Season Long Simplicity
There is a saying that goes something like this “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”.
It absolutely blows me away each time I watch a hunting show or read an article on how to hunt big bucks. The experts will have their top 10 lists, or have some how to secret to share. And let’s not forget the list of products you need to buy to make it all possible (of course they get paid to say that part). I wish just once they would come out and be frank about it—the only real secret to being consistent with harvesting big deer is some basic hunting skills and access to ground with big deer and plenty of them. I guess all the hype makes for good viewing and reading. No doubt, many of these people are extremely good hunters. But there are also those that don’t have a clue but can sure talk it up. I have a lot of respect for one TV personality that when asked (supposedly any way, it’s all here say) why he can kill so many big deer every year and his response was, “I have over a thousand acres of managed land to hunt, I have the entire season to hunt it, and I get pretty much whatever I need from my sponsors. If I didn’t kill a big buck every year what would that really say”? Good for him on being frank!
So let’s be frank. I couldn’t kill a good buck if my life depended on it if I hadn’t changed where I hunted to an area that had good bucks…period! Now, there are all sorts of things you can do to better manage the deer herd and create habitat to foster this goal. But the fact remains that in raw terms you can’t harvest a buck that doesn’t exist. Yet every year thousands of hunters take to the woods, some looking like a walking sportsmen’s catalogue, and only a few harvest big deer. In a different article I went over prioritizing what you spend your money on to put yourself in front of big deer. (Click Here) In this article I want to assume three things; that you have access to exceptional land, that you have food sources to hunt, and that you have security cover or bedding areas on your property. If you don’t have all three, especially the first, STOP here and don’t read any further! You need these 3 first or you are just kidding yourself. If you have all 3, putting together a hunting strategy is easier than you would be led to believe.
Early season—It is my opinion that the only way to hunt the early season for whitetail is on evening hunts over a food source, water hole, or interior food plot. I’ve hunted countless hours on morning hunts during early season and have yet to get on a mature 4 year old deer in the morning during this time of year. And by hunting mornings, you could literally be putting unnecessary pressure on a buck that could otherwise by huntable. I’m not saying mornings are impossible during this time, but putting together a game plan gets really tough. In fact, if you know of a good way to do this, reply to the article! Anyhow, setting up on a buck during this time of year takes some diligent scouting—usually glassing food sources or using scouting cameras to pattern a buck on a food source before dark on evening hunts. If you can pattern a buck, it’s as simple (if there is such a thing) as going in to your stand when the wind is right. If he’s there, he’s there. If he isn’t there’s not much you can do about it. If you can’t pattern a buck you have basically two choices—don’t hunt and wait for the rut to come or hunt because it is your passion recognizing it may hurt you later in the season by putting pressure on a deer that you realistically have no chance of killing now.
Rut hunts—Break this hunting down to two categories being morning or evening. On morning hunts, get yourself in travel corridors or on the downwind side of bedding areas. Get in to these areas without bumping deer. You have to be able to figure out how to get in without bumping deer. This might mean waiting until after light to cross a food source. Or maybe it’s walking a half mile or more out of your way to avoid deer. Maybe it’s waiting to go to your hot spot until a morning with a heavy wind or good breeze to mask your sound getting in. Maybe it’s using a canoe or boat to get in. The point is; well you get the point. On these morning hunts try to stay as long as you can and plan your exit strategy. After you can’t take it anymore, sneak out with the same goal in mind—don’t be bumping deer! On the evening hunts, set up on the most active food sources you can find. If you have several (which you should), move around to limit pressure. The same critical thing goes here—you have to get in and out without bumping deer. Sometimes it gets tricky not bumping deer sitting on a food plot in the evening. I’ll give you some ideas of what we have done…Have someone come into the plot with a truck or atv and bump the deer for you. Plant a screen to and from your stand so when you do get down you can walk out behind your screen. I have even taken a battery powered alarm clock and set it to alarm after quitting time far away from where I am hunting but close enough to spook off the deer. Whatever you do, don’t let deer see you coming and going! So, in a nut shell, that’s all you need to do for rut hunts—hunt travel and cover in the morning and food in the evening. Beyond that, you don’t need a bunch of fancy gimmicks or trinkets. Assuming you are in a good area with good bucks, simply being a little smart and putting in your time is what is necessary. Don’t get overly aggressive with tactics while in the stand. I always carry a grunt tube and rattling antlers but use them very sparingly. In fact, I seldom call to deer unless I can see them and I’m convinced that if I don’t call I don’t have any chance at them. I never call to deer I have no intention on killing. Eventually, during this time of year, you will get your chance. The more time you spend in your stands the higher the odds get that eventually things will line up for you.
