Conventional deer wisdom often sucks. It just does. Part of this is due to the fact that while most of us are obsessed with whitetails, we spend very little time in our life around them. We watch them in their natural environment on a limited basis and most of that observation is packed into a couple of months each year through a handful of fleeting encounters.
We don’t get to see what a buck does in his daily life, and that’s what we want to know the most. So we fill in the gaps with what we’ve heard that seems to either just make sense, or jive with our biases.
This means that the whitetail world at large, and more importantly at the individual level, is wrought with myths and misconceptions. Those false or not-quite-true-all-of-the-time perceptions we have shape our hunting strategies and affect our choices on everything from gear to stand-site choice.
We run into real danger as successful deer hunters when we decide that generalizations are absolute predictors of deer movement and habits, especially when those generalizations might not even be remotely applicable to our specific hunting situations.
To put it in simpler terms, question most of what you’ve been told about deer and most of what you think you know.
The Easy Lies
The easiest lies to believe are the ones that are most prominent in our hunting culture, like deer don’t move when it’s super windy or if it gets really hot they all go nocturnal. Or, if there is a full moon you’d be better off staying home watching football than hunting. All these are easy enough to disprove by simply hunting the miserable conditions and the times when deer aren’t supposed to move. But most of us won’t, which makes the lies so easy to believe.
I’ve made a pretty good living off of killing whitetails when others won’t go hunting, and it has taught me a lot about when deer move - especially on public land. They are out there living in every condition that Mother Nature can toss their way, and wind and heat and rain and you-name-it doesn’t bother them nearly to the extent we give it credit. I’m not entirely convinced most of those conditions suppress deer movement in any meaningful fashion, but they sure do suppress hunter movement.
Forget what you think you know about nasty weather or moon phase and what they do to deer and get out there whenever you can hunt. You’ll find that the bucks are on their feet a lot more than they are supposed to be.
The option to “save” deer for the rut or when hunting should be its best, is not always a lie. If you’re the title holder to a giant farm in southern Iowa, then yes, you can save some of your best spots and your hunting time for when the bucks should be cruising. You can get in and target those hitlist bucks when it is convenient and should be just right.
For most of us, not hunting a spot or saving an area for when the hunting should be good is a great way to not fill a tag. If you’re not on tightly controlled ground, what’s to say that your target buck will be there in November? Or what guarantee will you have that someone hasn’t hunted your prime spot 10 times by the time Halloween hits?
I’m of the opinion that the saving-deer thing came from the one-percenters of the whitetail world and has very little relevance to most hunters and their individual situations. If you can hunt, hunt. Hunt smart, make good decisions, but always get out there when you have the chance.
This one drives me absolutely nuts and came straight from the deep rabbit hole that is hunting television. Most of us believe we can look at a buck and estimate his age pretty easily. The problem with this is it’s total bunk. When you start sending teeth into be aged via cementum annuli, you find out how easy it is to under-age most bucks.
We’ve been led to believe that lots of 2½ year-olds are 125-inch deer and that there are plenty of 3½ year-olds that are 150-inch plus. This isn’t true anywhere that isn’t framed in by a 10-foot fence.
Don’t believe that? Think about it this way – if a lot of our 2½ year-olds were capable of putting on 125 inches of antler, wouldn’t it also be conceivable that most of them would at least put on that much as they actually matured? Shouldn’t we have a pile of 200-inch plus bucks running around? Despite how it seems in the outdoor media, wild 200-inch deer are extremely rare.
How many times have you heard someone say they’ve got a 3½-year-old deer on their farm that is 150 inches and totally off limits? Do you ever hear about them shooting 300-inch deer? A lot of the deer we see that we think are 2 year-olds are older, sometimes much older. In fact, a fair amount of wild bucks top out at 100 to 120 inches, which means that even at 7½ years old – at least antler-wise – they look like much younger bucks and nothing more.
If you don’t believe this, start sending in the teeth from the bucks you shoot to have them cementum-annuli aged in an actual lab that specializes in the process. Most of the time you’ll be very surprised at the results.
These are just a few of the falsehoods that haunt the average hunter when it comes to conventional wisdom and whitetails. The list could be a lot longer. The key takeaway from this should be to examine your personal hunting situation and take a look at the things you know to be true to see if they really are. Some will be, others won’t. The ones that you find aren’t true are the most important, because they’ll allow you to change your strategies and rethink what you know about whitetails, and that is a great step toward becoming a better bowhunter.