For a lot of hunters, rifle season conjures up early memories of deer camps, first kills, or family traditions. And it probably still revolves largely revolves around these things. While it’s perfectly fine to reminisce on past experiences, faithful tree stands, or one-off deer drives, they can hinder you from consistently punching your tag (if that’s your goal).
Like any technology in the deer woods, rifle hunting can make up for a lot of our mistakes. It can also exacerbate them. Unlike bowhunting, there’s a lot we take for granted with a rifle in hand.
But a little more strategy can make an efficient weapon consistently deadly. Whether you strictly rifle hunt or you’re not too proud to swap your stick and string for the old boomstick when gun season rolls around, there are a lot of bowhunting strategies that can make you a more efficient rifle hunter.
The temptation with rifle hunting is always the same: find the best place to see a long way, so you can cover every route possible. While you might see more deer this way, it rarely gives us the high odds chances we dream about.
In reality, instead of covering a ton of trails adequately, we often set ourselves in places where we have to make long, quick shots. While these might not be a problem when you’re shooting from a bench, performing them in the thick, dark timber rarely goes as planned. Instead of placing ourselves in prime situations to make an easy layup, we’re basically taking half-court shots at the buzzer. The odds just aren’t as high.
Instead of trying to cover all the trails, approach your stand setup like you would bowhunting. Go for the high-odds setup, where you’re likely to see the deer you want to shoot. But instead of a 40-yard max distance, stretch it out to 60 or 75 yards. Obviously, this will look different if you’re hunting Plains states, but if you’re rifle hunting in the timber, you can probably count on one hand the number of shots you’ve taken over 100 yards.
While there’s not nearly the amount of variables you have to consider with bowhunting, rifle hunting still isn’t a guarantee, and there are plenty of dead saplings that would attest to this. Just because your rifle can shoot 300 yards, doesn’t mean you should.
Deer, especially mature bucks like to travel with the wind in their face, barring some exceptions. Rifle hunting allows you to take advantage of this in ways that aren’t as feasible with archery setups. Obviously, you can set up with cross, quartering, or almost wrong winds to arrow a buck, but you have a little more room for error with a rifle.
For instance, there’s one particular place I like to hunt during rifle season with a north wind that blows directly into the bedding area. I’m able to hunt this specific place, by accessing it through a creek that runs north to south on the western side of the bedding. The creek lies 80 yards from the main trails that lead out of the bedding into an oak flat. I can walk in undetected, climb the bank, and start hunting while the deer have the wind in their favor. I almost always see deer move well before shooting hours, especially bucks.
For all the advantages the best rifles afford us deer hunters, they’re only as effective as our setups. Instead of defaulting to “good enough” sits, approach your hunts with the same precision you would during bow season. That way, when deer camp rolls around, you don’t have to explain another miss to your buddies.