Quit Being a Whiner and Improve Your Deer Hunting

WATCH: Steve Bartylla Believes Hunters Need to Stick Together

While you can’t control what happens on the neighbor’s side of the property fence, you might be able to use his hunting methods to your advantage.

I hate to say this so bluntly, but we hunters and land managers tend to get caught up in complaining more than we should, and I’m including myself in that group. I’m sincerely NOT trying to offend. In fact, with how amazingly well D&DH readers have treated me over the years, you’re the last people on Earth I’d ever want to do that to. Instead, you all have truly earned my undying loyalty.

Enjoy your hunting and affect change in the things you can do, instead of wasting time and energy complaining about what’s wrong or your neighbors who may be complaining about you. (Photo: Steve Bartylla)

That is why I feel I must be this blunt. There’s an awful lot of truth in the statement that the first step in solving a problem is admitting and taking ownership of the problem. Complaining about the weather, how commercialized hunting has become, other hunters’ practices, others shooting bucks that are perceived as “too young or too small,” the weapons they used, shooting too many or too few does — on and on it goes.It seems we have an endless supply of things to complain about, many of them being truly “complainable” offenses.

Here’s the catch. Complaining might be therapeutic for some — though it always just leaves me feeling icky — but it rarely if ever improves the situation. Instead, for as cheesy as it might sound, the truth is that it most often makes you feel helpless to do anything that might help improve or even solve the issue, and instead just creates a wallow of misery to slop in, robbing you of the desire and energies required to change things for the better.

When it comes to topics open for complaint, I’m betting that nothing is complained about more than neigh- boring hunters. After all, “If they only hunted or managed deer like me … .” The reality is that they don’t and most probably never will. So you can either sit around complaining about it or you can do something about it.

That is what this piece is about. Specifically, it’s about turning those comparatively sloppy hunting, shoot anything that moves neighbors into your best friends, as opposed to your sworn blood enemies. You most likely never will change their approach to hunting, and they have every right to hunt in any legal, ethical manner they choose. I’d even contend that you should be genuinely happy for their successes, regardless of whether they fit your management and hunting goals. After all, they have every right to hunt in whatever legal and ethical way they prefer.

That said, you also have every right to do whatever legal act you choose on your side of the fence. That most definitely includes using the neighbors’ hunting activities to your advantage, doing all you reasonably can to transform what is most likely the most complained about negative in all of hunting into a positive that works for you and actually aides you in achieving your own goals. Simply put, you most often can make the grass greener on your side of the fence, pulling deer onto your ground like metal shavings to a powerful magnet. Here’s how I strive to do just that.


Identify the Problem, Solution
Most all of us already understand how the neighbors hamstring our hunting and management efforts. It’s rather common to have neighbors scouting the day before and even during season, pressuring most every deer on their ground. They head for stands a half-hour after sunrise, pay zero attention to odor control, rarely factor wind direction into their hunting plans and often shoot any legal deer foolish enough to give them the opportunity.

Heck, opening day of firearms season sees a bunch of hunting camps literally making unintended deer drives for their neighbors, as they head for their stands. All that commonly results in deer greatly reducing the areas they freely travel during daylight and more than a few (young deer included) being shot.

I hate to be a broken record, but they have every right in the world to do those things. It’s their ground and their hunt, after all. Casting judgment on them because they don’t hunt or manage like you do is no more fair to them than it would be for them to judge you for hunting and managing differently than they do. Ultimately, hunting is supposed to be fun, and everyone’s version of fun is going to differ.

That said, the result of sloppy hunting can be seen every fall on a surplus of properties. With each hunt, the quality of future hunts keeps getting worse and worse, often to the point where even seeing adult does from stand is a challenge. Even worse, there’s nothing you can do about it, because it’s those danged neighbors trashing their woods that’s killing you — or are they really?

Creating areas with hinge cutting and feathering offers benefits for deer and you for hunting in those areas. Another benefit is it creates security zones or routes that deer may use if they’re leaving the neighbor’s property.

Let Them Help You!
But what if you could use their power for your good? It’s pretty common whitetail knowledge that when deer feel enough pressure they head for the areas within their home range where they feel safest. In many cases, they’ll move relatively freely inside those natural sanctuaries, while mostly limiting excursions outside their protective confines until after dark.

In theory, the solution is pretty darn simple. Make portions of your ground the areas where deer feel safe. Accomplish that and your properties keep getting better and better, as hunting season and neighboring pressures progress.

