Becoming a great whitetail hunter doesn’t require the intellect of a rocket scientist. It does, however, require that a hunter understands the animal, the environment it lives in, and how to execute a well-thought-out plan.
By Charles Alsheimer
What follows are 10 broad categories containing tips I’ve refined in my 40 years of bow-hunting white-tailed deer. They’ve helped me become a better big-buck hunter, and I’m confident they’ll help you, too.
1. Know Behavior
Over the last 30 years, I’ve written many behavior-related articles for Deer & Deer Hunting. And, in nearly every article, I’ve emphasized how a keen understanding of whitetail behavior is what provides serious hunters a “ticket to the dance.”
I still stand by that notion 100 percent.
If you look around the country and study the strategies of consistently successful deer hunters, the stories will be nearly the same. The success of so many strategies is directly tied to how well one knows deer behavior.
Fifty years ago, when I was just learning about whitetails, there were few forms of media to unravel the mysteries of deer behavior. Until the early 1980s, the only way one could observe deer behavior was the old-fashioned way, which was in the field. In most cases this required years of study.
This is no longer the case. Now there are hundreds of videos that enable hunters to shorten the learning curve. In fact, one of the best DVDs on the subject was just recently produced by D&DH: Whitetail Behavior: A guide to Deer Activity, Reflexes and Responses. It is available at www.shopdeerhunting.com.
Part of the behavior equation is knowing the sounds whitetails make and learning how to imitate them with a grunt tube and/or bleat call. The easiest way to master deer sounds is to buy a good grunt tube and instructional video. Another way is to watch hunting videos and TV shows. Many of these productions not only show how to make the calls, but they also explain when to call. That’s the key to consistency.
2. Beat the Wind
Successful hunts often boil down to how well a hunter understands the wind and how to work at keeping deer from smelling him. If you don’t have the wind in your favor, you are most likely doomed.
I’ve done many interesting studies at my whitetail research facility over the years. One — discovered by accident — dealt with the distance at which a deer can pick up odors.
The southern boundary fence of our 35-acre enclosure is 425 yards from the nearest woods. During the rut, when there’s a south wind and wild does are entering estrus, our enclosure bucks will either pace or stand next to the southern fence line, staring in the directions of the hillside, raising their noses to pick up scent. Because there’s only wide-open space between the fence and the woods, we know that whitetails can detect odors from at least 425 yards away. Having observed this many times over the years, it’s my belief that deer can most likely smell odors at far greater distances.
Hence, it is my conclusion that — to consistently kill whitetails — it is critical that hunters understand how air moves across the landscape.
One of the best ways to do this is to pattern the air around your stands every month of the hunting season. If the ground is uneven, you’ll find wind patterns are different each month.
The method I use to pattern wind currents around tree stands is with a small bottle of children’s “play” soap bubbles. Merely dip the soap’s dip stick into the bubble solution then blow bubbles into the air. The floating bubbles will vividly show the way air currents ebb and flow, especially near topo features like ditches, ravines, creek bottoms, etc.
3. Food is King
“He who has the food has the deer,” is a quote I’ve relied on for over two decades. This seems pretty basic, but I’m amazed how many hunters don’t realize how preferred foods are in a constant state of flux throughout autumn.
For example, deer in our area will shift their feeding habits from clover in August to apples in September to acorns in October to corn in November.
By understanding a whitetail’s food preferences, you’ll be in position for many action-packed hunts.
4. Avoid the Bedding Areas
Early in my career I advocated that hunters should hunt a whitetail’s bedding area. No more. The bottom line: Once any whitetail gets a nose full of a human scent, it immediately turns into a tougher creature to hunt.
So, be forewarned if you attempt to hunt a buck’s bedroom. If you do, you will run the risk of either turning him nocturnal or causing him to temporarily leave the area.
5. Don’t Overhunt a Stand
This is a tip most bow-hunters have heard before, but I’m always amazed by the number of guys who continually go back to the same stand day after day.
Resist the temptation. If the wind isn’t right, or you’ve hunted the site two days in a row, consider moving to another stand.
