Hunters who bag big bucks every year tend to be the ones who make sure they don't make simple mistakes.
My fifth grade teacher had a battery of one-line phrases she doled out in class, but one of her favorites has stuck with me all these years: little holes sink big ships. I seriously doubt she was referring to hunting big bucks during the rut, but the saying makes sense nonetheless. Anyone can get lucky and be in the right place at the right time during the rut, but some hunters manage to take big deer year in and year out. One of their secrets: don't skip the small stuff.
It's easy to become a lazy hunter, especially as the season wears on. Don't fall into these most overlooked mistakes every deer hunter makes that keep you from connecting with a good buck.
We've all suffered from that grass-is-greener mentality that keeps whispering in our ear, "If you'd just been in the other side of the woods you'd have killed a booner tonight. You know that, right?"
Killing deer requires scouting, and if you've done your homework, you're probably in a good place to shoot a buck. If your reconnaissance work earlier in the year left you feeling like this is the right place and you've seen evidence that deer are close at hand, don't be too quick to abort the mission and start hanging stands on every other tree in the woods.
Not Being Ready for the Big Moment
What would you do if a deer came in directly behind you? Do you need to stand up to shoot over your right shoulder? Do you really think you can get your bow down from the hook, snap on your release, range the deer and stand up to shoot before that giant buck knows you're there?
If you've hunted long enough, you've found yourself faced with a dilemma you didn't see coming — whether that's a branch you didn't expect to be in the way or a buck that appeared so silently and so suddenly you were left holding your cell phone in both hands in the midst of a game of Candy Crush.
Practice things like sitting while drawing your bow, be sure that you've ranged some landmarks and practicing drawing for different shots while in the stand. The best hunters draw their bow a few times each day to be sure they know exactly what to do if the buck comes from an unexpected angle.
Being a Slave to Tradition
Do you always hunt from a treestand
? Do you only ever hunt in the morning and the evening? Maybe you're the one that's in a rut. Good hunters try different things, and this oftentimes pays big dividends.
Try still hunting along the edge of a corn field at noon. If the wind is up, sit down on the edge of a heavy trail and camouflage yourself with natural vegetation. Hunt along the edge of the woods using a line of round bales as cover. Think outside the parameters of traditional hunting methods and you might just score one of the biggest bucks of your life.
Being Too Predictable
There's a guy who hunts a farm near my home. He parks his truck in the same place, in the same field, every time. When I see him enter the woods, it is in the same exact place, going to the same stand. He did it last year, and he'll do it next year, too. I am only a casual observer, but even I have picked up on his patterns.
Deer are exceptionally good at avoiding humans who are trying to kill them, and it won't take your local herd very long to figure you out. Scout
out two or three areas, always play the wind, and try to avoid doing the same thing day after day. Unlike stand jumpers who tend to switch from one spot to another out of sheer frustration, savvy hunters have a few options and will change position based on conditions.
Overusing Calls and Scents
Scents and calls are valuable tools you can utilize to draw bucks into your stand, but virtually any serious big buck hunter will warn you to proceed with caution. Saturating an area with scent day after day isn't very productive, and filling the woods with the grunts and crashing antlers of a big buck fight club isn't fooling the deer.
Know when to use these tools (rattling is most effective during the pre-rut and into the breeding phase, and scents and short grunts are best used only during the times when bucks are actively trailing does in estrus) and don't overdo it.
Leaving a Scent Trail
Most every hunter knows better than to hunt upwind from deer, but you may be inadvertently leaving a scent trail
on the ground that warns deer of your presence. The rule is that everything goes up in the stand with you including packs, soda cans and flashlights.
Wear rubber-soled boots and leave your vehicle or ATV far enough away that it won't alert the deer to your presence. Always be conscientious of anything that isn't in the tree with you. One serious hunter I know even keeps his bow rope in the tree with him while he's hunting. You may think that's overkill, but he's taken big bucks for years.
Movement in the Stand
Deer are extremely in-tune with their surroundings, and fidgeting in the tree is enough to send them silently away before you ever know they're around. I'd diagnose most chronic fidgeters as falling into two categories: the bored and the cold hunter. The former requires mental focus and concentration, the latter simply requires more clothes.
You want to be comfortable in the stand, and need to pay attention to be sure you aren't letting deer slip in unnoticed. If you're concentrating on how cold your hands are, you won't be truly prepared when a big deer shows up. Pack the right gear and stay on top of your game. The best hunters believe that the deer of their dreams is always close at hand.
Hunting the Soft Spots
We all want a comfortable stand that's easy to access and puts us in a position where big bucks are always close at hand. The problem is that such stands rarely exist, and most of the dumb deer are packed in somebody's freezer before they ever reach trophy size.
The biggest bucks will spend most of their time in out-of-the-way places, and this will likely require some serious scouting
and a bit of a hike. Don't hang the stand where you'd like to be, focus on being where the big bucks are. It'll require more leg work, but it will pay off in inches of antler.
Neglecting your Gear
It's easy to assume your hunting equipment will make it from one year to the next unscathed, but that's oftentimes not the case. Stay on top of gear maintenance, especially during the season.
Riding in pickups and being hauled in and out of trees is hard on a bow or gun, and you don't want to find out that your scope or pins came loose just before you had the shot of a lifetime. Make a list and be sure that you are keeping up with maintenance. It's also a good idea to have a checklist of what goes in the field with you.
Not Spending Enough Time in the Woods
This includes pre-season scouting and hunting. Don't fall into the trap of relying on cameras to keep you updated regarding the happenings of your honey hole during the summer months. Nothing beats actually getting mud on your boots and looking for signs.
Also, when the season rolls around, you need to spend plenty of time in the woods. Get settled in well before daylight (i.e. stop slapping the snooze button) and spend time where the deer are. Busy schedules may make it hard to be in the woods, but if you're serious about getting a big deer, you need to invest some time.