by Tyler Frantz, Natural Pursuit Outdoors
By Tyler Frantz
The laws of nature dictate that predators and prey share a unique relationship. Prey animals are genetically built with a host of adaptations, which allow them to elude their pursuers with the ultimate desire to thrive and multiply.
Predators, on the other hand, must utilize their cunning intelligence as a means of outsmarting their prey if they hope to survive. These carnivores must learn to exploit the tendencies of their quarry to gain the upper hand in the cycle of life.
This relationship is no different with humans and whitetails. Deer have an incredible sense of smell, quality eyesight and hearing, rapid foot speed, and are naturally coded to be cautious and elusive. Humans must simply learn to be smarter than the average deer if they really want to bring home the backstraps.
Though hunter success is never a guarantee, there are several ways to help tip the odds in your favor this fall. Included are the top ten strategies for ending up on the winning side of the predator-prey playing field.
10. Do your homework
This hopefully begins long before the season opens but can also still be accomplished after opening day. It is important to scout quality hunting areas so you know where the deer are located. You can glass fields from a distance, spotlight at night (prior to 11pm with no weapon in your vehicle) and utilize trail cameras to pinpoint active locations.
A good rule of thumb is to find the food sources and you will find the deer. Early in the season, deer are hammering lush green agricultural crops, soft mast, and white oak acorns. As the season wears on, look for them to enter grain fields, and target less desirable hard mast such as red and black oaks, hickories and even beechnuts.
Search for whitetail sign such as trails and fresh droppings as clear indicators of deer using the property, and then set up between bedding and feeding areas to intercept a buck moving to or from the buffet line.
9. Location is everything
Some stand locations are better than others. Deer love transition zones where one type of habitat changes to another such as field lines to wooded timber. Seek out these areas as well as natural funnels, pinch-points and steep ridges that will force the deer to walk past your stand.
Be sure you can access your stand undetected, and always try to stay on the downwind side of where you feel the deer are most likely to travel.
8. Scent Control is key
A whitetail’s nose is its best line of defense. Do all that you can to contain your human odor and hunt on the downwind side from where you expect deer to travel. Wash your clothing in a scent-free detergent and store them in an airtight container. Prior to your hunt, take a shower with scent eliminating body wash, then dress in the field. Spray gear with scent-neutralizing products to cut down on trace odors, and wear rubber boots. Again, have multiple stands and only hunt those with the wind in your favor. It makes a difference.
7. Watch the weather
Deer movement increases prior to high-pressure days, immediately after heavy rains or winds subside, during cold fronts, and throughout a new moon phase. Though incredible bucks have been taken in downpours, heavy winds, scorching hot days, and at the peak of a full moon, you will have a higher percentage of success hunting the other times if you have limited days to hunt. Otherwise, get out as much as possible, regardless of weather.
6. Keep a journal
Though a tedious undertaking, a field journal can greatly increase your odds of patterning whitetails. Each time you hunt; indicate the date, weather, temperature, time, and locations of deer that you see. Note special observations of deer movement, what worked and what didn’t.
Over time, you will notice that sometimes history repeats itself, and your journal can help you decide which stand to hunt at different key stages throughout the season from year to year.
5. Continue to practice
It is easy to spend all your free time hunting and never practicing. Too many hunters don’t set aside time each week to shoot their bows. It is important to stay sharp and check your gear for minor undetected flaws that might’ve occurred in the field. Reserving at least one day a week for target practice is a great way to stay brushed up on your shooting form.
4. Sit tight
Have you ever heard the saying, “You need to be present to win?” The same goes with hunting. If you find a good spot, be patient and sit tight for as long as you can, especially as the rut nears. Though dawn and dusk are typically the most active times for deer movement, bucks will be seeking out does, and prime transition areas can produce results at any time.
That doesn’t mean you should beat one spot to death, however. Vary your stand locations, but once you are in place, try to avoid crawling down for lunch and a mid-day nap. A few snacks and some extra discipline can result in a blood-soaked arrow.
3. Sound like a deer
As you see bucks becoming more aggressive, it is often helpful to utilize grunt calls and estrous doe bleats to capture attention and draw them closer to bow range. You can easily overdo it here, so be judicious in your use of these calls. Try to use the deer’s body language and reaction to your calling as a signal for what to do next.
2. Use scents to your advantage
The use of deer scents is twofold. Where legal, bottled deer urine can serve as both an attractant and a cover scent. Early in the season, use regular or synthetic doe urine in a self-contained canister as a curiosity scent that also masks your own human odor.
In the seeking stages of pre-rut, try a doe in estrous blend, or experiment in making a mock scrape doctored with territorial buck urine. I have had tremendous success with both products in years past, as bucks often come in for a closer look.
1. Safety first and foremost
This strategy is reserved for the top spot because if an unfortunate accident ever occurs in the field, all other strategies automatically become null and void. Therefore, safety is the most important thing to keep in mind on every outing.
When in a tree stand, ALWAYS use an approved safety harness or fall restraint device. It is not worth compromising your life or physical wellbeing for the simple inconvenience of strapping yourself into a tree.
Also, always let someone know where you are planning to hunt. Leave a note, send a text or verbally communicate this to someone before you venture afield. When hunting unfamiliar property, use a GPS to mark your vehicle’s location, and consider stowing a small survival and first-aid kit in your hunting pack.
Always clearly identify your target, taking note of what might be in the distance behind it, and stay current with hunter orange requirements during concurrent small game and firearms seasons. It can save your life.
As stated before, nothing is automatic when it comes to the relationship between predator and prey. However, if hunters can use their human intelligence to their advantage and employ these ten game-changing strategies for success, they will greatly increase their chances of outsmarting the instincts of a wily old whitetail this season.
Tyler Frantz, of Natural Pursuit Outdoors, is an award-winning outdoors freelancer from Annville, Pennsylvania. He is a regular columnist for Pennsylvania Game News magazine, among other publications. In addition to teaching full-time, Frantz operates a YouTube Channel, Facebook page, and weekly outdoors blog that thousands of hunters and anglers have enjoyed since 2013. Learn more by visiting www.naturalpursuitoutdoors.com.