Hunting is a way of life in the United States, and we are here to help you be as successful on the hunt as possible.
For an avid deer hunter, traveling comes with the sport. The National Deer Alliance conducted a survey in 2015, and according to the survey, 42 percent of deer hunters leave their state to go deer hunting. This has been happening regularly since 2012 too. The following will be a set of lists for a few types of deer, and the best states for to hunt them in. The lists will be length appropriate based on how widespread the type of deer is, and each state listed for each kind of deer will list some of the qualities for why it made the list.
The mule deer makes its home west of the Missouri River, specifically west of the Rocky Mountains. There has been speculation in recent years concerning the availability of good, trophy-quality mule deer available. Wolf territory expansion and harsh winters have caused some problems for the mule deer, but several states are confronting the troublesome trend for hunters with some solid management practices to keep the numbers up. Conservation and wildlife agencies have changed some practices to help confront the declining population, so here is a list of good states to hunt mule deer in.
This is a tricky state to describe, and a lot of hunters would debate this as a pick. There is a strip of Arizona in Unit 13. Several sub-zones in in Unit 13 are well known to have quality mule deer, but they are not sought out as much lately due to a low tag percentage. The reason it made this list goes back to growing numbers. This is a great area to hunt mule deer again because management has stepped up, there is better access to hunting areas, habitat work and quotas have all come together to turn out big bucks, and there are a lot more of them now too.
Desert shrub, grasslands, pinon-juniper, pine, aspen-fir, and mountain meadows, but the deer are known to prefer rugged country. There is a also a mix of private and public hunting with many places offering the services of guides.
Colorado might be the most ideal state to score a trophy mule deer. It has the best and most efficient management of the population. Certain sections in Colorado seem to yield better point bucks. Eagle, Garfield and Mesa counties are the best places to go. If you prefer to hunt in plains terrain, then focus on the Colorado Eastern Plains, and bow-hunters are especially fond of hunting mule deer in the plains.
The terrain in Eagle, Garfield and Mesa counties are rugged, and mule deer prefer rugged terrain the most, so there is a good sign. There is a mix of private and public hunting opportunities, and the Colorado Eastern Plains is known for some amazing public land hunting. It is a wonderful state for trophy mule deer, and it has a lot of options.
Utah is another fantastic state to hunt mule deer. Northern Utah has been especially fruitful in recent years. Other than the good management and less predators, there really is not much of a reason to explain why it is a great state for trophy mule deer. There has been a steady climb record tags being entered into the books for the last 10 years or so.
The entire state of Utah has a variety of terrain, but the northern part of the state, where the most big mule deer buck are, is mainly dessert and rugged. Private land access is the key to success in hunting in Northern Utah, but if you choose to go public, then hiring a guide to track the larger mule deer is a good investment. It will certainly save time and get a better yield.
There are a lot of fun things to do in Nevada, and hunting trophy mule deer is one of them. The reason Nevada is a great state is because it issues a low number of tags. There is not a lot of pressure to hunt large mule deer in Nevada as opposed to other states, so it improves the chances of actually getting a large one, and the chances are quite good.
Nevada has a variety of terrain from rugged to alpine conifers. The Nevada Department of Wildlife furnishes statistics on regions every year for trophy mule deer. It really depends on what you want to hunt them with, which will determine the ideal terrain because the state is considered a good hunt overall. Public land access tends to be a better bet in Nevada. More mule deer and less competition make Nevada a top state.
Wyoming and Idaho run neck and neck, and they offer a good opportunity for the same reasons. There are a lot of trophy bucks in these two states, but they are in difficult areas to hunt. If you can hunt well in extremely high, rugged terrain then you will score a trophy mule deer. This is public land opportunity, and it needs to be emphasized again about the land. It is difficult to hunt, but hunters skilled in high, rugged terrain will go home happy.
If you just want to hunt and do not care about a trophy buck, then consider privately owned lands in the following states: Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, California and Nebraska. They have high population, however, they are declining. Since they are declining, then the chances of a record-setting mule deer are pretty slim. Hunting public lands is would only be worth it if a guide was hired.
The axis deer was a gift to a Hawaiian king in the 1860s, so it came to the United States before it was even a state. The deer is native to India, and from a culinary standpoint, it is arguably in the top five game meats. It is a beautiful animal, and it is also has a population problem. Unlike the mule deer, the axis deer is considered an invasive species, especially in Hawaii. Hawaii was forced to make legislation because of this animal, so even though the list will be short, here is a list of states perfect for hunting the axis deer.
After World War Two, the axis deer was brought to the Maui island for the vets to hunt, but besides human hunters, there are no predators in Hawaii so the population is growing over 20 percent a year, which is alarming. It has also spread to other islands, which is why the law now prohibits inter-island release or transportation and the possession of a wild or feral deer. It is also considered a serious crime.
