Before we go further with this beginner’s guide, please let me disabuse you of some of the common misconceptions held among deer hunters:
1) You cannot hunt just anywhere.
2) Always obey all the rules. The game warden can come on private land and arrest you
3) Hunter Ed is not for kids. If you have not taken it, do so.
4) Forget gimmicks. There is no magic recipe for bagging a deer
5) Most of what you hear from old timers is wrong
6) Camo is not a replacement for being a good hunter; A scent suit is not a replacement for watching the wind
7) Camping out over a scrape or rub is not the best way to get a deer
You cannot hunt just anywhere
A good part of this project will be spent telling you where to find a good spot to hunt deer. States determine when and where you can take deer on public and private land. Local municipalities may have stricter laws. Private landowners also have a say. Always make sure it is legal to hunt deer where you intend to go and always get written permission of the landowner. There is no such thing as “the land is not owned by anyone.”
Always obey the rules. The game warden can come on private land and arrest you
There is somebody watching. Over the years I have had a few occasions where I was glad the warden was not watching. I have never purposely counted on it.
The game warden can and does come on private land. As a matter of fact, I had my first meeting with a game warden just this Spring on my land. My wife saw him pull up. He got out, introduced himself to her and when he heard that I was hunting, he set off to find me. My son and I were coming in from Turkey hunting. My wife watched him put the sneak on us; he was quite good and got within less than 50 yards before we saw him. He was pleasant and polite, but managed to get all the important questions in nonetheless. In our 20 minute encounter, I produced both hunting licenses and tags.
The fact of the matter is that game wardens can go nearly everywhere in the outdoors they chose. The state gives them the right to do so. Anytime you hear from a landowner that no warden is ever going to set foot on his land and live you can be certain the landowner has no experience in these matters. Think this through: landowner shoots game warden in the back for simple trespass and then calls local police to retrieve carcass.
Hunter Ed is not for kids. If you have not taken it, do so.
In most states, first-time buyers of hunting licenses are required to show completion of a Hunters Education class. Some folks are grandfathered in and are not required. I was, and I did not attend in my first twenty years of hunting. I finally went with my son when he wanted his first license. It was a weekend well spent. I learned a few things along the way, and I had my head re-arranged on a few other things. This is not a waste of time.
Forget gimmicks. There is no magic recipe for bagging a deer
I have a collection of scents, calls, gizmos and decoys. I have had some success with many of them. None of them have ever seriously improved my chances of bagging a deer. This project will have discussions of all of these gimmicks. Suffice it to say that there is no shortcut to hunting deer. That is one of the things that makes it so special. Furthermore, the gimmick that worked at this time last year, may not work this year. There are more variables at work than you know at this stage of your development. Stick to the basics.
Most of what you hear from old timers is wrong
When I started hunting, it was common knowledge that the bucks sent the does out in front to scout out trouble. It was common knowledge that if you found a rub or a scrape, you had a buck well patterned. It was common knowledge that round-nosed cartridges were brush busters, and that you had to wait a half-hour after shooting a deer before pursuing it so that it would bed down and stiffen up.
It’s all wrong. Learn to trust your own senses and sensibilities.
Up until the past twenty years, most of what was written about deer hunting was based on less than scientific knowledge and less than vast experience.
There were not that many deer around years ago, and anyone who could remember a decent-sized herd was dead. As a result, a lot of anecdotal stuff worked its way into deer hunting culture.
If Uncle Jed managed to bag a deer once while cooking his lunch by a stump, Uncle Jed might think it wise to go out in the woods and cook soup in order to attract big bucks. Jed’s kids might do the same. If twenty years later, someone bagged another buck using the trick, the legend would be considered successful.
Camo is not a replacement for being a good hunter
Every maker of camouflage clothing wants you to believe that you will disappear using their brand of camo. Balderdash. There is a chapter in this book on clothing and camo. You cannot clothe your way to success. I have a few favorite patterns, but after 20 years, I recognize they are my favorites and not necessarily that of the deer. If you stay quiet, don’t move very much and stay downwind of the deer, you will be successful, no matter what you wear.
Activated carbon scent suits are no replacement for simple good hygiene and common sense.
Camping out over a scrape or rub is not the best way to get a deer
Rub activity starts as early as August. Scrape activity starts in October or November. Scrapes and Rubs are a good sign of wear a deer has been, not where he is going. A lot of deer activity is nocturnal—so is rub and scrape activity. If you see a rub line, you know you are on the right track. If you see a scrape, you are in the right neighborhood. That’s it.