Based in Texas, Jerald Kopp is President of 1st Light Hunting Journal. His content is largely about hunting strategies and the outdoor lifestyle. Jerald is an avid outdoorsman with deer hunting and whitetails being by far his greatest passion. In 2005, he established the Empowerment Outfitter Network (EON) – a faith-based non-profit organization that provides hunting opportunities for disabled and terminally-ill children and youth. When not hunting, he spends his time traveling and enjoying life with Amy, his wife of over 30 years. Jerald and Amy have two adult daughters and a son-in-law.
With each new season, the bow hunter’s thoughts are brimming with the hope of arrowing a quality buck – and hopefully a couple of them.
I’ve learned a lot from over four decades of deer hunting. Further, I continue to take in a ton of hunting information from many sources such as books, blogs, podcasts, and videos. I can’t seem to get enough.
I also put in a lot of time toward this goal throughout the year. That said, I often have to stop and remember my true goal; to improve as a hunter. To achieve this, I’ve found that I have to not only learn new things but be resolute about employing the basics already learned.
We all lead busy family and work lives, yet find time to do “deer chores” during the season and off-season. We cumulatively learn facts, tactics, and habits that enhance our deer hunting success. The question is, “do we always employ them?” In the spirit of following through, be steadfast in exercising some or all of these simple hunting tips. They just might lead to backstrap and bone this coming season.
It’s smart to pattern the deer… after all, they’re patterning you.
For the Record
Trends matter. If you spend a lot of hours in the field scouting and hunting, build a data set and leverage it. When you have an encounter with a buck (especially mature ones), document it.
There is so much valuable information at your disposal; entry and exit locations, weather conditions, and dates. Maintaining a hunting journal can help in this area.
Trail cameras are obviously another way to gather such intel. Don’t just gather this info – organize it and use it. Better yet, examine this data across years. Use this methodology to pattern the deer. After all, they’re often patterning you.
Be diligent during the off-season to identify where the doe and buck bedding areas are located. This is much more than guesswork. You have to put in the time scouting to figure out where those spots are located. Boots on the ground, as they say.
Deer movement is going to be happening to and from these locations as they seek food, water and nutrients. Once you identify these areas, mark them on the map and use the information thoughtfully.
Late in the off-season and early in the season, step back from this area and observe. Long range surveillance is an effective way to sharpen hunting strategies before busting in and educating the deer in the prime areas. If you’re not solely a bow hunter, take your rifle for such sits during the early season period.
It’s of utmost importance to identify the deer bedding areas on property you will be hunting. Deer will move to and from these areas.
The Early Bird…
Get to your stand earlier. Yeah, we all often threaten to do this. Actually, some hunters consistently do. It’s amazing how beneficial it can be to get settled in a half-hour or more earlier for morning sits. Remember that this is an active period for deer movement too and the more time you give a core hunting area to calm down, the better. Think hard about this one before hitting the snooze button. Obviously, the same concept goes for evening hunts.
Don’t Wear Out Your Welcome
We all have preferred go-to spots. We find them preferable because they typically grace us with consistent deer sightings. Make good timing your goal and don’t over-pressure your core areas prior to the primetime periods of the season, such as the rut.
In addition to the rut, aim to hunt these areas when weather conditions are favorable. This one can be hard, as we don’t all have the luxury of picking our hunting times. However, show patience and, if possible, don’t talk yourself into this rookie mistake.
Do You See a Pattern?
As mentioned above, deer certainly do. Be prepared this coming season to make smart exits from your stand in both the morning and evening. This means not being so lax that you carelessly tromp across crops, food plots and heavy deer trails. Good stand location isn’t worth much if deer are constantly aware of your entry and exit. Leverage the cover you have and, to the extent possible, exit your stand and property away from these areas; even if it means more steps. Chalk it up as needed exercise. If you’re anything like me, you can probably use it.
Remember that it’s easy to educate deer even after dark. Break up your position and movement to avoid being patterned.
Making No Scents
Up your cover scent game. Though smart deer hunters take the scent they emit seriously, most can improve. Play the wind and take proper care of your gear from a scent perspective. Don’t fail to fully acknowledge what you’ve known for a long time; deer have an incredible sense of smell. Wind direction often changes, so use a good cover scent. I’ve had outstanding success with Texas Hunting Products’ Scent Guardian. In fact, it’s saved me from myself on a few occasions.
Be Vewy, Vewy Quiet
Elmer Fudd had it right. Clank, tink, thud. I’ve been guilty of letting these and other sounds resonate from my stand many times. Patience is a virtue and the same can be said for silence – total silence.
