There are a thousand ways to skin a cat and a thousand more to muff up a whitetail hunt. The key is learning from your mistakes and adapting accordingly. These mistakes, and how you react to them, will shape you as a hunter—for better or worse. Here are some of the most common errors whitetailers make every fall.
Not Being Aggressive Enough
There’s a trend in whitetail hunting to sit field edges and observation stands, putting very little human stress on deer. While this strategy has it’s time and place, most of us with limited time to hunt can’t constantly do these low risk, low reward sits.
“Too many hunters hear the Lakoskys and Drurys on TV talk about not hunting their best spots until late October or early November,” MeatEater’s Spencer Neuharth said. “When you manage thousands of acres with destination food sources, box blinds, cell cams, mowed paths, and everything else, it’s easy to sit back and wait for the rut. The average hunter that shares permission or uses public land can’t do the same, though.”
Meanwhile, stomping through the woods with reckless abandon on opening day will also hinder your success. Find that fine line between observing deer movement and moving in for the kill. Many times, this means hunting the timber and getting close to bedding. Don’t let the field edge kills that are popular on TV keep you from ever penetrating the woods.
Finding Reasons Not to Hunt
It’s human nature to find an easy out and make excuses—whitetail hunters are no exception. If conditions aren’t just right, many hunters choose to stay home. Sure, things like moon phase, barometric pressure, wind speed, air temperature, and precipitation all probably play some role in deer movement, but not enough to keep you out of the woods.
“It’s cliché, but it’s true: You can’t kill them from the couch,” Neuharth said. “I killed my biggest whitetail on a day that conventional deer hunting wisdom said would be bad for movement. If I went by the handbook that claims bucks don’t move when it’s warm and windy, I would have never been on stand that evening.”
So, take those factors into consideration, but don’t ever let a warm spell or moon position keep you home. Deer season only comes once a year—hunt like it.
Every deer hunter knows the importance of playing the wind. However, many deer hunters completely disregard the wind when walking in, and the effect doing so can have on your hunt. Whenever possible, it’s good practice to enter your stands using areas where deer are less likely to be. The idea is to access from a direction in which your wind will be blowing into this unproductive area.
Finding an entry route that conceals you visually is also important, even if it means taking the long way. Instead of walking across a cut bean field, use a creek. Rather than stomping through a meadow, use the timber. Instead of walking a trail on top of a ridge, get below it to avoid being skylined. Don’t let your entrance ruin a hunt before it even gets started.
Too many hunters get emotionally attached to and hunt the same trees year in and year out. Branching off and trying something different or learning a completely new area will help you grow as a hunter. When starting fresh, you’ll have no preconceived notions holding you back. No sightings from five years ago that keep you looking at the same spot. No report from your uncle about deer never using a certain field. No nighttime trail camera images that give you a morsel of hope.
Kevin Vistisen of the Deer Hunter Podcast is no stranger to mobile hunting and maximizing opportunity. He compares whitetail hunting to fishing in his home state of Michigan. “If you aren’t catching fish, simply go to where the fish are,” Vistisen said. “With a busy life and limited hunting opportunities, I have no time to waste. Sitting in a treestand with little to no deer activity is a pretty ineffective use of time.”
Just like with fishing, you don’t want to be hunting memories. If it’s not happening in your regular spots, don’t get complacent. Strike out and hunt new dirt. It might give you fresh perspective on things you’ve overlooked (even in your regular spots), like how deer use the landscape, their preferred browse, and favorite bedding.
Ignoring Midday Action
This tip is mostly catered toward the rut: Don’t think buck movement ceases between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Vistisen is a proponent of all-day hunts and believes the deer recognize the lack of human traffic in the woods at lunchtime. It’s also a good time for bucks to seek out a willing female.
“During this midday period does are generally bedded up so the bucks go on a reconnaissance mission checking for receptive does,” Vistisen said.
But to be successful at midday, you need to be in the right location. Hunting a field edge at noon won’t get you many buck sightings, for example. Vistisen focuses his midday efforts near bedding areas or thick cover where deer are comfortable moving during daylight. Pinch points and funnels in timber are textbook places to find a buck cruising at midday in November.
Often we don’t even know we’re making a mistake until well after the fact. That just means you need to be willing to reflect on your hunts to find blind spots or missed opportunities. If you’re willing to keep an open mind and critical eye, you’ll find there is always room for improvement in deer hunting.
Feature image via Captured Creative.