Stop and really think about that for a second. Though my experiences have consistently proven it doesn’t have to be this way, there’s a reason why so many experts say the first trip to a stand is the best. Most properties get nothing but worse with each hunting day, as the deer become educated and either abandon your hunting grounds or spend the majority of daylight hours in areas that you don’t hunt, often because they are too difficult to hunt successfully.

In theory, being able to achieve the opposite, where your grounds just get better and better with each day the surrounding properties are hunted, offers a tremendous advan- tage. Heck, it’s the definition of turn- ing a negative into a shining positive, while being a great solution for deal- ing with those who have every right to not share your goals and hunting methods.

Making It Happen
Luckily, this is a case where taking the steps to transform theory into reality isn’t as tough as you might think. It also doesn’t rely on expensive products or cash draining projects. Even better still, you can achieve this while still hunting hard and even sharing your grounds with family and friends. All you must do is make some fairly easy alterations to your hunting practices.

The first step is setting the “challenging to hunt undetected” ground aside as sanctuary. With each passing year, I become more and more convinced that one of the biggest mistakes made is hunting too much of a hunting property. It seems counter intuitive, but hunting fewer acres is very often the key to increasing the hunting opportunities on that ground, because deer are drawn to those safe zones. No, they won’t likely abandon their home range to live in your sanctuary. If it’s outside of their existing home range, they don’t know it exists.

Center access hunting land doesn’t help much when you’re trying to avoid problems with the wind.

Every bit as true is that deer rarely spend equal amounts of time in their entire home range. Instead, they have daytime core areas where they spend considerably more time than other areas. Setting aside cover as sanctuary helps inspire deer to establish daytime core areas on your ground, and is most often aided greatly by high impact hunting neighbors.

The second step is having low impact access and departure. In this case, low impact simply means deer can’t see, hear or smell hunters accessing and departing their stands. The importance of this is hard to exaggerate.

To illustrate this, let’s look at a generic 40-acre hunting parcel (above). With center access, as many properties have, there simply isn’t a safe wind direction to access any portion of the property. No matter what the direction, deer will be alerted to the hunter’s presence when he or she enters the property.

Edge access gives you more options for hunting, along with offering dead zones where your scent may blow into and not bother deer on your approach.

Now look at that same 40 with edge access (right). No matter what the wind direction is, providing it’s stable, hunters can access at least half of the property with their scent either blowing right down the property line or into a neighbor’s ground, further training the deer that they aren’t safe off your ground.

Not all hunting properties provide good edge access. That said, most every property should be reviewed for how you can lower your hunting impact. Coming up with access and departure routes that don’t tip your hand to the deer on your grounds is invaluable to increasing your hunting success.

The final step is having “dead zones” for your wind to blow into when hunting and playing the wind religiously. When looking for these dead zones to absorb your odors, remember that wind direction is rarely completely constant. Because of that, it sure helps when these areas are big enough to have a switch from a west wind to a northwest or southwest spurt rendered harmless.

Of course, those situations rarely occur naturally. I mean, it’s asking a lot to have safe routes to and from stands, with safe areas for the wind to blow, while hunting high-odds locations. On most properties, that’s just shy of finding the Holy Grail. So, manufacture those setups. The ability to do just that is the tremendous advantage private land managers have over other hunters. They can create blockades to keep deer out of areas where they don’t want them.

With a chainsaw or a dozer, they can create food sources in areas that work for then. Heck, they can often literally create bedding areas that make deer more easily hunted, while lowering their impact through keeping deer out of areas they access. Always remember, when improving your grounds, the areas you choose not to improve are every bit as important as selecting the right areas to improve.

Taking this approach and manufacturing high-odds, low-impact stands allow you to have the best of both worlds. It enables you to be able to hunt a property hard, enjoying it with your friends and family, while realizing the benefits that barely hunted properties enjoy.

Never forget, your neighbors have every right to do whatever they legally want to, and hunt any legal way they choose on their side of the fence. So long as they enjoy it, sincerely, more power to them. But you also have every right to do what you legally want to on your side of the fence. So long as the deer on your side don’t see, hear or smell hunters, to them it’s just like they aren’t being hunted at all. When you can pull that off, every time the neighbors are tear- ing it up on their side of the fence, they’re really making your hunting better, assuming you set up and hunt your side properly.

— Longtime Deer & Deer Hunting contributor Steve Bartylla is one of North America’s top deer hunters and private-land deer managers. Contact him at bowwriter@yahoo.com.