Whitetail Deer Hunting Tips and Facts for a Successful Hunt - The Trophy is in the Eye of the Beholder
The number one factor in hunting success for big bucks is how you access your stand. Entering quietly is critical, so in the morning wait until there is enough daylight that you can see so your approach is quiet. Enter via low ground, ditches and streams. Play the wind.
1. Find a property with little or no hunting pressure.
2. Learn the travel patterns of the deer on the property. Start as soon as the deer hunting season ends, record rubs, scrapes, feeding and bedding areas. Once the snow hits the ground, the trails are all laid out so you can record travel routes and intersections. Mark them on your GPS and transfer them to google earth on your computer.
3. Deer beds can be found in these four main areas :
a) Stands of evergreens.
b) Dense, low-lying thickets bordering wetlands and swamps.
c) Hardwoods ridges with a good view of the surrounding woods.
d) Fully grown cedar bushes with hemlock and pine are prime locations.
Use topographical and aerial maps to aid you in locating these areas.
4. Set up your stands in the spring. This is a good time to clear your shooting lanes.
5. Look for a stand near the hub of intersecting trails that will be predominately downwind.
6. Stay at least 80 to 100 yards away from a bucks bed.
7. Locate food sources that are near their bed. Find the sheltered water - these water sources include streams, lakes, beaver ponds, small springs.
8. Bucks move from bedding locations toward food sources each evening and the opposite is true in the morning.
9. One big advantage of hunting transition routes in the afternoons is the possibility of catching a buck that doesn't typically reach the field edge before sunset.
10. Deer research clearly shows that deer are more active the last two hours of daylight than the first two hours of daylight in early fall ( September to mid/late October). After the end of October, movement patterns reverse, indicating the greatest daytime activity taking place in the first two hours of daylight.
11. If your hunting area has oak trees, set up near their travel route to them and the does. The bucks will be coming into feed on their favorite food, acorns. You could also place your stand in one of those oak trees on the down wind side of the trail.
12. During afternoons of the full moon, deer seem to rise from their daytime beds early and randomly. Try arriving at your stand an hour or so earlier during the first days of a nearly full or full moon.
13. Quarter Moon. Many bucks are taken during this phase.
14. Bucks spend 50% of there life bedded.
15. Note the weathers affects on deer movement: Deer like a pressure above 30.00 in.
(a) Barometric pressure. Whitetail deer will increase their activities before and after weather fronts. They will feed most when the pressure is between 29.88 - 30.29 in. ( 100.9 - 102.6 kilo pascals ) .The sweet spot within the pressure scale, it has been found is at 30.20 to 30.30.There will also be a difference in sightings depending on if the pressure is rising or falling. Rising pressure right before its peak is best. Whitetails are most active right before rain or snow storms as well as just after them. Low barometric pressure will reduce deer activity.
A lot of these high pressure points will come with wind. This is a sure sign of a pressure change.This is why so many trophies are taken right after sustained high winds +30mph have died down. North winds(NE TO NW) seem to bring the highest barometer readings. This is why many of our best stands and hunts are in conjunction with winds from these directions.
(b) Air temperature. This has a big affect on deer activity during daylight hours. Deer will be most active when the air temperature is between 25-35 degrees F.( -3C to -1C ).
(c) High winds. Deer activity is greatly reduced when winds are consistently above 10 m.p.h ( 16 km/h ) throughout the day. NW wind will bring cooler temperatures and higher barametric pressure, both key factors in good deer movement. The least desirable wind directions are SW or south which bring above average temperatures and low barametric pressures. When the wind speed drops from at least 30mph to 10mph, deer will be on the move. Many Pope and Young trophys where taken after a wind drop such as this.
(d) Humidity. A whitetail smells best when the humidity is between 20% to 80%. If it is extremely dry, raining or snowing, a whitetails ability to smell is decreased.
16. Practise scent control when ever you are in your hunting area. Don't leave any of your scent behind.
17. When scouting, checking your trail cam or setting up stands, do it during the mid day hours to avoid spooking deer. Check your trail camera no more than once a week, ideally every two weeks. This is when you want to swap out memory cards and install fresh batteries.
18. Hunting Pressured Deer Note
When hunter pressure is at its heaviest, mature bucks will gravitate toward water. Wet areas trump all others when it comes to whitetail security, because water eliminates their scent trail which is a necessity when predators such as wolves are in hot pursuit.
19. " Rut Window "
Nov. 1 to Nov.15 is the best time to see a four or five year old giant on his feet in daylight.
20. How to get a clear buck print
Place trail cameras on row crop fields or mock scrapes. When a clear track is matched to a bucks image, measure its length, width and note any abnormalities. Try to get all four hoof prints.
