By Quentin Branch - Owner of Seine River Lodge
12 Fundamental Whitetail Deer Hunting Tips
They may seem obvious, but a lot of hunters forget the basics. Year after year, the guys (and gals) who keep the fundamentals top of mind have the best luck. Focusing on these basic rules will greatly enhance your chance of a successful hunt.
1. Scout All Year Long
Frequently scout your hunting areas through the winter in the post season will show activity of deer that survived the hunt. Keep checking the area frequently all year long. In cold climates (eg Northern Ontario / Saskatchewan etc), a really cold winter can result in many whitetails not surviving. Scouting through spring will give you further evidence of active deer that survived the winter. Summer / fall scouting helps you keep tabs on activity. If hunting with an outfitter, ask him about his scouting endeavors.
2. Hang Your Stand Well Before The Hunt
At least a month + to ensure the deer don't pick up recent changes in activity in their environment. Make sure you take care of any cutting, for camo or sightline clearing then as well. If you go out packing your stand the day of the hunt it's pretty easy to spook a deer out of the area - especially an older (i.e. big) buck.
3. Hang Your Stand High
At least 14' up if not 18' - 20'+, to keep out of a big bucks natural sightline.
4. Hang Your Stand In A Tree With Some Natural Cover
A nice, straight, bare poplar may give you an easy climb, but you'll stick out like a sore thumb. Use camouflage gear, and, unless you have to by law, don't wear hunter orange on your arms & legs - i.e. your body parts that move.
5. Look For Telltale Signs
Rubs, scrapes, tracks. A rub 4" > in diameter means a big buck. Big bucks put big rubs high on big trees. Tracks don't lie - they give you an idea of the directional movement, recent activity and the size of a deer (big tracks = big deer). An area that looks like a "stomping ground" likely is - usually a higher elevation with loads of tracks, scrapes and dung with some natural ground cover for bedding and good sight lines and a densely covered "escape route" will indicate a bucks HQ & bedding area. Scrapes on or near doe trails are often revisited by bucks. Don't place a stand right on the scrapes, but downwind, as far from the scrape as you can get while still being in good shooting range.. No signs = no deer.
6. Think Like A Buck...
Look for areas that feature the key things a buck needs and wants - dows, water, food, ground cover for bedding, . Find all these features and you'll find bucks. My favorite areas are swampy, marshy areas with a nearby densely, wooded area (especially cedars!) which allow the bucks the escape route they're always looking for. Scout thoroughly in these areas looking for the deer runs and activity (rubs, scrapes, droppings etc).
7. Don't Hunt An Area On Back To Back Days
It's good to let things settle and work a "circle route" over the course of your hunt. This is especially true when you're doing deer drives, which can really stir up & unsettle an area.
8. Think About The Wind, And Your Scent
Read the directions of the movement of the deer by their tracks. Stay downwind from the approaching deer. They've got an amazing sense of smell and are very easily spooked - the bigger the buck, the more cautious he'll be. Make sure you neutralize your scent. There's lots of products to help you with that, plus little tricks like baking soda in your hat. Take your time, do research and get it right.
9. Rain, Rain Go Away....
Or maybe not. Light drizzle usually doesn't hurt your hunt - often it helps by muffling sounds. Heavy rain usually results in big time inactivity in deer. Watch the forecasts - the deer know when a storm is coming and tend to feed like crazy before & after the storm. Focus your hunting near food sources before & after a heavy rain. During the rain is a good time to do some extra scouting as your scent should be washed away fairly quickly. What you may want to do during a rain storm is some "still hunting" near the bedding areas of bucks (which you've found during your year 'round scouting). Bucks will usually bed down during a storm, so you'll find them waiting for you in those great buck HQ areas you've found.
10. Be Prepared....
Never go into the woods without a map and compass - especially if you're stalking or still hunting. Even the most experienced woodsmen can easily get disoriented when focusing on tracking / stalking a wild animal. Make sure you have food, water, matches and / or a lighter, toilet paper (for obvious reasons, plus there's nothing worse than a runny nose in the stand). How long will you be out for? Make sure you're prepared in all aspects for that length of time and then some. A checklist may seem like overkill, but it's really not a bad idea.
11. Get out early
Before daylight, and plan to stay out until after dark.
12. Make a plan.
Start out during your scouting - make maps and sketches of your hunting territories. Note observations and thoughts. Closer to the date of your hunt keep tabs on forecasted wind directions and inclement weather. Internet weather sites are a great tool for hunters. Plan your (rotating) hunting territory using the weather info and what you've learned in your scouting.
And have fun!