Author: Kevin A. Gardner
When you try to classify North American big game animals in categories of difficulty to hunt, you find a wide range of opinion. I have been fortunate enough to have at one time or another hunted most of the big game that roam the states. What I have not hunted with rifle, I have hunted with camera equipment. I have developed strategies and techniques for observing and hunting them along the way. Giving credit to all of them for their cunning and stealth, I just can’t say I can name a tougher hunt for a trophy animal then the Whitetailed deer.
Whitetails were the first big game animal I ever learned to hunt. The technique seemed simple, sit in that tree till one walked by and drop it, simple …right? It took me three years to bag the first one and five before I had anything to nail to a mounting board. The largest problem seems to be the animals high strung and spooky nature. Few animals I scout seem to be so inclined to jet to the next woodlot when they discover you a substantial distance away.
If you were to try to profile the whitetail and explain him to someone who has never hunted him, you might say things like, he is curious but overly cautious. He will turn heels at the crack of a branch, always alert and suspicious yet can be stopped for a brief moment from a dead run with a predator call. Knowing the nature of the animal and observing him in his environment for years, I have employed the following tactics to give myself an edge.
* First I understand and size up his home range. Knowing that whitetail deer in many parts of the country will never see the territory outside of a mile radius of their birthplace. They are very residential animals and are also very complacent in their travel routes. Knowing escape routes and hiding places within a short distance of sighting a big buck are the two most important issues to address.
When trying to determine cover and escape routes, look for areas of timber that may separate fields or openings. The best deer stand I have hunted was at a corner of a field. The immediate area behind the deer stand (the stand was facing the field of course) was a small patch of timber that lead to another field. When constructing the stand I wish I had know to face the woodlot instead of the field as I later learned that the animals ran through the woodlot to avoid the open fields when pressured. I might have started harvesting whitetails sooner. Who knows how many crept quietly behind me while I intently watched my empty field.
* Scrape areas are another great place to look for sign of recent use. Deer will often paw an area up and rake the vegetation around the area while urinating on the pawed ground. Smelling the soil in the affected area will tell you if the area was used recently. The strong musky urine odor will be present for a day or so if weather is stable. This “scent posting ” is the deer’s call box saying this is his territory. When preseason scouting remember the scent thing about humans and try not to touch the ground with bare hands or worse yet urinate, spit or rub against allot of the surrounding brush.
* In still-hunting the whitetail (the method of short stalk and watch) move slowly and watch where you place each step. Move only short distances and then stop. Wait for 10 minutes searching every inch of visible timber. When finished and convinced that there are no deer present move to the next “predetermined spot via predetermined route”. Moving 35 yards in the woods using this technique is what I consider allot of distance between moves. It will open up however a lot of woodlot to observe. Wind direction and other gunshots can also play a part in this type of hunting. When a shot rings out stop immediately and wait for at least 10 minutes before moving on. We have taken many whitetail this very way as they escape from other hunters.
*Drives are far and away the best method of hunting spooked deer as they will “hole up” after the shooting starts. As a driver you are most often compelled to make noise and scare them ahead. Too often drives are done unsuccessfully due to drivers spreading out and making lots of noise. The deer are very scared at this point and will often risk close proximity to you to circle you and go back to bedding.
Instead, put your drivers into a straight line within eyeshot of each other and move slowly and quietly. When the deer jumps and tries to circle it meets another driver. Using this method, I would advise drivers to be armed hunters.
The bottom line is, when whitetail hunting you must observe and respect the skittish nature of the animal, remember his range (which is not very big), identify his sign, and hunt him smart. The unfortunate thing about whitetails is when the shooting starts, all the rules change and the deer are where you find them. Using good scouting techniques will tell you what animals are in the area, but smart tactical woodsmanship will put the animal in your sights.