way to overcome this sort of skepticism is by giving it time. I’ve yet to encounter a deer on camera that doesn't eventually fully accept an item like a mineral block or a feeder. Some regions they adjust quicker, others it takes longer. That means you have to get ahead of the game by a few weeks to a couple months. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)

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.

This was a cube mineral block that I broke apart with a 3-pound sledge. As soon as I did that, all the deer visiting the site eased up and began partaking without pause. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)

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.

Feeders are the same way. The deer will be skeptical of them for a while, but often the lure of “golden acorns” (corn) speeds up the acceptance process. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)
It took this buck two weeks to work up the courage to take a mouthful of food. But he did, and now he’s a regular. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)

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.

Here is an example of one of our shooting houses. We placed Ameristep ground blinds on top of the newly erected platform. We placed them in September, allowing for ample time to be accepted. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)

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 Distorter blind from Ameristep features a unique shape that deer seem to accept quicker than they would a standard 5-hub ground blind. But I still believe in letting these spots percolate for a while before you move in and hunt them. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)

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.

Quality camo is critical to fooling a deer’s eyes. It breaks up your human outline and makes it harder to be picked off from a skeptical deer. In this picture, you can see how my Mossy Oak Bottomland perfectly matches the oak tree I was hunting. Take every advantage you can get. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)

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.

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