Make tweaks to your bow, quiver, seat, ladder, and calls. Cover, grease, tighten, or loosen exposed metal or plastic as much as possible – everything you can think of. Either tighten down your gear bag – or move it away as far as possible. I could write a paragraph on binoculars alone…
Finally, when one of these sounds occur, strive to not follow it with voluminous cursing. Yes, I’m speaking from experience here too.
Be the Shot
Well, that’s a little dramatic. However, it is advantageous to fully plan for various shots before they happen. For each particular shot possibility, make sure you’re clear of obstructions when raising your rifle or drawing your bow. Don’t just mentally estimate it, physically test it regardless of weapon.
Hunting television features many savvy deer hunters for sure. Seasoned hunting celebrities can make calling big whitetails so incredibly attractive. For those of us that have harvested deer due to our calling sequences know how gratifying it is. As such, it can be easy to overdo it.
Much like deciding when to draw your bow, exhibit patience with both grunt tube and rattling antlers. It’s easy to get over-zealous with them and it can absolutely crush shot opportunities. If a buck appears to be coming your way, let him come. Obviously, don’t call if he is at alert and certainly if he is looking in your direction.
Whether 2019 has public or private land hunting in store for you, or even suburban hunting, it probably won’t be as easy as you think. That’s not a bad thing. If whitetail hunting was easy, it wouldn’t be the great institution it is. Many novice and seasoned hunters go years without taking the kind of deer they’re seeking.
It’s important to continue to learn and improve as a hunter. However, regardless of skill and experience level, embracing the basics will greatly increase your chance of filling both your tags and freezer. It’s has a lot to do with following through. I know it does for this deer hunter.
Unbeknownst to me, I had slowed the truck to a crawl as I surveyed the thick urban wood lot. Suffice to say, the car behind me didn’t appreciate it.
The greenbelt sat behind a gas station and next to a small pocket neighborhood. I had caught a glimpse of a familiar resident… It was “Shaggy,” a disheveled old buck that still donned his velvet on the early December day.
But it wasn’t his set of antlers that justified his nickname, rather his mangy and matted coat. Shaggy always had a bad hair day – at least for the last couple of years. He wasn’t seen often, but this section was his core bedding area and the number of fender benders I almost caused here were too many to count.
Urban and Suburban Deer: A growing segment of the whitetail population
Urban and Suburban deer have been multiplying around the country for years. Even though hunting them is illegal in my hometown of Austin, Texas, deer nerds like me are always on the lookout for them. In fact, during the pre-rut and rut, I see an amazing number of shooter bucks within a four-block radius of my house alone. The untouchables I call them.
I’ve learned every wooded and semi-wooded area in my part of town and survey them regularly. I’ve also discovered various bedding areas, funnels, and trails in this mostly concrete jungle.
I’m told I need to get a life, but I’m okay with that.
I have a friend (who will remain nameless) that has long since been known for his bow hunting escapades in suburban Austin. A commercial real estate professional, he’s never had a shortage of unoccupied greenbelt sections to visit with his bow in hand. He was once known for his common strategy of putting on camo over his dress clothes for impromptu bow sits.
I’m not a proponent of law-breaking but have to admit that I loved his stories. Plus, much of Austin is mired in a massive overpopulation of whitetails. Some areas are so crowded with deer that many live an unhealthy existence.
For me, this softened my friend’s violation. Conservation and herd management indeed.
Urban Deer Hunting | Tougher Than You Think
Suburban deer hunting presents unique challenges. I get a kick out of the common misconception that these deer are tame and, hence are easy to hunt. Consequently, the idea has been cultivated that all deer are easy to hunt and it’s not hunting at all. This mindset largely comes from some of the city dwellers that encounter them (many of them of course, anti-hunters).
When it comes to bucks (especially mature ones), this couldn’t be further from the truth.
How do they hide in plain sight?
I’m still astounded by the random sightings of huge bucks in my neighborhood; often seemingly new ones. On many occasions, I’ve sat in my truck dumbfounded asking myself, where has this buck been all this time?
Sure, there are the deer groups often seen on manicured lawns. However, it’s not always the case, especially with mature bucks.
Despite living amid constant human activity, urban deer no doubt have people patterned. It has much to do with familiarity and hunting them is another matter altogether.
Just like in rural settings, changes in human activity promptly throws a wrench in whitetail tendencies.
“It will truly give you a new appreciation for what a deer will tolerate in its daily life. And, how quickly when one small thing steps out of that “normal” routine, a deer will take notice and alter its behavior in order to figure out what’s going on,” says Taylor Chamberlin of the Urban Deer Complex 2.0.
