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.
People hunt for many reasons, including sport, culture, and food. No matter what reason you’ve taken up hunting, you’re likely hoping to become the most proficient hunter you can be. We’re going to help you out by discussing the rookie mistakes that many new hunters make so that you can be ahead of the curve on your next hunt.
Spend ample time at a shooting range to perfect your shot with different targets. You’ll also want to vary your weapon choice with each hunt so that you gain experience in the woods with all of your firearms.
If you’re looking for a weapon that’s smaller than a rifle, consider using a pistol as your primary hunting firearm. An AR-15 pistol can be the perfect addition to your gear pack in this case. An AR-15 pistol is much smaller and lighter weight than a rifle, freeing up space in your pack for additional gear.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! You should be proficient using any weapon that you plan to hunt with.
Over-hunting One Area
Most of us don’t own acres of property on which to scout and set up stands. If you’re like the average hunter, you probably hunt on public land or on private land with the owner’s permission, or even in suburban areas.
Because many of us don’t have endless options at our disposal, we end up with one or two areas that we go back to season after season. The problem with this is that going back to the same location every year will result in a reduced chance of making a kill.
It may seem like going to the same area year after year would give you a chance to get to know the area more intimately, increasing your chances of finding game each time. The truth is that the deer in that area get better at avoiding you with every season you hunt there.
This is true during a single season as well. If you set up your tree stand in one area and never move, you might possibly bag a buck or two. But, once you move into an area, deer will view that area as a dangerous space. So, the longer you stay and hunt in that area, the more potential you have for driving away the very deer you are trying to harvest.
Hunting gear and accessories are getting better every year, to the delight of hunters everywhere. Marketing makes it seem like all of this gear is necessary for a successful hunt. The truth is, all of the gear in the world can’t replace skill and experience. While laser scopes and other accessories will give you an edge, they can’t replace the skills required for hunting, tracking and harvesting deer.
Remember, people have been hunting for thousands of years without any of the technological advancements we have today. Skill and experience are more important than any piece of gear you can purchase for a hunt.
Relying heavily on technology can also go wrong if that technology malfunctions. For instance, marking a certain spot on your GPS can be incredibly helpful unless that GPS stops working. This is why you should be able to back up any high-tech solutions with manual work. If you mark a spot on a GPS, take the time to mark it on a physical map as well.
Don’t rely too heavily on specialized gear and gadgets when hunting. Your mind is one of your greatest assets.
Lack of Patience
The anticipation of making a kill can make you forget that sitting in a stand can be incredibly boring. It’s often hours before any game come along, and you’re left just sitting there waiting until something happens to come your way.
It can be tempting to get distracted by your phone or a book and lose track of what’s happening in the woods around you. While having means of entertainment makes the time go by faster, it can also prevent you from noticing when a game animal walks into range. You don’t want to hear a deer noise, look up and realize that the deer has already seen you!
If you choose to bring any sort of entertainment to pass the time, make sure that you don’t get too absorbed in it. Look up from your phone or book frequently so that you don’t miss anything that walks into your field of vision.
Waiting Too Long To Take a Shot
You may be waiting in the stand for hours for a target deer to pass you by. When it finally happens, you may be waiting too long for the perfect shot before doing anything.
The problem with waiting for the “perfect shot” is you may end up letting a perfectly ethical shot slip away because you were indecisive. Now, the last thing you want to do is take a reckless shot that leads to wounding an animal and causing it to suffer unnecessarily. However, some hunters wait a little too long and get busted before having a chance to harvest the deer.
Keep an eye on the target as soon as it walks into your field of vision. Carefully track it with your rangefinder, if you use one, or your sight. As soon as the target is within range and you have a clear shot, take it.
Be sure to take an ethical shot, but don’t let your chance slip away due to indecision.
Not Reading the Wind
Many hunting rookies fail to read the wind when hunting. Wind can factor into shot angles, scent trails, and the direction that game travels. Reading the wind is as important as assessing any other environmental factors, such as game signs or elevation. If you don’t have experience reading the wind, or any other natural signs for that matter, take the time to gain this skill. You can research how to read the wind or ask a more experienced hunter for advice.
Gaining this skill will make you a much stronger hunter in the future. It will take some time to perfect it, but be worth it when you’re able to use this skill on a hunt.
Leaving Scent Behind
This is one of the most common rookie mistakes in the hunting world. Leaving human scent behind is a surefire way to ensure that game avoids the area where you’ve been.
Game animals learn to avoid human scent, as they regard humans as predators and smell is one of deer’s strongest senses. Anywhere that human scent is, game will try to avoid in the future.
Leaving human scent can be catastrophic in an area that you hunt frequently. It may result in not seeing any more game during the rest of the season, which can be devastating if that is your only hunting location.
There are a slew of products on the market that are made to reduce the human scent present in your skin and on your clothes. There are also some free steps you can take to minimize your scent.
First, don’t wear any artificial scents such as cologne and don’t shower with scented soap right before you go out.
Another handy tip is to gather debris such as fallen leaves and dirt in a bag and put your field clothes in that bag. This will help your clothes take on a natural scent and lessen its obvious human scent. It’s also good to avoid flowery detergents when washing your hunting clothes.
Not Recognizing Good Days and Patterns
Experienced hunters can recognize when a favorable day for hunting rolls around. This could be types of weather such as cold fronts and rain.
Pay attention to the rut. This is a key facet of the hunting season and it will tell you a lot about a buck’s behavior. Before the rut, bucks often stay in bachelor groups, but by the time the rut hits, there’s going to be a lot of competition between bucks. Their behavior will tell you a lot about where and how to hunt.
Using Scents Incorrectly
We already touched on the fact that deer have a strong sense of smell. Because of this, many hunters use scents like doe estrous. A common mistake is that this scent is dumped in one spot and the hunter waits. However, this isn’t always convincing enough to entice the buck of a lifetime to approach.
Scents also need to be used at the right time. While you can get away with using doe or buck urine during the whole season, doe estrous is most effective during the beginning or end of the rut. All in all, you’re going to want to do plenty of research when you’re considering using scents. Be sure you’re using scents at the appropriate time to avoid spooking the very deer you are trying to harvest.
So, even if you’re a rookie hunter, you don’t have to hunt like one. While hunting is a sport and pastime that takes a lot of skill and experience, you can jump past many of these beginner hurdles and start your first season off right. Good luck and shoot straight!
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.