Does this sound familiar? It’s November 10th—the rut is in full swing—excitement and anticipation are through the roof. You’ve hunted hard all season and have had far more misfortune than mature buck encounters. Every spot you’ve tried has more lock-on treestands than deer, and you’re positive that hunting pressure is to blame.
We’ve all been there, wondering why we enjoy hunting in the first place. While it’s easy to let this frustration get the best of us, better hunting is out there, you just need to find it.
The endless variables and unknowns are what make hunting difficult. It’s when things finally go right, the ups and the downs, that make this thing fun. The next time you find yourself bumping into more hunters than deer, force yourself to keep a constructive mindset and turn this negative into a positive. With a little extra effort, know that you can let hunting pressure be your demise or actually let it work in your favor.
Picture a large chunk of public land, say 1,000 acres, with gentle-rolling terrain, a few steep drainages, a large wetland slough, open grasslands, and a heavily vegetated creek bottom. When you did your offseason scouting, you identified a few key areas that have everything a deer could want, thick security cover, access to water, and ample food sources. Your ideal hunting locale features a few intersecting trails funneled by terrain and ample deer sign. What you’ve successfully found is the ideal deer habitat within that piece of public.
However, after a few days of deer season, the deck has been shuffled. When an otherwise quiet piece of woods becomes flooded with human activity, the deer quickly take note and start to shy away from the ideal location you’ve worked so hard to identify. By the time the rut rolls around, and the deer have been hunted for weeks, they are seeking sanctuary areas and decreasing their chances of being arrowed by a smelly human.
While this isn’t rocket science, many hunters I know get frustrated and all but throw in the towel or continue hunting a dead spot. In reality, those 1,000 acres have shrunk. By eliminating the spots with the highest hunting pressure and easiest access, those 1,000 acres have been reduced to a much smaller prospective area, making it hunt more like 200 acres.
Try eliminating areas that buffer access roads and trails, areas within an easy walk from the parking lot, field edges, picturesque setups, and pinch points easily identified by satellite imagery. Anytime that you can eliminate where the deer aren’t, puts you that much closer to identifying where the deer are.
Knowing the area where hunters are more likely to be concentrated allows you to come up with a proactive strategy rather than being reactive. Many times, this means focusing your efforts on the superficially less desirable areas. Think opening day of rifle deer season. The deer have been hunted by archery hunters for several weeks. They know exactly where they want to be when the lead starts to fly.
You can either go for broke and hunt the picture-perfect, wide-open vista on opening morning, hoping that you get the first crack at unsuspecting deer, or you can position yourself in a sanctuary adjacent to all the action.
Sometimes the all-or-nothing opening day plan works out. But more often than not, you have to reevaluate and adapt to the situation. You know the deer are going to be pressured, one way or another. If you know where the local deer like to take refuge and plant your stakes there, you’re realistically more likely to cross paths there. It might take you a few seasons and several boots-on-the-ground scouting trips to hone in on where that exact sanctuary area is, but when you find it, you will most likely be able to rely on that area for years to come. A sanctuary this year is likely still going to be a sanctuary next year.
Our friend Tony Peterson often advocates for hunting mid-October, simply because the woods have gone quiet between the early-season crowd and the crowd waiting for the rut. He’s totally right, and the same logic applies to intentionally targeting late-season.
I’ve had some of my very best rifle deer hunts at the tail-end of the season when nearly every deer has been displaced and concentrated in these isolated sanctuaries. Concentrated, predictable deer are much easier to target than deer spread out across the countryside. Cold weather and food dependency don’t hurt either. The next time you scout a new area, keep sanctuaries in mind rather than simply targeting the best-looking deer spots.
Sometimes, a positive mindset and proactive approach to hunting pressure are all you need to find success. When the odds seem stacked against you, it can be as simple as finding the hunters to find the deer.
Feature image via Captured Creative.