6. Art of Concealment
Many bow-hunters perch themselves 20 feet above the ground. Because the majority of camo patterns are designed to be worn on the ground, most camo designs tend to make the hunter look like a blob in the sky.
To prevent the “blob effect,” work hard to match your camo pattern to the tree/sky. Further concealment can be accomplished by brushing in the stand with natural cover to help break up your silhouette.
7. Become Stealthy
Do everything possible to stay out of a whitetail’s nose, eyes and ears. It’s tough to do but, with some effort, you can minimize their knowledge of your presence.
To keep a deer from smelling you, consider investing in scent-eliminating clothing. Also, avoid washing your clothes and body with any scented soap.
Because you exhale about 250 liters of breath into the air every hour you are on stand, make an effort to kill your breath odor. Chlorophyll tablets can be purchased in most drug stores, and they do a good job of neutralizing breath odors. Perhaps an easier way to eliminate bad breath — provided you have apples trees where you hunt — is to carry an apple with you and suck on a chunk of it as you sit in your stand. Apples are nature’s toothbrush and will take away unwanted breath odors.
Part of becoming a stealthy hunter is learning how to stay quiet. Make sure you wear clothing that is quiet to the touch. Another tip is to rake leaves and debris off the path you use to access your stand.
Proper use of trail cameras is one of the greatest bow-hunting aids to come along in the last 20 years. The beauty of trail cameras is they allow you to scout without being present. That is invaluable!
8. Force ’em Where You Want ’em
If multiple trails pass through a funnel or travel corridor, you can make one much hotter than the others by plugging the others with brush or fallen trees. Also, take the time to examine the trail after the growing season is complete to make sure it has not grown shut. If it has, trim the new growth away, this will encourage deer to continue using it.
With a little thought, you can pile brush around a stand site in such a way as to force deer to walk precisely where you want them to. This strategy can also be used to keep deer from walking downwind of the stand.
9. How to Stop ’em
I’ve had tremendous success over the years by using mock licking branches near my bow-hunting setups. Establishing mock licking branches early can also help make a certain trail or travel corridor more attractive to deer.
I hang mock licking branches every 50 yards on the trail I hunt over. Using plastic zip ties, I attach a mock licking branch on an existing branch, about 5½ feet off the ground. If there is no existing branch over the trail, I attach the mock licking branch to a wire strung between two trees. Once this is done, I expose the earth below each licking branch, which makes the site look like a natural, active scrape.
The beauty of a mock licking branch is it will stop a buck nearly every time he walks past it, allowing for a clear, broadside shot. I’ve used attractant lures on the branches but have discovered they are not necessary for consistent action.
10. Keep Equipment Simple
There are myriad tips I could offer regarding equipment, but three things stand out as most important when it comes time to “seal the deal.”
Although peep sights are great for 3-D shooting, I’m not a big fan of them when hunting whitetails because it can be difficult to line up the sight pin and peep in dim light. This is especially the case for older hunters because a human’s night vision begins to deteriorate after age 40. If you believe you can’t shoot without a peep sight, try using an oversized peep.
Use a functional, error-free arrow rest. Trust me on this one; nothing will bum you out faster than having your arrow fall off the rest as you attempt to come to full draw on a mature buck. I eliminated this problem years ago by going to a Whisker Biscuit arrow rest for hunting. This rest is not the rest of choice for most 3-D shooters, but it is almost foolproof when it comes to killing whitetails, because it is impossible for the arrow to fall off this rest while pulling the bow to full draw.
Finally, the unwanted sound of the bow-string slapping against clothing can be a big problem for bow-hunters. This problem can be remedied by buying an arm guard, or simply sliding a short length of nylon stocking over the forearm area of your jacket.
When it comes to bow-hunting, chance favors the prepared person. Consistently killing white-tailed bucks with archery equipment requires that preparation be sandwiched around a dose of luck.
In the final analysis, one thing is certain: If you incorporate the aforementioned tips into your hunt, you just might be in position to kill your best buck this year.
— Contributing Editor Charles Alsheimer has been writing for D&DH since 1979.
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