- Know the Deer You Hunt
- Scouting, Being Detected
- Gear & Gadgets, Over-Dependence
- Patterning our Hunting Pattern
- Where, When and How
By John Sloan
Each year deer hunters, all of us, make mistakes. Sometimes they are minor mistakes, sometimes major. Not always do even the major mistakes turn out badly in terms of killing a deer or getting a shot. But sometimes they do. Over the 60 years I have hunted whitetail deer, I have determined what I feel to be the five biggest mistakes a hunter makes. Here they are in the order I rank them.
Keep these items in mind for hunting now, for scouting after this season, and for scouting next summer and fall for next year’s season.
Mistake #1: Failure to understand the animal you are hunting.
I have been a student of whitetail deer for more than six decades. I am still learning. I am still constantly reminded of how little I know. I have always wondered how a hunter can expect regular success on bucks over age 3-1/2 if they don’t work to learn all they can, and then test what they have learned.
Just reading and asking questions are not enough. You must get out in the woods and read sign, see what the deer has done. Then ask yourself why. Why did that deer do that? What caused that reaction? Will it happen every time?
If you ask any deer hunter what the deer’s preferred food source is right now, and they don’t know, they have not learned enough about the animal they hunt. Does the hunter know what will be the next preferred food source? Does he or she know why the deer are crossing a road in a particular place?
The questions and the answers are endless. It takes much more than just spending time in a stand. The more you ask and the more you learn, the better prepared hunter you will be, and it is a serious mistake not to be prepared.
A successful deer hunter will always have more questions than he or she has answers.
Mistake #2: Improper Scouting
Nothing prepares you for success more than proper scouting. Nothing costs you more than improper scouting.
Far too many hunters wait until the week or maybe the month before the season to begin scouting. However, proper scouting never stops. By far the most informative scouting is done in the weeks just after the season closes. That sets the stage for the rest of the scouting. It is then you learn what the bucks were doing when you were hunting them. It is then you find their hiding spots and secure travel trails. It is then you formulate your game plan for the next season.
In the summer, your scouting is non-invasive. You glass open fields just at sundown. There is little to be learned other than there are some deer here. That’s all you need to know at that point. There is little reason to be in the woods. That starts when the mast begins to form on trees. You are now looking for food sources. You couldn’t care less if you see deer. In fact, you hope you don’t. You are looking for where the deer are going to be, not where they are.
In early fall, you combine your hunting with your scouting, you are looking for new rubs, early scrapes, previously unknown creek or road crossings. You adjust as the deer do, as new travel patterns emerge.
In late season, you adjust again. The stand that was so hot in November may be useless now. Look for the trails in deep cover and secure food sources. Look for the trails that lead to agricultural crops and, in doing so, pass through the really thick stuff.
To scout for only a day or so in September or October is a serious mistake. It will cost you deer.
Mistake #3: Over-Dependence on Equipment and Gadgets
As technology developed new and improved products, deer hunters got lazy. Magic potions in bottles or in spray cans replaced knowledge and work and study. We began to depend on our equipment to compensate for inaccurate shooting, good yardage judging, clean clothes and proper stand placement. We began to believe the advertisements and all the new theories. The latest call couldn’t fail. The hottest new camo couldn’t fail. The most popular new scent couldn’t fail. The new scent eliminators couldn’t fail. But they did… and do.
There are no magic potions or gimmicks. They are all aids and, yes, they are an aid. Properly used, under the right conditions they do work sometimes. None of them work all the time and some of them are counterproductive. Unless you understand what the product is; know how it works; know how to use it properly and understand the limitations of the product, you are making a mistake. If you depend on a spray or clothing to prevent deer from smelling you and do not take advantage of the wind, you are making a mistake.
These products and others can be invaluable for the unforeseen vagaries of hunting. But to depend on them alone is a mistake and it will cost you.
Consistently successful callers (deer, elk, turkey, etc.) always anticipate success and prepare for a response. This anticipation is what I call the confidence factor, and it usually comes from experience and a working knowledge of the language of the game you’re hunting. You don’t have to learn the hard way. Learn the language, and when you make a deer call expect a deer to show up.