Hunting started as a necessity for humans to support themselves and their families by providing food. Over the years, it has evolved into a favorite pastime and tradition shared between generations. From a food source to a celebrated sport and lifestyle, there’s no shortage of people around the world who love hunting whitetail deer.
Whether you are prepping to hunt for the first time, or are looking for some ways to improve after a couple of tries, this guide will help you step up your game.
Sport vs. Sustenance
First things first, you want to decide why you are hunting in the first place. Is it for the thrill of it and tagging the biggest buck you can? Or is it because you love the taste of venison and want to put the freshest meat you can on your family’s table? Either way, choosing one of these — or a mix of the two — can help you get motivated to be patient and put in the necessary work required to be a hunter.
License to Kill
For a variety of reasons, you can’t walk directly into any forest with guns blazing. Before you even prepare your gear and stake out your spot, you need to make sure you get correctly licensed. Every state has different regulations when it comes to hunting, so you should search online and find out where you can get your hunting license locally. Most states require you to complete a safety training course and pass an exam before you can purchase your license.
Some states also allow you to test the waters alongside a certified hunter if you don’t know yet whether you want to become fully licensed. Look into your state’s temporary permit or apprentice programs if you are unsure about anything.
Where to Hunt
Before you get yourself ready to hunt, you need to know where you’re going to do it. You can’t hope to bag a whitetail if you haven’t set up where they live, right? There are generally two types of land where you will be able to hunt: public and private.
Often, hunting on public land has a reputation as being more difficult than hunting on private land. However, it is generally more affordable, and in many people’s cases, their only option. Public land is also much easier to find than private land. Typically, the federal, state or local government owns public land. Looking at local maps, government websites and talking to hunters from your area will be your best ways to find the ideal spot.
Once you find your perfect place, you’ll need to consider how popular an area it is, how you can access it and how far you’ll have to go to get there. If everyone and their father hunts there, you may want to consider going somewhere else. There are only so many deer in a given area, so you’ll want to steer clear of other hunters.
Accessing the area on foot is the only option in most cases when you hunt on public land. Because of this, you’ll want to keep in mind how far you’re going to walk and how much gear you can comfortably carry over that distance. Of course, you’ll also have to think about how you’re going to account for the weight of that big buck you’re going to take back with you! Most of the time, it will be wise to have a group of hunters in your party, or at the very least, bring a cart to wheel your prize back to your vehicle.
Some members of the hunting community frown upon hunting on private land, but there’s no reason to base your decision solely on another hunter’s views. If you have the means and think it would be a better experience for you, go for it!
Leasing private land hunting consists of paying a landowner for the right to hunt on their property. The cost will vary immensely based on the acreage and quality of the land itself. You can come to any agreement a landowner wants to negotiate with you, as long as you both feel you’re getting a fair deal. You have to make sure you abide by the ground rules set by the property owner when you come to your agreement. You can also hunt on your property if you have the right property.
Hunting on private land provides some benefits not found in public land, including decreasing the hunting pressure, or the number of hunters in a given area. Private land often offers better opportunities to get bigger bucks and more deer as a whole due to the lower hunting pressure. You also rarely will have to worry about leaving your gear in your perfect spot because the land has limited access.
When to Hunt
Once you know exactly where you’re going to hunt, you’ll next have to find out when to go. Not only will you need to figure out the best time of day, but you’ll also need to research when local laws allow you to hunt for deer where you live.
Unfortunately, you can’t hunt for whitetails all year long. Every state has a different set of dates each year designated for each type of hunting. There are seasons for hunting various kinds of game, and even specific periods for bowhunting and hunting with rifles. Typically, you can start as early as September and keep going through February. So before you go out to scout your deer, make sure you know when it’s deer season in your neck of the woods.
Time of Day
After finding out what time of year is fair game for deer hunting, you need to learn what the best time of day is to hunt in your area. Some detailed guidelines on this, based on the natural habits and living patterns for deer, prove to be invaluable on the hunt. Of course, this will fluctuate depending on where you live, but as a general rule, the best time of day for deer hunting is mid-morning through the early afternoon.
Once you find the perfect location to hunt, the next essential step is scouting the area and making a plan to find where the deer in the area will be when you hunt. The most successful deer hunters are experts at scouting their hunting areas. You’ll want to start before the season officially kicks off, if at all possible. If you are going to hunt in a well-trodden area, you’ll want to plan on scouting multiple spots.
Before traveling to your desired location, we recommend looking at satellite maps online so you will have a clear picture of the terrain before you arrive. Many features in nature happen to be feeding grounds for whitetail deer. Knowing what to look for when scouting will likely reward you with more deer sightings when you head to the site.
