What’s the key to successful deer hunting? The answer is two-fold: Knowledge makes you powerful, but wisdom provides for consistent success. Highly populated whitetail herds certainly provide opportunities for some hunters to blunder into success here and there, but true whitetail wisdom is what will separate you from the guy who fills his buck tag every few years.
The knowledge end of things involves deer behavior and proven hunting tactics. You’ll outsmart more deer, and bigger bucks, when you make the plunge and absorb every written word you can find on those topics. However, you’ll enjoy even more consistency when you become wise to what really makes deer tick and begin to understand how environmental factors affect everything from habitat quality to population dynamics. For example, I’ve long struggled to explain why I’ll buy an article to print in Deer & Deer Hunting on something as obscure as the reasons why some buck fawns are physically capable of siring offspring. I’ll even get occasional calls on such things. “How does that information help me become a better deer hunter?” someone might ask.
I’ve yet to find the perfect response to that question, and that bothers me a little bit. I guess I can liken the situation to the high schooler who complains to his or her algebra teacher, “When are we ever going to use this in the real word?” when they’re struggling with an equation. The answer, of course, is “probably never,” but the underlying point is, “the more you know, the more you grow.” Therein lies the key to becoming a consistently successful, and more appreciative, deer hunter. The more you know about the floral and the fauna, the more likely you are to enjoy the experience and reap the rewards. And, when making that first step on the fast track to whitetail hunting success, every hunter needs to again become the student.
The best way to start is to learn and understand the important five-point pyramid containing knowledge of weather, food sources, habitat quality, human pressure and deer biology.
Find Good Groceries
Food availability is a major variable that influences deer behavior. Every year after deer season, I receive nearly the same rally cry from many concerned hunters, “There just aren’t that many deer out there; not nearly as many as the game agency says there are. I saw way more deer 20 years ago than I do now.”
The concerns are real, but the blame is ill founded. However, I give the hunter the benefit of the doubt, and that’s why my first response is to ask him or her to explain their hunting property. Invariably, the hunter explains how he’s hunted the same property for 20 years and, back in the beginning, it used to be active farmland or a young stand of clear-cut regrowth. Many additional factors come into play in this example, such as other land-use trends, hunting pressure, suburban development, neighboring properties, etc., but basically, the key to the change in deer use can be linked to food availability and the law of diminishing returns. Simply, time marches on, and deer change their habits as food sources change. If a given property continues to produce quality forage, deer will “keep shopping” regardless of the other factors.
Whether it’s farm crops like corn, soybeans or alfalfa, or mast crops like acorns, beechnuts or locust pods, food locations dictate how, when and where deer eat, rest and move. Learning the nuances within their seasonal movement behavior isn’t always easy because a lot depends on food availability, especially for mast crops.
The cyclical nature of mast crop production causes deer to adopt different travel patterns throughout fall, and these patterns can literally change overnight. Whitetails are opportunists in that they gravitate to the best food sources when those foods are in peak production. A good example can be seen each fall in farm country, especially where soybeans are grown. In my home county, it’s not uncommon to drive home from work in late August or early September and see 30, 40, and sometimes more, deer in every soybean field. They will devour the tender green shoots and leaves, no doubt unknowingly getting their last big fix of Vitamin K before fall marches on. These same deer are practically nowhere to be seen when the soybean fields ripen and turn yellow. When that happens, usually after mid-September, deer shift their focus to the deep-woods mast crops. That’s when savvy bowhunters make sure they’re perched somewhere along an oak ridge that’s dropping its crop of protein-rich deer foods.
Food sources vary widely throughout North America. The Midwest has its acorns and farm crops. The South provides acorns, persimmons, wild plums and lush food plots. The East specializes in apples and beechnuts. It doesn’t matter what foods your land produce. To become a student of the whitetail, learn how, when, where and why deer use these food sources.
BONUS COVERAGE: 3 Keys to Hunting Deer During the Early Season
TIPS FOR SETTING UP A TWO-MAN LADDER STAND:
You’ll benefit from this whitetail hunting guide if:
- You want to learn how the rut works
- You’re looking for rut hunting strategies
- You want to maximize your time in the field
Because normally secretive and wary bucks have the tendency to become careless and more visible during the rut, this time can be one of the most exciting of the hunting season to kill a trophy whitetail. Because this period can be a chaotic and unpredictable time in the field with hunting pressure, weather conditions, and deer herd composition, it’s important to fully understand how the rut works in order to leverage it for your success during the hunting season.