Who Really Hunts The Hardest-To-Kill Whitetails?

Who Really Hunts The Hardest-To-Kill Whitetails?

In the whitetail-sphere, it’s common for hunters to proclaim that their deer are harder to kill than the deer found in other places. It’s kind of like bitching about local weather. We all like to present a life of struggle and, of course, perseverance.

With whitetails, no one region or state can claim its deer are the toughest to kill. The truth is deer that don’t suffer hunter mistakes live all over, and they share a few things in common. The first is that there usually aren’t very many of them.

Low-Density Deer

If you walked up to the edge of a four-acre farm pond with the goal of catching a decent largemouth, your task would be a hell of a lot easier if it was chock full of bass. If there were only three in the whole pond, that’s a different story.

This holds true for whitetails as well. The more deer you have to hunt, the easier it is to kill one. It’s not exactly rocket science. This is the saving grace for many of the states that have low predator numbers and no winter kill. While killing a specific class of mature buck might be a different story, having lots of deer to hunt each year makes things easier.

This is true not only from the perspective of pure odds that something will walk by, but mentally as well. Hunting low-density deer in the north country, or wherever the numbers are weak, is a different deal. It’s frustrating in a lack-of-encounters sort of way, but also a keep-your-head-in-the-game sort of way. Maintaining focus and waking up for another early alarm when the odds of just seeing a deer are low is a great way to learn about how tough deer hunting can be.

The few deer out there are also likely to exhibit signs of low tolerance to hunting pressure. Spook one, and it’s not like another will quickly be down the trail. Or that the spooked deer will be back tomorrow. Low-density deer are different, and they are a real challenge. This only gets more true when you add in a heightened level of hunting pressure.

More Hunters, More Problems

People used to generally believe that public land whitetails were harder to hunt than private land deer, but that’s only true with respect to the level of pressure. I’ve hunted public land western whitetails and deer in Iowa, which were far easier to hunt than deer on private land in other states.

Pressure is just pressure, and the more of it you deal with, the harder the local deer will be to kill. If you hunt a permission-based farm where everyone who asks gets in, you might actually be hunting harder-to-kill deer than those that live on a good-sized chunk of public an hour from your house.

It’s all relative and often viewed as a state-specific issue. For example, someone from Michigan might tell you that his state is much harder to hunt than, say, Kentucky. Yet, hailing from the Mitten State doesn’t mean anything. He could be in southern Michigan on prime ground that no one else can hunt, which would make things a hell of a lot easier. Or, he could drive five hours to the U.P. and experience a vastly different type of hunt that could mean he’s right about how tough they are.

The hunter density at a micro level from parcel to parcel is what creates tough-to-kill deer. It doesn’t matter what state you’re from, but can be influenced by the aforementioned deer density issue. High hunting pressure plus low deer numbers tend to equal one hell of a challenge for anyone looking to notch a tag.

Difficulty Levels Change

On a personal level, you might not find shooting year-and-a-half-olds much of a challenge. But, that probably wasn’t always the case. As we get more experience and more seasons under our belts, success is easier to come by. That’s a change in the right direction, but it doesn’t always go that way.

A simple regulation change, or some weather event that knocks down half the trees in a county, or countless other variables can affect how difficult whitetails are to hunt. When I first started traveling to Nebraska in about 2010, I felt like the public land whitetails there were dumber than any deer I’d ever met. They were also plentiful, too.

Killing a decent buck wasn’t a real heavy lift, but as the word got out and more hunters started heading there, things sure seemed to change. It got tougher, as you would expect. The lesson there isn’t to state something blatantly obvious but to frame it up this way—just because your hunting used to be hard doesn’t mean it still is. The opposite can also be true.

Things change, and the challenges we face as deer hunters often morph in unexpected ways. That’s the nature of nature, and it’s part of the fun if you learn to accept it. If you don’t, you might spend your whole deer hunting career believing you’re hunting the MENSA members of the herd, when in reality, they are anything but.

Feature image via Matt Hansen.

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