I listened intently as a popular outdoor podcaster explained, in great detail his disdain for rifle hunting – and rifle hunters. He pontificated for 30 minutes about its inherent lack of challenge and illegitimacy in the deer woods.
Promptly following his passionate albeit exhaustive diatribe, he said, “but that’s okay. Not everyone has to hunt the same way.”
His ending statement came too late – at least in my mind.
Days later, I listened to another show where several minutes of banter were dedicated to the lameness that is hunting with an outfitter. Here, you got the impression that, anything short of traversing public land with not much more than a bow and climbing sticks, was a “short cut”.
I’d never felt so lazy in my life (not really, I’ve got pretty thick skin). The negativity and chest puffing seemed to increase with the sound of each new cracking beer tab in the background.
Though these are guys that consistently provide a lot of entertaining and useful hunting information, they are like many other outdoorsmen – they’re not pro hunters…
A Pro Hunter is…
So, by now you’ve probably figured out that this article has a misleading title.
It’s no secret that hunting numbers are down in North America. Indeed, it’s a pivotal time for our hunting heritage and future. Obviously, the anti-hunting sentiment plays a large role here for sure. However, it’s obvious that many members of the hunting contingent are intent on eating their young.
A recipe for disaster – outdoor future thwarted.
What is pro hunting? Yes, it has a lot to do with expertise, accomplishments, and positive contributions to habitat, and the like. However, in this vernacular, to be a pro hunter simply means to PROmote.
Promote the way you prefer to hunt, your weapons of choice, or other philosophies.
In my mind, problems arise when people become “con” hunters. So, what about this word con?
Definitions include “against” or “contrary.”
Maybe you’ve heard comments like, “I get irritated with guys that shoot the first buck they see – if I see one more photo of a guy posing with a young 8-pointer, I’m going to explode. They have no idea what they’re doing.”
Now there is a con I hear often. How about just promote hunting?
Cons can of course also be good if offered up in a non-confrontational or non-combative manner. After all, independent thought and respectful discussion and debate is healthy.
It’s a slippery slope though and some folks have a hard time maintaining a healthy balance.
“Slinging mud doesn’t get anyone anywhere. When we have problems with fellow hunters, hunting policies, or anything else, resolving issues the right way is a must,” says outdoor writer, Josh Honeycutt.
Arguably, mental wrestling matches regarding hunting issues are healthy. However, it’s a fact that, like in any community, the entire hunting collective doesn’t play nice.
So, perhaps it’s best to develop (or stick with) your pro hunter side (or at the very least, emphasize it). It can slow the momentum of the negative trends inherent in the current hunting and the outdoor culture.
Put differently, embrace the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say it” mindset. Consider approaching social media channels and deer camp fire pits as a pro hunter.
Michael Waddell once said, “I don’t care if you hunt with a recurve, crossbow, rifle, or anything else as long as you’re safe and legal.”
A pro hunter statement if I ever heard one.
This may all sound trite and dramatic, but it’s worth thinking about. Perhaps it’s best to concentrate on our pros.
There are some whitetail hunting “methods” that have been passed down through the years. Many hunters have been told growing up, “these are the stands you’ll hunt.” Or, “pick a tree on a ridge or field edge,” whether it be near food or common bedding.
If you see a buck while using these hunting methods, great. But, if not, you just have to hope one will walk within range… next time.
While there is nothing wrong with this hunting methodology, it’s important to strive to become more effective and efficient in getting close encounters with big, mature bucks.
It seems over the last few years, using aggressive tactics on whitetail bucks has become more popular. Instead of using the “sitting and hoping” strategy, hunters are finding and hunting the fresh, hot buck sign.
It is of high importance to understand what exactly your target buck is doing and why he is doing it.
“If you are waiting for something to happen, you’re going to be waiting a long, long time.”
Greg Litzinger, “The Bowhunting Fiend”
We know that throughout the changing of the seasons, bucks change their paths quite drastically, walking longer distances during the rut. Having trail cameras set in the general area of where your buck is and moving them from time to time will help you visualize where he is traveling.
Remember, trail cameras only tell half of the story. If you really pay attention and read the sign, such as where the wind direction is, rub lines, track marks etc., you can find where your deer is bedding and moving during those daylight hours.
It’s not one single piece of evidence that paints the picture, but rather several different components being pieced together that will get you headed in the direction that you want to go.
Hunters such as Andrae D’Acquisto, and his son, Cody, from Lone Wolf Custom Gear, Dan Infalt, aka “Hunting Beast”, and another personal favorite Greg Litzinger, aka “Bowhunting Fiend,” have been perfecting this type of “run and gun” style for decades and have the deer on the wall to prove it.
I had the chance to message Greg Litzinger, who has been hunting for over 30 years, and he said, “I always use the [phrase], if you are waiting for something to happen, you’re going to be waiting a long, long time.”
“Sometimes, we have to move towards what we want and some call it ‘being aggressive,’ but it’s not really aggressive if you think about it. If you know where the buck is bedded, and you are calculated with your entry, cover, and your sound control, that’s not really aggressive. It’s just being smart.”
One thing that all the guys agreed on was that there is a large learning curve. Especially when it comes to hunting buck beds. It will take a while to really learn the behavior of mature deer.
These deer don’t become old by chance, rather they have learned how to evade our tactics and ploys. You must expect to make mistakes. You must learn from those mistakes and apply the next time you head out into those woods.
A big thing that I have had to learn, especially hunting public land, is that there is always more than one buck. It’s easy to get caught up chasing one particular deer and thinking that if we spook him, he might be gone forever. Don’t beat yourself up. Trust the process and have fun being out in God’s creation. Hone your skills as a hunter.
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.
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.
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.