Tyler and his outfit tenaciously study and pursue the urban whitetail in the Washington, D.C. area – another region that houses an exorbitant number of deer.
If Urban Hunting is legal where you live, grab the stick and string
Currently, there are many successful urban and suburban deer hunters around the country in areas where it’s legal to bow hunt them. In fact, suburban bow hunting now represents a popular niche in the outdoor industry, social media, and outdoor culture, and it should come as no surprise.
The ability to live in a setting full of consistent human activity adds more proof to the resiliency of the whitetail deer.
It’s astonishing the number of trophy class bucks that are taken a stone’s throw from playscapes, soccer practices, and strip centers. If you pay attention to hunting-related social media and other channels, you will no doubt hear stories about huge bucks taken within, if not near city limits.
“Our goal is to show people that adventure is not constrained to wild remote places and that hunting is not defined by big woods and rural parts of the country,” said Ellis. He continued, “If you look hard enough, adventure can be found in the most unexpected places and can become part of your everyday life like it has for us”.
Suburban Hunting Tips
Deer hunting within and near cities and towns isn’t easy and takes work.
First, it’s difficult to get hunting permission and requires persistence. Be prepared to ask and ask again. Your odds are greatly increased if you can procure permissions on contiguous sections.
When hunting and scouting, it’s important to locate the areas with the best cover and better yet, their associated pinch-points. Think low impact. Drive the roadways and be willing to glass from both roadsides and parking lots before you ever attempt to set up a blind or deer stand. Deer are much more used to vehicles in these settings.
If they exist in or within the city limits, examine fields from a distance (especially agriculture). Finally, keep your ears open. Much like in the country, the rumor mill is powerful. This is a good way to get info on good area bucks.
Leveraging Suburban Deer Intel for Rural Hunting Success
Finally, use suburban deer behavior (and hunting) to your advantage. It can be beneficial to your more remote hunting pursuits.
Urban and suburban deer hunting provides an opportunity to study deer behavior without heading to the ranch, lease or public hunting area. I’ve often said that my neighborhood is my classroom with lessons and experiences at the ready. As a whitetail hunter and enthusiast, it’s a gift. Simply observe and you’ll become a more proficient and educated hunter.
While there are differences in hunting near the city limits vs. more remote grounds, there are similarities as well. I’ve found that monitoring deer behavior in mine and other Austin neighborhoods has helped my rural hunting immensely.
On numerous occasions, I’ve seen first-hand the beginning of the rut in my ‘hood – heck sometimes even in my cul-de-sac. The year 2018 was no different. It had an earlier rut period than in previous years. I woke one early November day to find that the switch had indeed been flipped. Many amorous, persistent and committed bucks were on their feet. This deer hunting geek was stoked.
It didn’t take
me long to pack the truck and drive the two hours to our family farm to take
advantage of the opportunity. And it paid off. Yes, all those reports
predicting an early rut were true and I had first-hand proof – and time to
strike. Game on.
Hunting in urban settings also presents an opportunity to practice analyzing deer sign, trails, and calling skills – and become a better hunter.
Finally, there are other benefits of hunting in urban areas, including herd management, recreation, and positive economic impact on local communities. From an outdoor tradition, legacy, and conservation standpoint it also widens hunting’s (particularly bow hunting’s) reach and footprint.
Though I won’t hold my breath, I hope to be able to bow hunt whitetails in the greater Austin area someday. In the meantime, I’ll continue to be entertained and educated by them.
On the other hand, if you live in an urban or suburban area where it’s legal, do your research and get after it. You may be surprised by what you find.
I grew up in an era where box blinds were mainly built from scratch. Although there were a couple of companies manufacturing them, it was common to use any leftover lumber we had and buy the rest of what we needed to build them ourselves. I still consider it nostalgic to see old rotted blinds in distant fields.
Today, permanent hunting blinds, sometimes called “box blinds” or “shooting houses,” continue to be a fixture over much of the American landscape. They’re now made for both rifle and bow hunting and provide not only concealment, but protection from the elements.
Whether factory fabricated, or old and rustic, permanent blinds still have their place in the deer woods.
Permanent Hunting Blind Placement… Why, Where, And When
Perhaps the best trait of permanent blinds over other types of deer stands, is the inherent comfort that comes in handy during extremely cold weather or all-day sits during the rut.
It’s important to carefully consider blind placement at a basic level. There is much more to it than simply locating them over feeders (where legal) and food plots.
First of all, short of the rut, large mature bucks don’t always visit these areas during shooting hours. So, with each prospective spot, ask the simple question, “what reasons do deer have to visit this area.” Asking this question is all the more crucial for bow hunting, where good blind placement can reward you with a short, quality shot.
