On a crowded public area, that may be true. But in most cases, you shouldn’t be so quick to write off a mature buck that you bump just once. Handle things right and you could get a second chance.
First, consider what happened. How spooked is the buck? A whitetail that just vaguely notices movement or scents you isn’t likely to permanently leave the area or become “unhuntable.” On the other hand, a buck that has three senses alerted—scent, sight, and hearing—is much tougher to get a second crack at. But the situation isn’t hopeless.
How thick was the cover? Deer in open areas may run a half mile. In dense cover a buck might only bound 150 yards and hunker down. Analyze exactly where the buck was and what he was doing. Was he traveling, feeding, hooked up with a doe, bedded in thick cover, pushed out by a drive?
Make a List and Use a Tote
You cleaned your gun, bow and other gear and put it away after last year’s hunt, but do you know where everything is? I store my deer gear — ammo, hand warmers, drag rope, safety harness, field-dressing gloves, knife and other essentials — in a plastic tote during the off-season.
I like to think I am organized, but sometimes a key piece of equipment finds its way out of the tote, and by the time the season rolls around I have no idea where it went.
That’s why I keep a ‘deer hunter’s’ checklist with my stuff.
A simple checklist will help you round up stray gear and replace anything that got lost or broken or just plain wore out. Check off items as you put them in the tote and keep the list inside the tote.
When gun hunting season rolls around, use the list to pack for your hunt and you’ll never again find yourself in a frantic search for your ammo or knife just before dawn on opening morning.
Pinpoint the Pinch Points
Not long after first light—when the guns get to cracking—deer will be seriously on the move. They’ll do it quickly and efficiently. That means they’re going to follow the path of least resistance, so pinch points and funnels located in cover can be dynamite on opening day.
How to Hunt It: Locate your stand downwind of a prime terrain feature that will focus deer movement. Pack a lunch and stay put. When the pressure is on, you could see a shooter buck at any time of the day, either moving naturally (especially if the rut is on) or as a result of being bumped by neighboring hunters. Stay alert.
You heard that right.
Using deer attractants is another strategy that veteran hunters have been using to maximize their hunting success.
Fortunately, the market has all kinds of deer attractants; ranging from deer feed, deer urine, deer feeders, and so much more.
These enable you to attract the deer to your stand for easy take-down.
A great example where the deer attractants have been proven to work is the use of the drag rag soaked in the doe estrus in the peak-rut season.
Often, bucks will follow these trails right to your waiting stand!
It’s an old adage, but sometimes you have to hunt where no one else is willing to go. A recent Penn State study of radio-collared deer showed that whitetails change their patterns almost immediately on the day before the general firearms season opener due to increased human traffic.
How to Hunt It: Go for broke and hunt an out-of-the-way location few others would consider. Small, obscure pockets of cover produce some of the biggest bucks each season. They may not look like much, but they are overlooked sanctuaries. A small ditch, a tiny ravine, a patch of grass in the middle of an open field. Hide and sit out the day.
Let the Weather Be Your Guide
Food-source abundance, hunting pressure, the influence of the rut, and the moon will all affect the action on opening day. Nothing, however, will impact the timing of when you’ll see that action more than the weather. Most of us are deer-season weather watchers, but you’d better pull your best Al Roker if you want to get it exactly right.
What to look out for: A whirling mass of cool, dry air that generally brings fair weather and light winds.
How to Hunt It: This is what everyone plans for—seasonable temperatures, little to no wind, sunny days, clear nights. When the forecast calls for a stationary high-pressure influence, park your butt on stand or in a blind and sit it out.
The Wildcard Tactic: If temperatures are subfreezing, hold off switching locations until after the sun has melted the morning’s frost.
What to Look out For: Wind speeds over 20 mph. Know that there’s much more to whitetail hunting as it relates to wind than simply trying to stay downwind of a buck. Essentially, there are two different key factors to heed: wind direction and speed.
How to Hunt It: The stronger the wind speed, the quicker the barometric pressure will rise, and the time to be out is after it subsides—especially if the wind changes from east to west.
The Wildcard Tactic: This can be prime time to still-hunt or plan a drive.
What to Look out For: The lilting sound of droplets hitting the roof of deer camp. Rain on opening morning means more to hunters than it does to the deer. Precipitation will do little to slow down deer movement.
How to Hunt It: Grab your raingear. Bucks can neither hear you nor smell you. It’s a great time to go for a serious still-hunt.
The Wildcard Tactic: Wait out a deluge in a covered blind or watch the radar back at camp. When the tailing edge is an hour away, hit the woods.
What to Look out For: Your local weather forecaster predicting a snowmageddon.
How to Hunt It: Whether it’s a heavy snowfall or just flurries, snow makes deer hunting easier. Unless there’s a raging wind, you’ll be able to see animals better and, as with rain, they won’t be able to hear or smell you as well. Sit in a stand if you prefer, but snow is made for tracking. The Wildcard Tactic: The two hours prior to and the two hours just after are the absolute best times to hunt a snowstorm.
What to Look out For: Daytime highs above 70 degrees.
How to Hunt It: Whether it’s opening day or the peak of the rut, you’d almost be better off rescheduling—but, of course, you can’t. Whatever you do, don’t miss first and last light.
The Wildcard Tactic: Post in a stand near a water hole.
Talk the Talk
Deer are vocal animals, and many hunters use grunt calls to attract or stop a buck. Other deer vocalizations can work, too. A loud “B-l-a-a-a-t” will sometimes stop a running deer long enough for a shot.
A wheeze will sometimes confuse a deer that is wheezing at you but hasn’t winded you yet. A grunt will sometimes turn a deer that has walked past you or bring it out of cover for a clear shot.
You can buy calls that make all three sounds and more, but with a little practice you can learn to make them with you mouth, which keeps both hands free for safer gun handling and accurate shooting.