Weekends in November mean one thing to you: deer hunting. Come Saturday, you’ll be perched in a tree somewhere in your favorite woods, gun or bow in hand, scanning the forest for the flicker of a tail or the step of a leg. You may see it. You may not. However, if you follow a few simple, steadfast rules, you can up your odds of success this weekend.
Get Out of Bed
It’s true. You can’t kill ‘em if you aren’t out there. But how many times have you awakened to the sound of a steady rain and rolled over? The most successful hunters go, rain, snow, sleet or wind. They go every chance they get, even if it means suffering through the harshest conditions you could imagine. The deer are there. You should be, too. That’s half the work.
Spend money on high-quality equipment. Raingear, cold weather gear and a host of other “luxury” items will help you stay in the woods longer and increase your odds of success.
Choose Your Days
So maybe hunting in the rain isn’t your thing. Or maybe you don’t have the freedom to hunt every weekend. If your opportunities are limited, get a calendar. Schedule your hunts when the odds of tagging a buck are highest.
First, hunt opening day. Always. (Yes, even if it’s raining.) Deer are far more likely to walk through open woods and feed in food plots and fields during legal shooting hours the first few days of the season. Once they’ve been hunted, they can go nocturnal.
Hunt the peak of the rut. Always. (Yes, even if it’s raining.) It’s true. Bucks that tip-toed through darkness during the first few weeks of the season are running senseless through the woods now. Contrary to popular belief, lunar phases have nothing to do with rut dates. It’s all about the calendar. Not sure when it is? Call or e-mail your state deer biologist. He’ll know.
Hunt the coldest days. Deer need to feed more and are more likely to be on their feet during legal shooting hours as they search for high-energy food.
There’s one steadfast rule every hunter should follow whether it’s the rut, opening day or just another weekend hunt. Go to your stand, sit down and stay there for as long as you can. Then get up and go back to your truck. Fight the urge to “have a look around,” even if you try to convince yourself you are just going to “scout.” Walking around does nothing but bump deer, stink up the woods and mess up your next hunt.
If you must scout mid-season, do it during the middle of the day. However, avoid walking through obvious bedding cover. Instead, look for trails leading from that cover and find them by walking creek beds. Skirt the edges of fields the heaviest activity. When you find it, follow the trail back into the forest for no more than 100 yards as you search for the perfect stand tree. Any farther and you risk bumping bedded deer. That’s never good.
Know The Food
It’s no secret that whitetails prefer acorns over any other food when they are available. Finding deer can be as simple as finding an abundance of acorns, particularly white oak acorns.
Oaks don’t produce a mast crop every year, though. When they do, they don’t last all season. That’s why the best hunters are schooled in botany and whitetail biology. They know plants like honeysuckle, greenbrier and the bud tips of a number of trees and shrubs are high-quality deer foods. So are things like beggar’s lice, sumac and pokeweed.
Deer eat hundreds of foods, but they prefer a handful and focus on just a few at certain times of the year. Learn to identify them and then find them in your woods. Change your hunting location based on what the deer are eating.
Know Your Gun
Is your rifle sighted in? Of course it is. You put three shots in a paper plate a week before opening day. From a practical perspective, though, shooting over a bench is useless. How many shots have you taken from a solid rest at a deer exactly 100 yards away across an open lawn?
You owe it to yourself to practice real-world shooting. Where will your bullet hit at 25, 50, 200 yards? Can you slip a bullet through the screen of limbs between you and the deer? Try shooting from a standing position. Try it from a kneeling position. Shoot from every possible position you can imagine. Shoot through limbs to see how they affect a bullet. You’ll be thankful.
A number of studies have examined hunter behavior and they all came to the same conclusion: public land hunters rarely travel far from their trucks. Eighty percent of Pennsylvania hunters in the study traveled no more than 600 yards from a road. A West Virginia study revealed that most hunters stay close to access points like roads and trails.
In other words, public land can be crowded, but much of it never sees a deer hunter.
Give yourself extra time for the longer walk and have a plan for getting your deer out of the woods. Steep hills and dense cover can be difficult to navigate, but that’s exactly why so few others bother to tackle it.
Don’t Hunt Your Food Plots
There’s nothing wrong with hanging a stand over your food plots, but don’t expect to see deer from those stands after the first week of the season. A South Carolina study found that whitetails don’t tolerate hunting pressure and will stop using plots during the day, even if it’s been hunted just once.
They are on their feet during legal shooting hours, though. That means you need to hunt closer to their bedding area. Deer will casually browse their way to your food plot, timing their arrival after you’ve left. The good news is that the South Carolina study did find that deer will return to plots during legal shooting hours after the stand site is left alone for several days. Five days is a good rule-of-thumb. Seven is even better.