By Tony J. Peterson
In 2019, I intend to go big in the adventure department. I’ve got plans for taking my first trip to Alaska, and I’m going to carve out 10 days during September to bowhunt elk. That also means that my usual strategy of trying to arrow a decent buck in my home state of Minnesota during opening week is not going to happen.
I’ll hopefully be elbow deep in a bull elk’s chest cavity about the time my home-state whitetail season opens up. When I do return from those trips, which are almost back-to-back, I’m highly confident my wife is going to frown on me taking off to hunt whitetails for a week or so.
This reality has me thinking that this month when I pull the remaining stands from last fall and spend some time scouting, I’ve got to go with a new strategy. The field-edge stands I usually hang for the early season won’t be as big of producers by October when I get to hunt. I’m confident the hunting pressure on my favorite farm will shut down the easy bucks in the beans and alfalfa.
While there is a sense that this isn’t going to be an easy year for me at home, I’m excited. The prospect of having to shake up a familiar routine and re-think deer strategies in the one place I’ve bowhunted deer more than anywhere else, has my wheels turning. It’s an exercise all of us should at least consider.
Same Old, Same Old
We all know that deer pattern us way easier than we pattern them. This is no-brainer stuff and is largely true. If a grizzly bear wandered through your house once a week, you’d catch on pretty quickly to when he was going to show up, which rooms he was likely to visit, and when it would be safe to come out from hiding. At that point, with as much dignity as you could muster, you’d wipe the urine off of the floor, change your underwear, and get back to your routine.
I think, generally speaking, that a buck’s ability to figure us out is why we are so quick to assume that deer are ready to go nocturnal at the slightest hint of danger. There are probably very few deer that are truly nocturnal throughout the season, but instead just stop walking by us. In many cases, I think they stop walking by our cameras too. That leads us to believe the once-killable deer has become immortal, and that’s pretty good incentive for not hunting as often or as hard.
Instead of falling into that type of hunting behavior, consider this - maybe it’s time to shake up your routine. Maybe it’s time to come up with a new plan to hunt different spots at different times and see how the whitetail gods favor you.
A Lesson From Public
What I’ve learned the most from a decade of hang-and-hunt dedication on land open to all is that if you keep looking for deer and trying new things, you’ll eventually find them. This mentality is prevalent in the public-land, DIY crowd because logistically it makes sense. That doesn’t make it easy, especially if you’re used to a different style of hunting.
The current deer strategy in a lot of circles is to contrive a scenario around a treestand or ground blind and use every trick in the book to get a buck to come to that spot. In tightly controlled woods, that works really well. In permission-based hunting, public-land hunting, or for the time-strapped deer hunter, it’s not as effective.
A more realistic approach is to decide to not hang the same old stands that may or may not ever produce a decent buck and instead to dig into the places you’re less confident in.
Now, I’m not saying you should abandon a killer pinch-point just because – that would be foolish. But instead, be honest. I hang stands every year on my main farm that rarely produce sightings of anything other than young bucks and does. For some reason, I’m comfortable hanging them and sitting them, and so I just go through the motions every year.
Well, until this year.
Loose Plans, Freelance Strategies
This year, I am going to hang some stands before the season, but they’ll be in potential staging areas. They’ll be along travel routes in the cover, and they’ll be in a few of those question-mark areas that I’ve always wondered about. One spot in particular is always covered in big rubs every time I shed hunt or winter scout it, but I’ve had a hard time figuring out how to approach it and get a stand up.
This year, I’m not going to over-think it and I’m going to hang a stand there, somewhere. Then, if I need to, I’ll go in on Halloween or somewhere in the neighborhood of the last day of October, and see I can run into one of the rub-makers.
I also plan to treat my time on that farm more like most of my public land hunts, where I’m looking at the daily conditions, thinking about recent sightings, and hunting off instinct. It’ll be more work than I’m used to down there, but it’ll also probably be more rewarding.
If it’s not, I can always go back to my old approach next year.
There are a lot of factors that play into being inconsistent when it comes to filling deer tags. One that many of us don’t think about, but is certain to play into our lives each season, is doing the same thing over and over. This season, consider a new kind of strategy to see if that’s what has been holding you back. You’ll put in more season-long sweat-equity, but you just might find that the bucks no longer have you dialed - and that’s bad news for them.