Bowhunters imagine themselves as commandos that slip silently in and out of the deer woods. Their mission is simple; pick a spot, ambush a deer, and get out. It all seems so easy.
Easy as it seems, bow hunting is rarely so predictable. You can go afield with all the advantages of technology on your side, but you can’t slip in and out of the woods for long without deer knowing it. A high-tech bow, full camo, face paint, scent blocking clothes, cover scent, rubber footwear, and fleece slippers over your boots all help, but even these precautions are no match for the nose, ears, and eyes of a whitetail deer.
Make no mistake, the senses of a whitetail deer are hyper-tuned to detect danger. The lingering scent left when your jacket rubs against brush is enough to tip off deer traveling in the area for days. Deer down wind of your stand can smell you one-quarter of a mile away and if an approaching animal spots your silhouette in a treestand, forget it.
The cold facts about bow hunting are clear; sooner or later you’re going to alert deer in the area you hunt. As deer become aware of human activity in an area, they react by changing their daily movements to avoid this contact.
First you must come to the realization that hunting pressure is going to spook deer; then you can develop a strategy that limits this problem. Commonsense dictates that the longer you hunt without being detected, the better your odds of success.
It’s also obvious that it’s easier to hunt the edges without being detected than it is to head cross country for the center of the section. To a degree, deer hunters are brainwashed into thinking that the better bucks live in the center of available habitat as far away from roads, trails, and edges as possible. Early in the season when deer haven’t been pressured this simply isn’t true.
October bucks are most likely to be found close to their primary food source. The food may be apples, acorns, alfalfa, corn, or leaves from an aspen or maple clearcut, but these foods are almost certain to be located near an opening, edge, or field where sunlight can stimulate growth.
During the first few weeks of the season concentrating on these prime feeding areas offers a huge advantage. By placing your stand near edges that deer frequent enables you to slip in and out with the least disturbance. This keeps lingering scent to a minimum and reduces the chances of being spotted or heard moving to and from the blind.
Concentrating on these edges and openings also makes it easier to predict the direction deer will approach from. Deer won’t cross large open areas to reach food unless they absolutely have to. Instead they will approach from available cover and slip out of the shadows to feed in areas where they can quickly dart back into heavy cover if needed.
Once you’ve determined the area deer are likely to approach from, select stand sites based on prevailing wind directions. Now is also the time to select the best possible routes for accessing stands. Be sure to pick routes that avoid areas were deer are bedding or traveling.
In the event that a rogue wind threatens to push your scent toward approaching deer, make the tough decision and don’t hunt. It’s better to sacrifice hunting a prime spot than to risk alerting deer and potentially ruining future trips.
Selecting two or more stands in different areas reduces hunting pressure and allows more options for hunting an unpredictable wind direction. Having more than one stand also allows you the option of inviting a guest.
Early in the season, morning hunts also pose a problem. How do you sneak into your stand without alerting deer feeding in the area? The answer is you don’t. It’s next to impossible to sneak past deer that are out in the open feeding before first light. If you spook these deer, you’ve lost the advantage of hunting the edges.
Evening hunts are usually more productive when hunting food sources. Plan on moving to your stand early in the afternoon so that nearby deer are still bedded down, keeping in mind that on overcast days deer tend to rise from their beds a hour or so early. Plan on being settled by three or four o’clock at the latest.
If early in the season your objective is to stick a fat doe for the freezer, don’t make the mistake of looking over too many deer. Take the first adult doe that offers a good shot. As the season progresses easy shots become tougher to come by and adult does wise up quickly.
If you’re fortunate enough to take a nice doe from a stand, lay off this hunting area for awhile. Given a little time to rest, a productive stand may pay off again later in the season.
Eventually, the deer will catch on to your hunting the edges game plan. When game sightings and hunting success drop off, regroup and work deeper into the available cover.
When the time arrives to penetrate the cover, look for a route that facilitates moving in and out with the least amount of disturbance. Logging roads, powerline right of ways, or streams that are big enough to handle a canoe are just some of the travel options.