Post rut—Post rut hunting is all about food sources; period. You need to have standing crops and plenty of them to make sure that you will have a viable food source well into winter. My favorite for this are soybeans. But I cannot stress enough that without standing crops your late season hunting will be long and hard. Hunt the food sources in the evenings with extreme caution as this time of year a barking squirrel can clear a field full of deer. Get in and out without bumping deer! My favorite days to hunt during this time of year are the very coldest days and days after I get a good amount of snow cover. Cold temps and snow, especially deeper snow get deer on their feet. Also, don’t be bumbling around in the woods during this time. Stay out! Sneak in and out of the plots…hunt as far away as you feel comfortable taking the shot if using a fire arm. Archery hunting gets trickier to stay hidden while going in and out. When putting in your food plots back in the spring or summer, take this into account. The best way to plan this out for all situations is to do the planning at the front end when you actually put the plots in.
And that’s it. If you have any money to spend invest it in ways that will create food sources either naturally with habitat improvement or with food plots. Don’t get caught up in all the hype or products being marketed to you. I can assure you that this simple game plan will make it much easier for you to hunt this fall. Employ these basic hunting methods this fall, leave behind all the gadgets and hyped up methods and I assure you it will make for a better season.
I want to give you some examples of hunters that bought into strategies or methods and how they ruined their hunting. I don’t mean to pick on anyone here but there is so much mis-information out there or hype being marketed to you to get you to buy products that it can get really confusing sometimes. Remember the quote at the beginning of the article—well for too many people in the hunting industry getting you to buy the goods is the number one priority.
I know of a guy that each day he hunted his farm for whitetails he would walk the entire farm making note of the tracks coming and going. The thought was that he could pattern deer movements. He read the strategy by a pro in a magazine. The only problem is every day he effectively drove his farm out and didn’t know it. By the end of the season all he had left on his farm were tracks.
Another guy had every new gadget and device imaginable. I don’t know how he carried it all with him into the woods each day. Yet every year he complained he couldn’t shoot a good buck because his land was bad but he had no money to make it better or move. How about forgetting the gadgets?
I had a neighbor who grunted and rattled like it was the end all to every situation. He sounded like a construction worker putting up a garage he made so much noise. He has real antlers, rattling sticks, shakers, crackler things, bleats, grunts, snort wheezes, estrous bleats, and he used them all. He had bought into every commercial and ploy on the hunting shows. I can tell you he wasn’t very successful.
I had a friend that bought into all the scent elimination stuff and quit hunting the wind. I remember mornings when I would pick areas on our farm to hunt based on his scent path. He had no idea that every deer that got down wind of him was busting him way before he knew it. I didn’t have the guts to confront him about it because he was thoroughly convinced it all worked.
I wrote this article because hunting should be fun and it’s really not that hard. There are those that because of their sponsors will tell you it is the product that made the difference. I can tell you the successful hunters have two things that you don’t—access to the best hunting grounds and the reality that some basic strategies on these grounds will put them on big deer. The more complicated and convoluted your strategy the bigger the odds are that you are hurting your chances. Keeping it simple will pay you big dividends!