With this track information in hand you can now track this buck. With the use of a garden rack, go to likely locations, rake three- foot sections of dirt. A week later, return with a tape and measure up the tracks to see if this big buck has passed by.
This method of track catching is very good in determining bedding areas.
21. Early Indicators of approaching deer
-Watch the reaction of squirrels and blue jays sounding off.
-A snap of a twig
-Cracking of leaves
-Cracking of the snow crust
How To Hunt The Rut
A good time for track searching is just after a fresh snowfall. Should a new layer of the white stuff be added to the ground overnight, you'll know that any track you come across are fresh.The male and female deer do make different tracks, but it requires an experienced eye sometimes to determine the difference. A big track doesn't necessarily mean it was left by a buck, yet usually it has been. But the main characteristics to watch for are the front feet, one mark of the buck, and a pattern that shows the front feet wider apart. If there are two sets of tracks, doe and buck, you can readily tell the difference. A buck tends to drag his forefeet in light snow and sometimes swaggers, while a doe has this tendency only in deeper snow. The doe almost always puts the print of her back feet directly over those of the forefeet, while bucks often do not, and a buck will show some spreading between the two halves of the forefeet when walking naturally, while does do this only when running. A buck will dribble droppings as he walks but a doe deposits hers all in one spot. A doe will pass under a low-hanging limb; a buck will go around it.
Still-hunting and Stalking
The basics of still-hunting and stalking *
1. Never step on anything you can step over.
2. Do not move continuously. Take a few steps, stop, look, and listen. See your quarry before it sees you.Take short steps.
3. Train your eyes to see detail. Seldom will you see the whole animal at first, only part of it. Examples being an ear, nose, antler tine.
4. Hunt into or across the wind.
5. Avoid all unnecessary movements.
6. Keep cool and don't be in a hurry.
7. Whenever possible, time your shots to coincide with natural noises or when the animals head is down.
8. When working up on a feeding deer, move when it moves and watch its tail.
9. Scan the area close to you-a second deer may be watching you pass.
10. Check the wind direction carefully before beginning a stalk.
11. Know your capabilities. Stalk to within a good shooting distance.
* taken from The Archer's Bible by Fred Bear the father of archery. This is a very good book and I highly recommend it. It is available at Amazon.comThe Archer's Bible
Antler Rattling Tips
Sparring in early season
Sparring begins about six to eight weeks before the rut. In early bow season try a light rattle and rub of the antlers.
- Sparring is a social activity that helps determine dominance. The bucks are in bachelor groups.
Serious rattling begins with an increase of scapes and rubs.
- Just as the rut gets underway, hit the rattle loudly and throw in some snorts.
- Scrape and rake the ground
- Keep rattling aggressively near the rut.
- Make sure you are rubbing/grinding the antlers together. This creates friction, a burning smell , a great cover scent. A buck will smell this, feel safe and come in.
- Rattle sequence should be about a minute in duration and than wait three-four minutes, than continue. Do this for 15-20 minutes. Bucks will circle down wind.
Hanging a Licking Branch
Hang a mock licking branch every 50 yards along a funnel. Put up 2-5 of them spaced 50 yards apart and 5 1/2 feet off the ground.
Hang each branch on a wire over the trail between two trees. Expose the dirt below the licking branch.
Calling Deer Tips
A mistake that a lot of hunters make is they call from open areas. An example of this is where the buck sneaks in, hides in a thicket and sees where the sound is coming from and then he is gone. If the buck doesn't see a deer in that open area they are not coming.
- Call where terrain features can hide your location.
Don't call a deer that's already coming in to you. Let him come at his own pace and resist the temptation to blow the call. If he stops, turns, looses interest, starts to walk away, then call again!
- Calling too aggressively will spook deer away.
Doe in estrus call : Long bleat, pause, long bleat. " I'm ready to breed right now " is what she is saying.
Doe estrus bellow ( breeding bellow call ). " I'm ready, come to me right now ! " The buck will come in with a tending posture, walk with a waddle and his head out in front.
After The Shot
Many hunters are unable to recognize the signs that a deer has been hit. Many more are unable to, or don’t know how to follow a wounded deer. Worst yet still more give up to soon thinking they hit the deer but not with a killing shot, thinking the deer will recover. Far too much game is left in the field this way. It’s a shame, and in my eyes it’s a waste.
