November 17, 2016
We have a weird situation going on in the bowhunting industry that involves the one-percenters disseminating information to 99-percent of hunters. I know all about it, because I've worked in the hunting industry for nearly a decade.
And let me be clear, I don't really care at all how most hunters spend their season as long as it's ethical and legal. If someone wants to pay $12,000 to hunt a premier Kansas or Iowa property in search of legit 200-incher, that doesn't bother me in the least.
When that same person goes on to tell the rest of the hunting community what his secrets are for killing mature bucks, then it bothers me because it rarely involves mentioning writing a giant check for access. Or worse, admitting that an outfitter did all of the work to manufacture the entire hunting scenario in which the hunter has placed himself and then arrowed the buck.
This is a common complaint about outdoor television as well. For entertainment purposes, outdoor shows do a good job. I like watching deer, elk and other critters I'll never see in real life stroll in and get shot. I really do.
What I don't like is someone who takes the easiest hunt out there and tries to make it into something more than it is. It's entertainment, not evidence of amazing hunting skills. Again, whatever floats your boat is fine with me as long as it doesn't make the hunting community at large look really bad, or cross the line where things become shady or illegal.
I do feel, if someone is going to be paid to offer up hunting advice, they have an obligation to actually hunt and not just show up somewhere to kill. I also feel that it's imperative that they be as honest as possible about their misses, screw-ups and overall hunting reality.
That's one of the reasons why I spend at least half of my fall hunting time on public land. There's no way to fake that, and from those experiences comes a wealth of real-world lessons. Three of which, fly directly in the face of some very common hunting advice that is doled out each year.
Overpressuring Stand Sites
I don't know how often I've heard someone say that you can't over-hunt your stand sites. The accumulated pressure of going in frequently will change deer habits and cool off your best hotspots. We all know this, and it's up to us to control what we can control.
What if, however, you happen to hunt public land? Or private ground that you share with other hunters? It's pretty hard to preserve an area when you don't have control over who goes in and out of the woods on a daily basis.
This is one of the main reasons why an awful lot of the deer kills we are exposed to from the hunting industry are from highly managed properties. Control the pressure, and you can find some easy deer to kill. I know it, because I've hunted a few of those properties.
If you're not the gate-keeper to killer ground, then you've got to do the best you can with what you've got. I've got permission to bowhunt a dairy farm in south-eastern, Minnesota where several other bowhunters chase the same deer I do.
My goal always is to strike fast, as in opening weekend, or to sit when the conditions are crappy. I know if it's a beautiful Saturday morning, there will be other hunters out. If it's pouring rain, I might have the woods to myself. Ditto for my public land hunts.
Naturally, knowing that others might walk into your area and spook deer, makes it easier to hunt lazier and not pay attention to the conditions. This is a mistake. The key ingredient to killing more deer is to work harder than the other hunters.
You'll need more stand and blind setups, more options. And you'll need the knowledge of when to sit them. The more viable ambush sites you've got, the better you'll be when the pressure of yourself - and more importantly others - starts to affect the deer.
Shut Up, Just Shut Up
Calling in a deer is awesome. So is decoying in a buck. Any time you can interact with game is going to enhance the hunt, which is why elk hunting is so dang popular (at least it's one reason, anyway).
The problem with these types of tactics is that they look so easy on television. I mean, how many hunters have you seen rattle in giants on outdoor programming?
I've seen a lot. And I have rattled in a few bucks in my life, but I tend to go the opposite way for most of my sits. In fact, I rarely call unless I'm dealing with a deer that seems willing to play. I'm of the opinion that most of us try too hard to make get-rich-quick products work for us, when they simply aren't going to do it.
The best strategy for killing all deer, and specifically mature bucks, is to set up where they are comfortable walking. That's it. The calls, decoys, scents and other products that promise to bring them running, most of the time, won't.
When you're dealing with pressured deer, this is extremely important to remember. Time spent scouting and setting up good stands is way more valuable than time spent in standing cracking together a set of antlers.
When I started bowhunting, we didn't stop deer. We just shot them, or shot at them, when they gave us a good opportunity. Sometimes they were walking, most of the time they were standing still. It never occurred to us to alert the deer to our presence before flinging an arrow.
Today, everyone stops deer before they shoot them. This is a necessity in some situations, and believe me, there are times when I mrrp my head off. There have been times during the rut when stopping a buck has helped me fill a tag, no doubt. But the important thing is to understand when it's necessary, and when it's not.
For TV, you've got to stop a deer for better footage. When you're out on your own hunting for yourself, it's entirely situational. If you've got a buck browsing beans in front of your stand, there isn't much of a reason to give him a heads-up that you're about to shoot at him.
Occasionally, this strategy has a worse effect than simply alerting your target deer, it'll send them running. I've seen this on public ground before and there are very, very few things in the outdoor arena that will make you feel more like a zipperhead than taking a perfectly good encounter and torpedoing it unnecessarily. When you mrrp, use discretion.
I've been pretty hard on the industry as a whole, but I do need to say there are plenty of folks out there offering up good advice that is gleaned from plenty of hard hunting. When it comes to learning about whitetails, that is the second-best source of information. The first, comes of course, from your own experiences with the very deer and the very ground you're trying to learn from season to season.