1) Have Your Eyesight Checked and Improve Your Vision
Often hunters overlook the most critical tool to successful hunting – vision. I’ve always thought if you wear glasses, you can see better than people who don’t, and 20/20 vision and experience in hunting and shooting are enough to make someone a productive hunter. However, no matter how well you see, you can be taught to see better and to recognize what you see more quickly and accurately. According to optometrists I’ve spoken with, vision is the ability to use what you see to perform some task. For example, you use your eyesight to see a truck coming your way, but by using your vision, you know what to do to keep from getting run over.
“Being able to see deer in the woods, distinguishing bucks from does, perceiving direction of flight and then reacting quickly enough to take a shot are learned skills that can be developed and improved,” said Dr. Gary Etting, a developmental optometrist in Encino, California, who has worked with sports vision skills for U.S. Olympic teams.
2) Spend Twice as Much Time Scouting as Hunting
Bowhunter Dr. Robert Sheppard of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, says that to know you’ll have a buck in front of you on opening day, “Spend at least two hours scouting for every one hour hunting. Then less time is required to bag a buck.”
3) Pick Up Sheds and Use a Spotting Scope
Wildlife biologist Bob Zaiglin of Uvalde, Texas, reports that searching for shed antlers in the spring and the summer helps you to learn the numbers and sizes of bucks on the land you hunt. “Look for sheds and deer at naturally-occurring and manmade mineral licks in the summer to identify where deer are staying, besides watching farm crops, food plots and pastures to spot velvet anglers. I also use a spotting scope with a window mount to see deer from my truck in the summer.”
4) Meet the People Who Know Deer Where You Hunt
These people may see and know the locations of bucks on private and public lands and lands available for leasing – landowners, farmhands, wildlife biologists, foresters, timber cutters, school bus drivers, town barbers, bankers and postmen.
5) Know What Deer Eat
Since deer are browsers and feed on more than 600 various types of plants, nuts and crops, you often can locate deer at many places. The local wildlife biologist for private and/or public lands can give you ideas of what the deer in your area prefer to eat at different times of the year.
6) Diagram a Green Field and Prepare Tree Stands and Shooting Lanes
First determine if a green field has quick access to dense cover, experiences little hunting pressure and is close to a place where deer travel. Identify the deer trails, pinpoint the best places for tree stands, and determine which way to approach a green field without your scent being carried there. Note that information in your GPS or logbook. Cut shooting lanes.
7) Pinpoint a Buck’s Core Area
“A deer must have three elements in its core area: food, water and cover, with cover being the most important,” Dr. Grant Woods, wildlife biologist from Reeds Spring, Missouri, says. “I define cover as a place where a deer feels secure and can avoid any disturbance that disrupt him by making him uneasy or raising his metabolic rate. Also constant wind direction influences the site a buck chooses for his core area, since deer use their noses more than their eyes for protection.”
8) Study Maps to Save Time Scouting
To look for places deer likely will be at the beginning of deer season, use Google Earth www.google.com/earth, Huntstand http://huntstand.com and OnX www.onxmaps.com maps. With your cell phone’s GPS, you can get to the sites where you want to hunt with Huntstand and OnX, even in regions with no cell service. Also MyTopo.com (www.mytopo.com) produces custom topographical maps, revealing where the high and low ground and water sources are. The aerial views can show you how much of the area is forested, nearby water sources and any development not visible from roads.
9) Set Aside a Sanctuary for Deer
The older, bigger bucks are the first deer to escape hunting pressure and move to sanctuary areas. One of the most common types of sanctuary areas are regions too hard to reach or too far away from an access road for most hunters to get. The second are little patches of thick cover that hunters walk past or don’t consider that they’re holding nice bucks. Alex Rutledge, nationally-known deer hunter from Birchtree, Mo., says, “Effective sanctuaries must have little or no human traffic.”
10) Choose Your Stand Site Last at Hunting Camp
Dr. Keith Causey, a retired professor of wildlife at Auburn University, once told me, “When I’m hunting private lands, I let everyone I’m hunting with pick the stand sites they want to hunt from that day. Then I take the area that no one else wants to hunt, and that’s often where I encounter bigger bucks – particularly on opening day.”
11) Use Attractants and Feeders Where Legal and Trail Cameras
To locate a buck to hunt on opening day, you need to be able to stop him, take a picture of him, watch him as his antlers grow and see where he goes after he leaves your attractant or feeder. Walk the edges of green fields to discover deer trails, and ask others about traditional deer trails.
A trail camera will help you determine what time of day or night the deer are appearing, as well as give you an idea of the buck-to-doe ratio on the property. Several cameras on the land will enable you to learn what trails bucks travel and where they are bedding.
12) Consider Hunting Cattle Farms
Alex Rutledge prefers to hunt cattle farms with their highly-nutritious soils that produce grasses and hay year-round and have water and pastures with thickets and shade trees. “The same needs of cattle equal all the same needs deer have.”
Written by John E. Phillips