The off-season is a great time to place new hunting blinds or relocate old ones. But, where should you put them?Whether sitting on the ground or perched on a platform, below are a few considerations for good permanent and semi-permanent blind placement.
Like with any setup, one of the best hunting strategies regarding blind location is to sit between feeding and bedding areas. Here, it’s much to do about whitetail travel routines.
With a little scouting, these sections aren’t hard to find. However, you should note that sometimes the bedding and feeding area aren’t necessarily on the same property. Either way, once discovered, you can set a permanent stand in the path of the daily migration of a group (or groups) of deer. These honey holes are valuable. Take time to find them. If it’s not evident during the season, make time for off-season scouting sessions in search of them.
Go to New Heights
Higher is better. When considering an area for blind placement, take a little time to look for the highest spot. Though not always noticeable at first, a spot that’s even 5-feet higher than its surroundings is desirable – especially for non-elevated blinds.
Why? Greater height means greater visibility!
Do you hunt on flat terrain? If so, still take time to assess the area. It’s uncanny how the slightest upward slopes are right under your nose. Unless the high spot has other undesirable traits, it’s a good initial alternative to consider.
Higher blind placement is better, because it gives you a greater field of vision over the terrain you’re hunting.
It’s no secret that whitetails prefer certain travel routes – often the path of least resistance. Any property frequented by deer will prove this. It’s really just a matter of finding these heavily traversed stretches. Here, a little time on the ground can yield valuable intel.
Check property lines, low creek crossings and the like. If you have deer, you can find their paths of choice.
As such, the more trails you can see from your stand, the better. If you place a stand in view of or close to an area where two or more trails converge, you’ve increased your chances for consistent deer sightings significantly.
These days, we hear a lot about funnels or “pinch points.” The term seems to be used quite loosely too. In its most basic sense, these are areas where deer movement is reduced to a smaller section or zone.
Examples are spots where two fields are separated by a narrow section of cover or a thin passage between a creek and woodlot. Permanent stands go well with good funnels because they continue to be dependable travel corridors into the future. Find such areas and you won’t be disappointed.
Cover Your Backside
It can be easy to feel invincible sitting inside a box. But, this is where many hunters, after doing a lot of things right, blow it.
Don’t get so comfortable that you fail to consider what that box looks like from a deer’s line of sight. I’m of course talking about the silhouetting effect, and it’s important to avoid it.
First, make sure that the back of the blind is dark and solid. For example, if there is a window behind you, cover it up. If the back wall is light in color, cover it with paint or cloth.
Box blinds are large and it’s pretty hard to make them vanish. However, in this hunter’s opinion, it’s always good to mask them as much as possible. So, be sure to place the blind against brush and timber, and if possible, just inside the edge of it.
With time, deer do get used to blinds, so, why not have them blend into your surroundings more naturally? This goes into the “why not stack the odds in your favor” category.
Inside Information | The View From Within An Elevated Blind
Other than avoiding being silhouetted, there are other considerations once your settled inside the blind.
If you’re inclined to leave any of the windows closed, practice the art of quietly opening and closing them. If rifle hunting, take time to practice the shots you may be inclined to take.
Likewise, for bow hunting, identify the angles in the blind that will be difficult or impossible to shoot from. This means determining the proper height of the shooting opening(s). Additionally, physically practice the possible draw angles that may materialize in the moment.
Finally, place your chair in the optimal position for the most likely shot angle. Determine these obstacles first before you’re suddenly staring into the eyes of a target buck, or maybe even the buck of a lifetime. Most of us know all too well how fast this can happen.
Locating and harvesting mature whitetail bucks isn’t easy and can take time. But, permanent stands positioned in a variety of logical locations will eventually pay dividends.
Because permanent hunting blinds are typically heavy and bulky, there is plenty of incentive to make placement decisions count. Let’s face it, these structures are not fun to move. So, use your off-season scouting sessions as an opportunity to find some of the areas mentioned above.
Sheltered and comfortable, permanent hunting blinds strategically situated in optimal areas can be productive mainstays on private hunting grounds.
And remember, if hunted smart, they are great scouting venues. Remember that no matter how attractive a given spot is, don’t hunt it at all costs. Be resolute and play the wind. In fact, make it a goal to place them in areas where they can be hunted with different prevailing winds.
Finally, shooting houses provide the perfect venue to share a hunt with a friend or family member right by your side – even in rainy, snowy, or windy conditions. Setting them in these high-percentage areas means action. A win-win.