Once you made the shot, TRY to remain calm, be alert, listen and watch the animal. Did you hear a thump to indicate a hit? Where a deer has been hit will likely determine how it will react. Deer shot with a bow will sometimes jump or react to the hit but then immediately look around not knowing what happened and then go back to doing whatever they where doing. This happens because a Brodhead can cut cleanly enough that no pain is felt. This is not normally the case but it does happen. Gut shot deer will often jump with an arched body into the air when hit. And will sometimes run hunched up as they make their escape. Lung shot deer sometimes do this also so it’s not written in stone. If its front half drops toward the ground, you probably just missed hitting the heart, hitting him somewhere else in the front portion of the body. If it jumps and charges forward, though, you probably hit its heart.
One of the first things to look for, or at is the tail. A large percentage of the time if the tail goes up and he takes off like a bullet it’s probably a miss. A good indication in most cases of a good solid hit is the tail being down as the deer runs off. Mentally mark where the deer was standing when you hit him. Also in what direction he ran. Pick out a few good landmarks of booth spots. Now go to the spot where the deer was and look for the tracks he made when he ran off. Look for any signs of blood, hair, bone splinters. Now wait, don’t rush it, it will only make it harder later.
While you wait examine any signs you find. A deer’s hair can tell you a lot about where he was hit. Each part of the hide has its own distinct hair. If you find long coarse hair that’s hollow, dark with black tip’s, comes from along the spine. The area of the heart has long, dark guard hairs. The brisket area has curly, coarse hair that is stiff and dark to black. Long coarse wavy hair comes from around the tail. Coarse hollow hair brownish gray with light tips is from the area of the stomach.
Blood will tell you a lot about the hit. Blood from the lungs will be foamy or have tiny bubbles in it and will be pink. A flesh wound is light red about the same color as if you cut yourself shaving. Light colored blood that’s greenish will have bile mixed in and indicate a gut shot. Blood from the Liver, heart or arteries will be the darkest of all and look to be the color of a dark maroon.
By combing the way the deer reacted with the blood, hair and other signs most hunters can determine where they hit the deer, if they hit it and what chance they have in recovering it.
Here are some guidelines on the different recovery methods for each type of shot.
Lungs - Wait a half-hour to an hour before going after the game. There may be no blood at first, but after the lungs fill, the deer will begin to leave a good trail. Blood should appear around 20 or 30 yards but you may not find any within the first 100 yds. The blood trail will become stronger and more apparent the closer to the animal you get. The higher up the animal was hit, the farther it will travel before collapsing. (They have been known to travel over 500 yds.)
Heart - Wait a half-hour to an hour before going after the game. The blood trail may be non-existent initially, but it should appear after 20 or 30 yards and become easier to fallow the closer to the animal you get. Usually the deer collapses and be found dead with-in a 100 yds.
Liver - Wait an hour before attempting to trail. The animal will probably run a short distance, usually no more than a quarter mile, before lying down for good. There will be a blood trail, but it won't be that strong due to the high amount of internal bleeding.
Stomach or Gut - Wait anywhere from four to ten hours before trailing. If it feels pressure from being tailed, the buck will go farther away before lying down, so lay back for most of the day, or even overnight. The blood trail will be very scarce and mixed with stomach or intestinal matter.
Back – If you hit the spine the deer should drop in its tracks. If not, wait half an hour before following the animal. Unless a main artery was severed or a kidney was hit there will be very little blood. If you did hit a artery or kidney you should find the animal within 100 yds. If you didn’t and unless you made a solid hit to the loin, odds are you won't recover this deer. It will rest a few days and will most likely be good as new.
Hindquarters – Unless your bullet or arrow hit the femoral artery you will be tracking this deer a long time. I personally go after this type of wound immediately. Others tell you to wait up to 4 hours. The advantage of going immediately is that if you didn't hit the femoral artery keeping steady, moderate pressure on the buck will keep it walking instead of lying down or running. If it does and you jump it, it will run away and leave a fine mist for a blood trail you may not be able to or is almost impossible to follow. (If you hit the femoral artery you will in all likely hood find him with-in 100 yds.)
Neck - If you hit the deer here below the spine, odds are your arrow or bullet will have severed the windpipe or some major veins or arteries, most probably the jugular. If so, the blood trail will be exceptionally strong and the deer will usually drop in less than 50 to 100 yds. If your hit is above the spine, though, the wound is merely superficial, not fatal, but it will leave a misleading amount of blood behind.
Brisket – Unless the deer was facing you when shot, he will most likely live. If he was moving toward you, the path of the bullet or arrow should have passed through the lung or heart. The blood will tell you.
Keith is an avid outdoors enthusiast and dedicated to providing helpful information and resources for beginners and experienced outdoorsman and woman alike.
Reprint permission if author and copyright notice are intact.
Copyright© K. J. Blakesley
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Blood Trailing Kit
high beam flash light
toilet paper to mark blood trail
map of hunting area
deer drag rope
bottle of hydrogen peroxide