A beginner’s guide to deer hunting
By: Chris Viel
As summer comes to a close and fall colours begin to emerge, millions of hunters head to the field targeting one of the world’s most popular big game species, the White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). The whitetail has an extensive range and can be found across most of southern Canada and the United States (excluding the Southwest, Alaska, and Hawaii). Even with the large number of animals available to hunters, targeting these creatures can be extremely challenging, and at some points, maddening. One of the main reasons this species has been able to thrive is due to their incredible sense of sight, smell, and hearing. In order to harvest one of these fantastic animals, the hunter must consider all of these elements. This article will focus on basic techniques to hopefully get you closer to the animals and potentially harvest on of the best tasting wild game species this area has to offer.
It starts with preseason scouting. There are many ways to approach hunting whitetails, but the first tip I suggest to all hunters is to hunt where the deer are. This seems simple, but I have seen many hunters cover many miles, and concentrate on single areas in hopes that the deer will show up. The best way to begin this puzzle is to tie up your hiking boots and head to the field once the snow has melted and look for antler sheds. Each buck will loose their antlers in the winter, and this is a fantastic way to find where the deer are living, and what age class of deer is around. Once a spot has been found with good deer sign, set up a trail camera on the travel corridors and leave it there for a couple weeks to determine if your spot is producing (if you are hunting public land, I suggest you get a lock box for your camera to avoid theft). This is also a great time to be practicing with your bow or gun to ensure you are confident and accurate during the season to come!
Location setup. Once a location has been determined it’s a beneficial practice figure out how you are going to be hunting. Gun or bow, stationary or stalking, and tree stand or ground blind are all questions that must be considered. If a stationary hunting technique is chosen, I like to set up my tree stand or blind well in advance to allow the deer to get used to the object being there. As a bow hunter, I need to be within shooting distance of my target, so this means monitoring deer movement to ensure the new object has not spooked them, and that they have not switched travel corridors for the fall season. Ideally, with both gun and bow, you would like to be as far back as possible (this does not mean your maximum shooting distance) to minimize the amount of your scent being spread. Another successful method is to setup a food plot at your location. This puts the odds in your favour and will be a constant drawing factor for deer, especially when the snow covers many of their food sources. (Note: follow all regional laws for your area as many have certain rules for baiting.)
Hunting techniques are crucial. Once hunting season rolls around and you are ready to start spending time in the field, there are many variables that can affect your day. In my opinion, the most important variable when hunting deer is scent control and wind. I keep my gear in an airtight container and do not change into it until I get to the hunting location. Even with all of the scent proofing products on the market, the number one variable out of your control is the wind. I keep a constant eye on this and it often dictates whether or not I will even hunt certain days. Deer are habitual animals, and if they are regularly spooked or feel threatened they will change the routes and patterns you have worked so hard to figure out. Generally, I try to concentrate most of my hunting time during the end of October and the whole month of November. This is when deer activity peaks due to the breeding season and will be when you are most likely to see the animals you have been targeting. Calls such as doe bleats, buck grunts, and rattling tools can all play their part during the deer season.
Now that you are set up and hunting, there are thousands of resources out there that can help you become a better deer hunter. However, in my opinion, the best education you can get is by spending time in the field and observing these animals. It will teach you more than any book or video, and will give you a deep respect for the quarry you wish to pursue!