Plenty of gimmicky products have hit the whitetail market over the years. (Rubline Slime and Acorn Cruncher, I’m looking at you.) But on the flip side, there are a few pieces of equipment that can actually totally change your success as a deer hunter. A good old-fashioned boat, while not typically viewed as deer gear, might just be the perfect example of this.
TV show experts and everyday deer hunters alike are increasingly finding that getting on the water is one of the best ways to get into whitetails. Here’s how a boat can help you find a buck this fall.
Why Should Deer Hunters Own a Boat?
Boats are the deer hunter’s secret weapon for two reasons: Deer don’t like humans and humans don’t like the inconvenience of crossing water. If you’re hunting public lands or heavily-pressured private ground, hunting water-locked locations is one of the simplest tricks to get away from people.
“Water helps us get away from hunting pressure,” said Aaron Warbritton of The Hunting Public. “Get away from other hunters and you’ll find bucks that aren’t getting hunted as often. Bucks that aren’t getting hunted as often make more mistakes that lead to more shot opportunities.”
John Eberhart, renowned Michigan bowhunter and writer, preaches something similar. He believes that if you can walk upright to a public land hunting location, that the spot is not worth your time. “The main tenant of public land hunting is to figure out how the deer react to this pressure,” Eberhart wrote in his book, “Bowhunting Whitetails the Eberhart Way.”
If you need to cross or float down a deep creek, river, or lake to access a piece of ground, you can bet a lot of folks won’t do it—the tougher to cross the better. Get yourself a watercraft and these honey holes are yours for the taking.
What’s the Right Boat for Deer Hunting?
Warbritton and the team at The Hunting Public use both canoes and kayaks to hunt deer, mostly because they’re quiet and light weight. The portability of a deer hunting boat is crucial for situations where you might need to portage across sandbars, dry creek beds, or long paths to put-in points. But you also have to keep in mind that this boat needs to get all your gear to and from your stand (and hopefully a dead deer, too).
“It’s easier to haul deer out in a canoe, but it’s still doable with the kayaks,” Warbritton said. “Some folks use innertubes and tie the deer to those then pull them behind.”
While light and portable are great attributes in many situations, when you’re dealing with bigger water, you might want to consider a more substantial rig. Rob Parkins of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers encounters such powerful rivers where he hunts whitetails in the Rocky Mountains, places that canoes and kayaks are not as desirable.
“While canoes are popular in Midwestern states, I see a lot of drift boats or pontoon boats used to navigate Western rivers,” Parkins said. “I have used pontoon boats on successful hunts, allowing me to cross the river to an island that otherwise wouldn’t see another hunter.”
These inflatable, one-man pontoon boats, or even more portable inflatable pack rafts, inhabit a sweet spot between mobility and stability that could be ideal for many deer hunting scenarios. In the end, the key traits any good deer boat must have are stealth, ease of launching, stability while loaded, and substantial storage space.
Once you have the right boat, the next consideration is how to use that boat the right way.
A boat, when used to its full potential, doesn’t just get you across water, but it also gets you to the right hunting location as stealthily as possible. When water access is an option, it’s prudent to consider stand locations that are close to the waterway.
“Often we’ll park on the riverbank and hunt within 50 yards of the boat,” Warbitton explained. “This reduces our intrusion, which allows us to hunt the area more often and also catches deer by surprise. They don’t often see predators approach from water, so they naturally feel safer near it in many situations.”
These near-to-water stand locations minimize the potential for spooking deer that might see, hear, or smell you on an otherwise lengthy traverse to a tree stand. Boat-accessible stands can also be useful for dealing with a deer’s nose. You can often set up with your wind blowing safely over the nearby water, making you nearly impossible to detect.
Take special care when pulling up on the shore to keep the boat from banging against rocks or wood, as well as when you’re stepping out and removing gear. Nothing can ruin a stealthy entry faster than a bow knocking against the side of a canoe. Finally, before heading in to your stand, be sure to stash your boat out of sight to avoid being spotted by another hunter or a curious deer.
Crossing water is a simple tactic for better deer hunting—no gimmicks, secrets, or tricks. Just get away from other people and get there without deer knowing. A boat makes it all possible.
Feature image via Captured Creative.