Deer Hunting: A Simple and Effective Strategy
By: Monte Perron
Confidence is one of the most important aspects of deer hunting. A lack of confidence will reduce effectiveness by creating doubt, which often causes hunters to fidget, change locations, or prematurely terminate their hunt, It is not possible to condense decades of trial and error into the next few paragraphs, but I can share the simple strategy that helped me become a confident deer hunter.
The beauty of this system is its simplicity. First we must consider the activities that deer participate in everyday. The most basic of these activities are bedding and feeding, and their predictability gives us a tremendous advantage in locating ambush sites. These two functions are certainly not the only things that deer do predictably, but they are the most important because deer participate in these activities everyday. Everyday is pretty predictable.
Establishing the importance of bedding and feeding does not diminish the position of other activities such as breeding. It is just a good place to start. Knowing where deer bed and feed arms us with valuable insight when the rut is on.
Keeping this in mind, the first step in our strategy is to identify the potential bedding areas. In order to understand bedding areas we need to think like a deer. If you were a deer what would your top priority be in selecting a place to rest and chew your cud? If your answer was security then we agree on the whitetail’s chief bedding concern.
This is the very reason that deer select dense vegetation to bed in. Areas like utility right-of-ways, cutovers in early stages of regrowth, pine thickets, and fallow fields are great bedding areas. This type of habitat is abundant in the south where I live, but deer are going to act like deer wherever they reside. Because of that, if I lived in Michigan, Wyoming, or New Jersey I would have the same approach – find the bedding cover.
Nowadays, I utilize Google Earth to streamline my scouting effort. With a little effort I can identify thick areas on an aerial map. Armed with this info I begin my on foot reconnaissance in the very thickets I found on my computer.
The next step is to find the food sources. Due to availability, foods may change over the course of the season. It is important to stay aware of these changes and adjust when necessary. For example, where I live we start bowhunting the week after Labor Day. It is pretty common for deer to feed in soybeans that first week, but once the acorns are on the ground that is where you will find the deer – feeding on acorns. As the season progresses, acorns become scarce and deer start eating in green fields and honeysuckle thickets.
Once you have located the bedding areas and preferred foods you need to identify the travel corridors connecting the two. These corridors are often referred to as funnels. Funnels are land features that cause deer to travel through a narrow area. They can travel any direction they want, but just like us humans they typically take the path of least resistance.
As an illustration lets consider a farmer that is moving his cattle from one pasture to an adjoining pasture. The cattle will be directed through a gate. The gate is obviously the path of least resistance and therefore the funnel.
Natural funnels can be a little more difficult to identify. Examples of natural funnels are creeks, rivers, standing woodlots between harvested timber, logging paths, survey paths, and natural land depressions. While in the woods, let your instincts help you find funnels. We often follow the path of least resistance naturally – almost instinctively. So next time you are walking in the woods look down and you will probably notice that deer are using the same path you are. Try it – you may be surprised.
Active funnels will be recognizable by trails and deer tracks. Knowing specific land features is not as important as understanding the concept of a “path of least resistance.” On private land, cutting paths in thick vegetation can create a funnel. This should only be done with landowner permission, and you should never cut down planted pines.
The next aspect of the strategy – wind direction- is the single most important factor in selecting a deer stand. You can have all three of the previous factors nailed down and an errant wind can spoil the hunt. Whenever someone tells me they are not seeing deer my first thought is about wind direction.
Years ago I spent a lot of time stalking deer. This method provided many sightings and valuable information. From my observations, I noticed that when deer saw me or heard me that would often confirm that sound or sighting with another sense. Many deer that only saw me would attempt to hear or smell me to confirm the danger. The exception was in their sense of smell. They never needed further confirmation when they smelled me. In fact, most deer bolted as if I had shot at them.
To take full advantage of this deer hunting strategy you must select stands so that the prevailing winds will be blowing from the deer to you, not vice versa. I utilize many weather forecasting services to determine the prevailing winds. Reliable forecasts are available on both the internet and television.
Whenever I reach my hunting area and encounter shifting winds I select my stand according to the forecasted winds. A compass is a necessity for plugging this info into our system. I highly recommend using one while scouting to help determine the optimum wind direction for each stand. I also use various wind monitors while in the woods. The simplest is a piece of white thread tied to my weapon.
No discussion about deer hunting would be complete without factoring in the rut. Breeding activity will go through several phases during the season with the peak varying depending on what part of the world you hunt in. However, peak breeding will coincide with the peak in the doe estrous wherever deer are found. That is precisely why most of my early season stands are located around well traveled feeding areas. I want to know where most of the does are hanging out. I am simply doing the same thing the bucks will be doing as the season progresses – looking for does.
While hunting early season food sources I almost always find rut sign like rubs and scrapes. Now I become a detective and adjust my strategy based on my findings. I still pay meticulous attention to the wind, but I pick my spots based upon my most current info.
It is important to note that I do not attempt to find the rut sign. Instead, it finds me because I am frequenting areas of high deer activity. I still never veer far from areas where deer bed and feed because they do that “everyday.”
The next time you scout some hunting land, do the following:
- Locate the potential bedding areas.
- Locate the preferred foods.
- Find the funnels that connect the two.
- Determine the appropriate wind direction for each stand
- Factor in the rut as sign is discovered.
Utilize this strategy to find as many stands as possible so you will not be inclined to overhunt any particular stand, and you will be able to change stands as often as the wind does. This the strategy for you to:
“GET AFTER EM”