Once you’re familiar with your terrain, grab some binoculars and scout it out in person. Your primary goal is finding deer tracks — the bigger, and fresher, the better. You’ll also want to be on the lookout for deer droppings, signs of human traffic and spots on trees that bucks rubbed up on when shedding the velvet from their antlers. You can even set up trail cameras in promising areas.
Techniques for Deer Hunting
Once you’ve scouted the terrain where you’ll be hunting, you’ll then have to choose how you want to hunt your deer. There are two distinctive strategies for hunting deer: stand-hunting and still-hunting. Neither is superior, but they do differ in the techniques and skills you’ll need to bring to the table. Try to choose the method that best fits the skills you have and what you think you would enjoy more.
Stand-hunting is the most common technique used to hunt deer, in which you set yourself up in one spot and wait for the deer to enter your line of sight. You can do this either from up in a treestand or from a ground blind. There are a plethora of pros and cons for each. You want to do some research and figure out which one seems like a better fit for you as an individual.
Treestands allow for incredible ranges of views, but require extra safety precautions and a sturdy method of getting up in the tree. Not only should you pick a high-quality stand, but you also need to make sure you have a reliable safety harness and know how to use it properly. Once you have properly equipped and informed yourself, you can stay in your treestand for hours if you need to.
Ground blinds allow for a higher level of concealment and flexibility of movement compared to using a treestand. Setting up your blind requires some preparation and methodology to pick the perfect spot, but doesn’t have the safety concerns associated with treestands.
Whether you decide to set up a ground blind or a treestand, the hunting technique remains the same for the most part. You have to stay put in your spot and patiently wait for your chance to take the shot. Some hunters like to use attractants like salt licks or doe urine to entice the deer to come within your line of sight. Just check your local regulations to see what kinds of attractants are legal where you live and when you can use them.
Still-hunting — also called stalking or stalk-hunting — is a more mobile hunting method. It involves moving more quietly and slowly than you probably ever have before — only a few feet every few minutes. This technique requires a lot of patience and preparation to avoid the deer seeing or smelling you. Deer have an incredible sense of smell, so be sure to refrain from using scented soap or deodorant.
It’s also challenging to keep most of your body still while only moving your legs, so you remain undetected. Deer are highly alert to movement, so if you move your head and arms unnecessarily, you have a high chance of spooking them.
You need to outfit yourself with the proper gear if you want to have a successful and enjoyable hunting experience. Of course, you’ll need some camouflage, gloves, a sturdy pair of boots, a gun or bow and your stand or blind — unless you’re still-hunting — but there’s much more to consider than that.
When it comes to choosing a gun or a bow, there are many factors to consider. Many experienced hunters recommend target shooting with each at least once before committing to which weapon you will use. You may find you prefer one over the other, or you enjoy using both. Whichever you end up selecting, make sure you practice as much as you possibly can before you try to hunt with it.
Apart from the obvious items, many things you wouldn’t even think of before your first time hunting will be instrumental in your success. These include binoculars, scent attractants, scent reduction, a GPS, radio and even toilet paper. It’s a smart strategy to print out a checklist of all the essential gear you need before you go. Make sure you don’t forget your high-visibility orange safety gear!
Shooting Your Shot
Now you’ve done all your research, planned out your strategy at the perfect spot, acquired the right gear and practiced your marksmanship — it’s finally time to get your first deer! When you see your first deer when you’re out there, you’ll likely feel an adrenaline rush and want to shoot right away. Don’t. You will probably only get one shot, so you have to choose it well.
When you see your deer, you have to make sure you have a clear shot at the animal’s chest area. That’s where you should always aim because it contains the deer’s vital organs. If you don’t have a clean shot from your current angle, you should wait for a better opportunity when the deer changes position and stands still again. Once you know you’re ready, stay still and slowly pull your trigger or release your bow. Here is where all your target practice will pay off.
After the Kill
After you hit the deer, it will either fall on the spot or move away. If the deer doesn’t go down immediately, it will likely lie down fewer than 200 yards from you hit it. If this is the case and you are sure you hit vitals, give the deer some time before going to check. Now that you’ve found your kill, you must tag it according to your local requirements.
After tagging, the final step is to field-dress your deer and take it back to your vehicle. Field-dressing your deer will make it easier to drag out of the woods so you don’t strain yourself after being out all morning. Once you return with your prize, you’ll want to get your deer to the nearest processor as soon as possible to ensure the freshness of your meat.
Congratulations, you’re now ready to embark on your first successful hunting trip. Even if you don’t get a deer on your first hunt, you’ll learn a lot and gain valuable experience for your future success. Good luck out there, and above all else, have fun!
[Note: This was a guest post.]