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Author: John L. Sloan
Each year, deer hunters, all of them, make mistakes. Sometimes they are minor mistakes, sometimes major. Not always do even the major mistakes turn out badly in terms of killing a deer or getting a shot. But sometimes they do.
Over the nearly 50 years I have been hunting whitetail deer, I have determined what I feel to be the five biggest mistakes a hunter makes. Here they are in the order I rank them.
1. Failure to understand the animal they are hunting. I have been a student of whitetail deer for over four decades. I am still learning. I am still constantly reminded of how little I know. I have always wondered how a hunter can expect regular success on bucks over age 3-1/2, if they don’t work to learn all they can and then test what they have learned. Just reading and asking questions are not enough. You must get out in the woods and read sign, see what the deer has done. Then ask why. Why did that deer do that? What caused that reaction? Will it happen every time? A successful deer hunter will always have more questions than he or she has answers.
If you ask any deer hunter what the deer’s preferred food source is for right now, if they don’t know, they have not learned enough about the animal they hunt. Do they know what is going to be the next preferred food source? Do they know why the deer are crossing a road in a particular place?
The questions and the answers are endless. It takes much more than just spending time in a stand. But the more you ask and the more you learn, the more prepared hunter you will be. And it is a serious mistake to not be prepared.
2. Improper Scouting. Nothing prepares a hunter for success more than proper scouting. Nothing costs them more than improper scouting. Far too many hunters wait until the week or maybe the month before the season to begin scouting. Proper scouting never stops. But by far the most informative scouting is done in the weeks just after the season closes. That sets the stage for the rest of the scouting. It is then you learn what the bucks were doing when you were hunting them. It is then you find their hiding spots and secure travel trails. It is then you formulate your game plan for the next season.
In the summer, your scouting is non-invasive. You glass open fields just at sundown. There is little to be learned other than there are some deer here. That’s all you need to know at that point. There is little reason to be in the woods. That starts when the mast begins to form on trees. You are now looking for food sources. You couldn’t care less if you see deer. You hope you don’t. You are looking for where the deer are going to be, not where they are. In early fall, you combine your hunting with your scouting; you are looking for new rubs, early scrapes, previously unknown creek or road crossings. You adjust as the deer do, as new travel patterns emerge. And in late season, you adjust again. That stand that was so hot in November may be useless now. Look for the trails in deep cover and secure food sources. Look for the trails that lead to agricultural crops and in doing so, pass through the really thick stuff.
To scout for only a day or so in September or October is a serious mistake. It will cost you deer.
3. Over Dependence on Equipment and Gadgets. As technology developed new and improved products, deer hunters got lazy. Magic potions in bottles or in spray cans replaced knowledge and work and study. We began to depend on our equipment to compensate for accurate shooting, good yardage judging, clean clothes and proper stand placement. We began to believe the advertisements and all the new theories. The latest call couldn’t fail. The hottest new camo couldn’t fail. The most popular new scent couldn’t fail. The new scent eliminators couldn’t fail. But they did...and do.
There are no magic potions or gimmicks. They are all aids and yes, they are an aid. Properly used, under the right conditions they do work sometimes. None of them work all the time and some of them are counterproductive. Unless you understand what the product is; know how it works; know how to use it properly and understand the limitations of the product, you are making a mistake. If you depend on a spray or clothing to prevent deer from smelling you and do not take advantage of the wind, you are making a mistake. These products and others can be invaluable for the unforeseen vagaries of hunting. But to depend on them alone is a mistake and it will cost you.
4. We get patterned doing the patterning. Can we pattern a mature buck? I don’t think so. And if we could, the odds are, we’d get patterned long before we could pattern the buck. We spend too much time, walking, exploring, hanging stands and generally polluting the woods when we should have been prepared and just biding our time, waiting for the perfect day.
The very best chance we have to kill a mature buck is the very first time we hunt him. And yet we continue to walk around our stands, looking for fresh sign, freshening scrapes and generally messing things up. We repeatedly walk to our stands on the same trail. We say our scent spray will keep him from smelling us. Our rubber boots will keep him from smelling where we walk. But we push limbs out of the way with our hands and we wear the same hat every day. Deer smell where we place our hands far more than they smell where we walk. Rubber boots are of no advantage and our hats stink. To think otherwise is a mistake, a big one.
5. Despite knowledge to the contrary, hunting the wrong times. When do deer move? The plain fact is they move whenever they want. Except for truly hot weather, as a general rule, deer are no more active at daylight then they are at 10:30. In fact, more mature deer are killed between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. than any other time. The hunter who can effectively hunt all day has a huge advantage. But very few can. The operative word is effective. After three or four hours, most of us are just occupying space, not effectively hunting. By limiting our hunts to three or four hours in the morning and afternoon, we often miss the prime hunting time for mature whitetails.
During the rut, I routinely hunt four stands in one day, spending two or three hours in each. My final stand is usually on an approach trail or edge of a field. Often it is a ground blind because a deer in a field is twice as likely to spot you in a tree stand as in a properly placed ground blind. The others are in the timber. I have killed as many bucks from 10:30-11:30 as any other time. Think about it. Often, I am the only hunter in the woods at that time. And the deer know it. To skip midday hunting is a mistake.
Obviously there are other mistakes we make and just as obviously, we can make these five mistakes and still get lucky. But luck is when preparation meets opportunity. If you are making these mistakes, you are not prepared.