Deer hunting seasons are shifting into gear right now and hunters are looking for many things, including big bucks, the buck of a lifetime, maybe a buck they’ve been watching for a year or more on game cameras. Some are on private land, some are on public land … the latter, in many states, being pressured areas where deer hunting may be frustrating but potentially rewarding.
Here are some great insights from D&DH Editor-in-Chief Dan Schmidt about hunting that originally appeared in 2012 but merit revisiting.
High expectations run rampant among today’s hunters. In fact, it’s probably the No. 1 topic I run across on a daily basis working at Deer & Deer Hunting. North America’s antler craze is officially in high gear, and there really isn’t an end in sight.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, we all thrill at the sight of a mature buck – but it borders on an unhealthy obsession when we let it cloud reality. Hunters who hunt pressured deer – be it on public land or small, overcrowded private parcels – often find themselves (usually knowingly) in the latter category because they simply expect too much from the hunting experience.
No hunter in North America, especially the so-called celebrities, could regularly kill mature deer from most of the properties most of us hunt. They might have a few extra tricks up their collective sleeve, but trust me, most of these guys are merely blessed to have access to great land and unpressured deer.
What’s the definition of pressure? That’s a hard one. For simplicity’s sake, let’s approach the answer from a hunter-density standpoint. To hunt mature deer, you really shouldn’t be hunting more than two guys per 80 acres of high-quality land. Even then, you have to pick and choose your spots. Pound it too hard, and you’ll send those deer on high alert in a hurry.
Where does that leave the guy who hunts public land? Well, you probably get the idea. That’s why adopting a nontraditional game plan is the best tactic for hunting pressured properties. The following five tactics will help you outsmart other hunters and wrap your tags around more deer … deer that you might have otherwise thought didn’t exist.
1. Sign up for an off-peak plan.
Face it, most guys are weekend warriors. I don’t use that term in a derogatory sense; it merely depicts how most folks approach hunting. They get a few weeks of vacation each year and usually wrap hunts around holiday weekends and the occasional Friday afternoon. There’s nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that deer quickly adapt and change their travel patterns after opening weekend of hunting season.
The savvy hunter takes advantage of such human behavior before even thinking about how to outsmart a whitetail. It might be awfully inconvenient and mess up your schedule, but consider taking your time off during the middle of the week to hunt. I recently reviewed my yearly hunting logs and noticed that I’ve taken a lot of deer on Tuesdays. It certainly could be a coincidence, but I do recall that I’ve usually had the woods to myself during such off times.
2. Find odd spots.
They don’t necessarily have to be miles off the beaten path or on the opposite side of a huge lake. In fact, some of the best public deer hunting spots are those little pieces of state and county land that allow hunting near fishing access areas. For example, a little 20-acre chunk of stream access might be all you need to waylay a buck during the early archery season.
Scout these areas while turkey hunting and note deer trails and crossings. Pick out a few trees that will be suitable for a climbing tree stand and then revisit the area during an off-peak hunting time in fall. Mid-week mornings are best, but afternoon hunts can be productive. The only problem with afternoon hunts is your chances of interference increase as other guys get out of work and decide to sit the last hour or so of shooting light.
3. Be an early bird.
Nothing discourages a public-land hunter like the sight of another pickup truck in “his” parking spot. Consistently successful hunters arrive early and stay late. In heavily hunted areas, early might mean getting to your tree a full hour to 90 minutes before shooting light. This is a tough way to hunt, especially when it’s cold, but it works. Conscientious hunters invariably drive away and hunt another spot, rather than risk ruining two hunts by barging in on someone who’s already strapped in and waiting for daylight.
While we’re on the topic, be courteous.
Don’t think that just because it’s public land you have the right to trample past a guy who’s already there and bang your stand up the tree 50 yards from him. Treat others the way you’d want to be treated. It makes for better hunting in the long run, anyway, because they might be more inclined to return the favor if you beat them out there next time.
4. Don’t broadcast your spots.
I seldom park near areas I’ll be hunting. In fact, I usually go way out of my way to disguise my entry and exit routes. This is especially true for public-land hunts, but it also holds true for private land areas that I have all to myself. The more I broadcast where I’ll be hunting, the more likely I am to have someone barge in on me when hunting public land, or have a jealous neighbor fire up his chainsaw at prime time when the sun’s dipping below the treetops.
This tactic has saved my hunts many times. Granted, it can be a double-edged sword when hunting public land, especially during firearms seasons because others might think they have the woods to themselves. That’s why I always tie orange ribbons near my tree stand, or hang an extra orange vest nearby, when gun-hunting on public land.
5. Work hard after a kill.
Like tactic No. 4, it’s not wise to drag a deer out of the woods for all to see. It might require a lot of extra work, but avoid dragging a deer down a well-used walking trail, snowmobile route or logging road. If you must use those routes, invest in a sled or a rickshaw-type cart. Wrap your deer in a tarp to avoid leaving blood stains behind.
You definitely want to celebrate your success back at camp, but not out in the woods for all to see. My hunting partners and I learned this lesson the hard way; otherwise “secret” public-land spots were soon invaded by other hunters when they saw us dragging deer out of the woods at midday.