August 30, 2016
Most all of us are guilty of it.
When we begin a hunting season, it's hard to show the discipline to avoid plunging right into the deer cover and heading for stands that simply produced the most bucks over the years.
The catch is that every time one plunges into deer cover they run a high risk of educating deer. Obviously, hunters run the risk of deer seeing, hearing or smelling us getting to and from, as well as while in stand. That tips off deer to their being hunted, potentially causing them to shift more to the neighbors or even limit daylight movements.
For as potentially damaging to future sits hunting can be, I firmly believe that more deer are educated after we leave the woods than while we're hunting.
Deer can smell the odors we leave behind for as much as 2 days after we left them. Something as seemingly harmless a breath on a leaf can be educating the deer well after we're gone.
These types of disturbances are the primary reason that most see their hunting grounds decreasing in quality each day it's hunted.
The last day of a hunting trip is generally far worse odds than the first day. For those that hunt entire seasons on the same ground, it's common for that ground to be exploded before the magical rut even kicks in. This is exactly why more than a couple "experts" have suggested it's a mistake to even hunt before the rut.
That's certainly one way to handle this issue, but it's a painful way for those of us that enjoy hunting. It also greatly limits the number of sits per season, which further reduces odds of tagging Mr. Big in its own way.
Luckily, years of consulting for outfitters forced me to come up with a better approach. Simply match the stands to the phase of season and resist the urge of hunting the higher impact stands until they are peaking.
Do that and one can hunt hard all season long, without burning out a property. Instead, if done correctly and disturbances are minimized, your property can get better with each passing day of season, as your ground remains seemingly unpressured and the neighbors are pummeling theirs!
When it comes to hunting most of the "best" setups, as well keeping deer hunting quality high over the entire season, less really is more. Here's how you can pull that off.
This begins by showing some discipline. Most all of us know enough to realize when the weather conditions just aren't great for deer movement.
On overly hot, extremely windy or bad storm days, deer just don't typically move great. Those are the days that one either stays home or hunts very, very low impact stands. If you can get in, hunt and get out without diving deep into cover, crossing deer trails or ever have odors blowing to deer, it's as good as not being there at all.
One should strive to be sure every stand offers such low impact. However, that's not the real world. Too many potentially great stands would never get set if all were forced to adhere to those noble standards.
It's typically possible to come up with some that do, though. Those low impact stands should almost always be sat on poor deer movement weather days. Frankly, it's just not worth risking educating deer when they aren't moving well.
Next, nearly every stand setup is best suited for particular phases of season. The rut cycle brings changes in buck physiology and behaviors. Because of that, each stand setup has times that it offers peak and low odds of success. Heading for your best rut stands before the rut kicks in doesn't offer great odds of success that sit and risks burning out the stand before its even good.
When one matches their setups to the phase of season, they're naturally hunting the highest odds stands for that time frame. As importantly, they're keeping those other stands fresh for when they're peaking. Simply put, hunting your "best" stand less produces more results.
Obviously, to make this approach work, one must be able to ID which setups typically produce best during each phase of season. Doing so requires matching what bucks want with how they get it. It's actually quite simple:
ž¢ Early Season is all about food, water and feeling safe. So, our stands should focus on food and water and be placed in areas where Mr. Big either feels safe getting them or his routes to and from those locations.
ž¢ During the Peak Scrape Phase, advertising a buck's presence and staking out their place in the buck hierarchy becomes a priority, but food, water and safety are still pretty high on the list. That makes hunting strategic scrapes and routes between them, food and water all good choices.
ž¢ The Chase Phase is pure chaos. Because of the condensed breeding that Mother Nature forces for high fawn success rates in the north, there's about a 5 day window before the majority of breeding occurs that bucks chase the not quite ready yet does all over the place. In turn, those not ready yet does try to lose their harassers, often heading for the thickest cover they can find. As a result, doe bedding and the nasty thick areas they head when chased can be great locations. Unfortunately, as one heads south and the breeding phase is stretched out more, the chase phase is more random and harder to hit on, but thick tangles and doe bedding areas are still good spots.
ž¢ Many think that the breeding phase is also pure chaos, but I've found that mature bucks use a system to locate does. They consistently check where does concentrate during that portion of the day. That makes doe bedding areas and funnels separating them great for morning and midday sits. Morning and evening sits on food, water and routes connecting them are often good best. After all, those are the spots the does will be during those portions of legal hunting hours.
ž¢ Early Post Rut is one of my favorite times to hunt, as the mature bucks know that a percent of the doe fawns will be entering estrus at any time. The scrapes around doe bedding areas often get opened back up, making them and the food and water sources does frequent good bets.
ž¢ Late Season is Early Season all over again, with the advantage of there being far fewer prime food sources than earlier. Hunting on and the routes to those remaining food draws are the ticket.
Obviously, a big part of increasing deer hunting quality with each passing day of season is placing a premium on keeping our impact low. Only hunt the higher impact stands when they offer the highest odds of producing, by matching good deer movement conditions with the phase of season the setup is best geared for.
There's one glaring exception to this approach. If observations or trail camera pics are telling you that a buck is ripe for the picking in "this" location now, go in and kill him, regardless of if the phase of season says to wait. A buck you want to kill is telling you he is ripe right now. Always listen to them when they do that!