The Year-Round Deer Hunter
Most of us, at one time or another, have flipped through the pages of our favorite hunting magazines or browsed the pages of our favorite hunting websites and commented to ourselves on how "lucky" some of the featured hunters were to have harvested such tremendous animals. And for some of those hunters, lady luck was indeed on their side. For others, though, specifically those who manage to take such trophies on a regular basis, "luck" has little to do with it. For these hunters, fortune comes in the form of months of preparation and time in the field. The end of the season for these guys is merely the beginning of the next. If your goal is to harvest a trophy buck this year, then don't wait until September to start scouting. Follow this simple four-season schedule and become a year-round student of the deer!
By the first of the year, deer season is winding down across the country, and many hunters pack up their gear and kick back in front of the television to watch reruns on the Outdoor Channel. For the serious hunter, however, this is no time to rest!
If you're fortunate enough to live in one of the states whose season extends into January, then by all means, get out there and hunt! While the bucks might not be out in search of does, they WILL be out searching for something just as important to them - food. Weeks of looking for and chasing receptive does have taken their toll on big bucks, and once the breeding ends, they go into survival mode. Much like hunting the early season, this is a great time to focus key food sources. That could be anything from a cut cornfield or bean field, to a field that has been planted to winter wheat or rye.
Cut crop fields like the one seen here can concentrate deer in late
winter and are great places to start your post-season scouting efforts.
If you are not one of the fortunate ones, and the season is over for you, then there is no better time to get out and do some post-season scouting. You can finally follow all of those trails and check out those bedding areas without having to worry about running deer out of the country. Be sure to carry along a map, aerial photo, or at least a pen and notepad to make notes on what you find.
While you're scouting, you will want to keep an eye out for antler sheds. These can be a great indication of just what potential the area will hold next season, as well as where to focus your efforts to find a particular buck. Not to mention, they make great decorations for the den!
As the winter snows thaw and the dogwoods begin to bloom, many deer hunters turn their attention to other endeavors. Things like turkey hunting, fishing, or working on that growing honey-do list can all push deer season to the back of a hunter's mind. For those of you serious about your deer hunting, however, there are still plenty of things that can be done to help increase your odds of scoring on a big buck come fall.
First, spring is a great time to continue to look for shed antlers. Some bucks can hold their antlers well into March, so just because you didn't find that monster set in January, doesn't mean that they are not out there now.
Sheds can be a great indication of the quality of bucks that survived the
season, and provide a good starting point to focus your efforts next season.
Spring is also the time to start preparing your food plots. I won't go into great detail on the subject, since it could fill an article all on its own. I will say, however, that if you are serious about attracting deer to your property, then take the time to do it right. Plan your food plots well in advance, and be sure to take soil samples to your county extension office for testing. You can then use that information to incorporate the right amount of seed, lime, and fertilizer, in order to maximize the effectiveness of the plots. Too many well-intentioned hunters simply go out and break ground, scatter some high-priced commercial seed, and then hope for the best In many cases, it may also be necessary to maintain these food plots with herbicide or by mechanical means, such as mowing.
A hunter can never have too many good hunting spots, so spring is also a great time to get out and beat the bushes for permission to hunt new properties. While it may be getting harder and harder each year to find folks who are willing to let you hunt for free, opportunities do exist for those willing to knock on enough doors and accept a little rejection along the way. Don't forget to hit up friends and coworkers, as well. While they might not own property themselves, they may very well have a friend or relative that does.
Probably the hardest time of the year to stay focused on deer hunting is during the summer months. Things like vacation, bar-b-ques, kids' ball games and yard work can quickly fill up your free time. Despite the warm temperatures and busy schedules, this is a key time to be preparing for the upcoming deer season.
Since the bucks will be traveling in bachelor groups, and will routinely enter food sources well before dark, summer is a great time to run the roads, glassing for deer in agricultural fields. It's an easy form of scouting that can be done from the comfort of your air-conditioned (hopefully) vehicle for just an hour or two in the late evening. Be sure to keep enough distance to avoid alarming the deer, and take notes regarding what kind of deer you see and where they enter the fields.
Summer is a great time to glass agricultural fields to locate bachelor groups of bucks.
Once you determine a pattern that the deer are using, you can put technology to work for you in the form of a trail camera. These are excellent tools for scouting an area without having to physically be present, and can give you a better idea of what kind of deer are using the area, and when.
As you begin to put together all the information that you have gathered over the course of the year, you should have an idea of where you want to hang some stands. Summer is a great time to slip into these areas, put up a stand and clear some shooting lanes. Even though season is still a month or more away at this point, you will still want to minimize your disturbance of the area. Timing can play a big role in this. If I am hanging a stand near a feeding area, I will try to get out there late morning to midday to avoid bumping deer out of a field. If the stand is to be located close to a bedding area, then a nighttime visit may be in order.
Scent control is important, as well. Wearing rubber gloves while handling your stands or hanging stands right before an expected rain will both keep the amount of scent you leave in the area to a minimum. I realize that this may all sound a little extreme, but it only takes a small amount of pressure to push a wise buck out of an area, or send him into a nocturnal pattern.
Trail cameras can be a great tool for patterning the deer in your area
and determining just what kind of deer are using the area.
As fall arrives, deer hunters can't help but to start focusing their attention on the upcoming season. Unfortunately, this is when many hunters realize that they haven't done any scouting, shooting, or gotten their equipment prepared for opening day. For the year-round deer hunter, though, this is merely the time to tie up some loose ends.
One of the most important tasks at hand is to ensure that all your equipment is accounted for and functioning properly. Climbing stands should be looked over for any cracks, loose bolts, or frays in any of the straps. Hunting clothes can be drug out for washing with a scent-free detergent, and then placed in some type of scentproof bag until the season opens. There is also the task of checking the batteries in your flashlights and GPS units, and replacing as necessary. Finally, you should inventory all hunting gear and see if anything needs replacement before the season opens, and by all means, don't forget to pick up the necessary hunting licenses and deer tags for your area.
Another important responsibility at this time of year is making sure that your bow or gun is sighted in and ready to go. Hopefully, you have been shooting all year, and this will merely be a continuation of that until the season opens. If not, then make the most of the time you have left by setting a regular weekly practice schedule. Make every effort to imitate actual hunting conditions as closely as possible. This can include shooting at a deer target from various stands and body positions, focusing on the first shot as the most critical one. Having confidence in the weapon that you use is just as important as having your hunting gear in order.
Of course, the best part of fall is getting to hunt! If you have taken the time to post-season scout, look for sheds, secure good hunting spots, glass the agricultural fields in the area, and hang stands well before season, then the odds of shooting a respectable buck should tip heavily in your favor. It's not an easy process, which is why most hunters are not willing to put forth the effort required. For those who do, however, the rewards can be great. So make a New Year's resolution this year that might just put a trophy buck on the wall; become a year-round student of the whitetail!
Brian Grossman is a wildlife biologist, freelance writer and avid outdoorsman from Mt. Washington, Kentucky. You can visit his web site at www.PoorBoysOutdoors.com.