October 03, 2016
I don't know how many times I've heard a whitetail expert say that killing mature bucks is all about hunting smarter, not harder. The typical advice will then include only hunting the best stands during the best weather conditions and never bother the deer when you don't have to.
Naturally, if you're controlling a property so you can keep everyone else out while preserving deer sanctuaries, it makes sense to hunt only when things are perfect. This also goes for anyone who has a lot of time to sit in treestands. After all, why hunt when it's not ideal if you don't have to?
When it comes to bowhunting whitetails on properties that aren't highly managed, or even better - are public, the advice to leave things alone doesn't cut it. Even if you try to tread lightly that doesn't mean the other bowhunters will, or the other small game hunters, or bird watchers, or ginseng pickers, or...
Throughout many hunting situations, there is no such thing as controlling the pressure. And for many of us, there is no such thing as waiting to hunt when Mother Nature says it's the perfect time. She doesn't care one whit about your work schedule or your family duties.
She doesn't care that you only get weekends to hunt, or maybe random afternoons after work. In that world, playing it safe is the perfect way to not kill a buck.
Since we can't control the pressure, and we can't control the weather, what is the best strategy to hunt smart? For me, that involves a lot of scouting to figure out where most of the hunting pressure is going to occur, and also paying a ridiculous amount of attention to the weather.
We all know we should play the wind, and we should, but knowing where the wind is going to blow is only part of the battle. What if there is a front moving in that could get the deer on their feet? Or, what if you're faced with one of those mid-October heat spells that by all accounts, should keep the deer in the shade and in their beds?
I'm of the opinion that knowing what is going on should inform our decisions on where to hunt and why, not dissuade us from hunting at all. Too many times we look at the conditions and say to ourselves 'it'll be better later.'
That may be true, but to think you can't kill a deer when it's hot, or windy, or rainy, is simply untrue. In fact, when I'm hunting public land, I'd rather have those types of conditions. They keep the hunters out, which does wonders for deer movement.
Take that heat wave, for example. Instead of staying home like most other hunters, use it to your advantage and hunt near water. It's simple, but works. You'll be hunting when others won't, and sitting where the deer will need to go.
You might need to carry a stand in or build a natural ground blind so it'll be extra work, but no one said hunting smarter doesn't also require any work. It does, and I can remember three mature bucks within the last five years of my life that died because I decided to hunt uninviting, overly hot conditions. Two of them fell to my arrows on public land.
These days, my best method for keeping tabs on the exact conditions that I'll face when I'm heading out to hunt come via ScoutLook. I've used this app for a few years now and am hopelessly hooked on it.
For starters, I can plug every one of my stand sites into the aerial photography maps, and then use the ScentCone technology to see exactly how the wind will blow throughout my sit.
The detailed forecasts also provide temperature, cloud cover, precipitation, barometric pressure, sunrise/sunset times and even moon phase. So now you'll have a comprehensive understanding of all of the conditions you'll face during your hunt, and you can use that information to decide which stands to sit, or whether you need to set up something new.
Lately, I've been using ScoutMarX in conjunction with the forecasts and ScentCone to mark deer sign, entrance and exit trails, and other information that helps me be a better deer hunter. This is invaluable when speed-scouting during over-the-road trips where I target public-land whitetails.
If you're assuming you need Internet access to navigate to all of your saved information and hotspots on the ScoutLook maps, you'd be wrong. That's a big one for me, because a lot of places where I hunt are also the same places where I can't get a signal.
I can, however, still use the ScoutLook maps to navigate to my stand sites and get a big picture of my away-game hunting grounds. That also comes in pretty handy when I'm sifting through a blood-trail on unfamiliar territory.
The smartest hunters I know aren't those that hunt whitetails on premier ground, they're the ones who hunt where others do yet still manage to tag out on mature bucks.
These hunters almost always take advantage of the weather conditions and all of the sign they can find to make informed decisions on where to hunt during each and every sit. They are also the hunters who happen to hunt whenever they can, not when traditional deer-wisdom says they should.