If your 2022 deer season went exactly as planned, read no further. However, if you find yourself here with an open mind, willing to glean a little knowledge from every outlet possible, this one’s for you.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, reflecting on your previous deer hunting seasons and evaluating your shortcomings is a darn good place to start. Last season, did certain wind directions give you fits? Did a lack of scouting prevent you from hunting new areas? Did you have gear failures? Do you need to abandon old stomping grounds? With your previous experiences in mind, here are a few new ideas to kick around.
Deer hunting aside, deviating from what we know and find comfortable can be hard. It goes against our internal survival instincts and can be a difficult decision to make. However, if last deer season didn’t go as you’d hoped, straying away from your customary hunting grounds might be the right call. As the saying goes, “if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”
By hunting completely new spots in 2023, one thing is certain, you’ll grow as a hunter. Hunting new areas will force you to learn new deer behavior patterns. It’ll also force you to learn new terrain, access points, wind patterns, bedding areas, and tactics to suit. The hard truth is that you might struggle to learn a new property and a new deer herd, but I can promise you that you'll grow from it and appreciate the knowledge gained. You'll never stumble upon a new honey hole if you never leave your home turf.
On the surface, this strategy may seem to be cliché and old news. However, I don’t advocate for this strategy simply to learn, pattern, and harvest the oldest buck in the woods. Instead, by targeting an individual buck you’ll learn things about deer behavior that you simply won’t notice otherwise. Holding out for a single buck has likely burned you in the past; it has certainly burned me.
Spend your season targeting and patterning an individual deer, simply because this allows you to get in that deer’s world, formulating what he does and why he does it. The process will reveal patterns, bedding areas, funnels, you name it, that you’ve never noticed before, even if you’ve been hunting this spot for years.
In the process, it is very likely that another buck will be occupying the same core areas, and he’ll likely cross your path before your target buck. If this non-target buck is something you’d like to wrap your tag around, go wild. Had you not been targeting a specific deer, you’d likely have spent the season hunting the same old spots over and over, without a targeted strategy, hoping luck will bring a mature buck your way.
Every once in a while, we’re faced with a deer season that seems like whatever could go wrong, does go wrong. Even the most historically productive hunting spots can become all but. If there was ever a good time to start scouting during season, rather than relying solely on preseason scouting, it’s years like this.
Say you took a week off from work to bowhunt the rut and deer movement is next to null, even after three all-day hunts. Time is precious. The rut isn’t happening near your pre-hung stands. However, I can promise you that the rut is happening somewhere. Go find it. Knowing where to look is a continually evolving art form, and you’ll never know until you try.
Piggybacking off the theme above, time is an invaluable commodity. We all lead busy lives, likely at the expense of our time in the field. By thinking critically about past deer seasons, we can likely identify areas in which time was wasted. A few minutes here and a few minutes there quickly adds up, especially in the shortening daylight of November.
Before you know it, you’re an hour late for your morning hunt, after checking the weather and pondering a belated game plan for the day’s hunt. Long story short, remedying a few inefficiencies at a time can go a long way.
A few examples that I’ve implemented are grocery shopping and prepping meals ahead of my marathon-like rutcation. Inventorying all of my treestand locations and categorizing them by optimal wind direction so I can quickly decide where to hunt when mother nature throws a fluke east wind my way. Organizing your gear from top to bottom is another example. If you’re a traveling hunter, streamlining your camping gear can save you some sleep and allow you to hunt harder.
Spend any amount of time hunting pressured ground, and you’ll quickly realize that educated deer seem to avoid picturesque, outdoor tv worthy, whitetail setups and instead make a living within marginal habitats. If your usual spots and strategies aren’t producing, put them on the shelf and try something unconventional.
Perhaps try hunting the perimeter of that cattail slough that looks far more productive for greenhead mallards than whitetails. Maybe focus your attention on hunting the midday hours rather than exclusively on morning and evening hunts. The possibilities are endless, but the theme remains constant; sometimes you need to zig when the zag isn’t working.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.