Hawaii is a great state to hunt deer in. A lot of people probably had no idea. The citizens would greatly appreciate traveling hunters to come and deal with the axis deer population, and what deer hunter could pass up engaging in their favorite sport in a place like Hawaii? The advantages are obvious. It is needed, appreciated and beautiful in Hawaii.
The axis deer was brought to Texas in 1932. There were wild, self-sustaining herds by 1988, and they are scattered across central and southern Texas throughout approximately 27 counties today. The highest concentration of axis deer can be found on the Edwards Plateau.
There are public hunting opportunities, but the the axis deer have been located to a lot of private ranches for hunting opportunities. The terrain on Edwards Plateau is thick flat rock, and the axis deer prefer it and other locations because the terrain is similar to India where they actually originate from. One other caveat to hunting axis deer in Texas is there are no seasonal restriction. It is perfectly legal to hunt big axis deer all year long.
The whitetail deer is mid-sized deer found everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains all over the United States and Canada. The major surge in traveling, which was talked about in the beginning of the article has a lot do with the whitetail hunting becoming extremely popular. The popularity can be attributed to outdoor television shows and the Internet. No one had any idea the kind of opportunities other states presented in whitetail hunting until the Internet. Private land acquisition by serious hunters and outfitter numbers have exploded. In this list, it is assumed there are going to be plenty of private land hunting, so the states focused on will be for the benefit of solo and public land hunters mostly. There is one state, which will be discussed for the balance and overall great hunting experience. Enjoy this list of great states to hunt whitetail deer in from around the United States.
From a a public hunting standpoint for whitetail deer, there is not as much as there should be because of pressure put on by wealthy ranchers, but there are a lot of deer in Texas, and there is a good ratio of trophy whitetail buck in relation to the population. There are a variety of terrains in available in the vast state of Texas, especially timber areas. A lot of whitetail kills occur in timber areas in Texas. The hunting weather is great, and Texas has a long rut. Also, there is the chance to kill other types of deer. There are all kinds of different species of deer everywhere in Texas. Hunting whitetail in Texas is a fun experience for public or solo hunter though.
Montana is where a lot of whitetail hunter like to to travel to. It dropped off for awhile due to a serious decline in the deer population because of an illness, but it is still known for hunting whitetail. There is hardly any pressure when it comes to public hunting of whitetail deer in Montana, especially with the rising number of whitetails. This is the main reason Montana is on the list.
A lot of areas are already famous in Montana for hunting whitetail. The Milk River bottoms was huge before the decline, and it is growing back into its fame again. The southeastern part of Montana and the forks area have great populations. Whitetails do love private land though, especially the irrigated croplands, but a lot of farmers are reasonable when it comes to hunting so in a lot of ways, private and public do not have to differ to much in method and outcome.
Easily on of the best southern states to publicly hunt whitetail deer in. There is a big whitetail population in Mississippi, and the state regulations are easy on bag-limits too. The best thing about public hunting in Mississippi is the amount of public land. You will not be hard pressed to find somewhere legal to hunt. The downside are the record-setters. Mississippi does not have a lot of trophy winners for size, but it does have an impressive statistic, which makes it a top state for whitetail hunting. The success rate for the average hunter is two deer for every one hunter for every season. It is a stat a lot of states can’t match or beat.
Minnesota has a lot of lakes, snowfall and whitetail deer. Along with the large population of whitetail deer are a lot of trophy size bucks. This is impressive considering Minnesota has an abundance of hunters. The majority of the northern part of the state is cold, wooded terrain. It is also public hunting land. A lot of deer, public land and record whitetail bucks puts Minnesota on the list as one of the best Midwest and northern states to hunt whitetail in. If you can deal with the cold weather, then you have to hunt in Minnesota.
Oklahoma has a rep for having some of the largest whitetail bucks, which is precisely why it is a top travel destination for whitetail hunters already. Hunters are known to spend a lot of money to travel and buy a nonresidential tag to come to Oklahoma, and they are doing it purely for the record book. Hunting pressure is fairly low despite the high amount of nonresidential hunters.
There is a large amount of public land, and it is spread out throughout the state. The outskirts of the reservoirs are great places to hunt whitetails in Oklahoma. There are large numbers of whitetail deer on the fringe of these areas, and it is nearly entirely open for public hunting.
Missouri has had a steady, excellent turnout of trophy whitetail bucks for a long time now, and it is likely the result of a lot of well managed public land. The state has an interesting agreement with some of its farmers too. Farmers leave some of their corn and soybean crops to grow onto public hunting area, and they leave a portion of their harvest through hunting season as bait. It is a great concept.
There is a medium amount of pressure for from other public hunters because it is so popular in Missouri. The state gets a lot of residential and nonresidential hunters during season, and the tags are affordable too. The biggest and most mature bucks are found in the north of Missouri, especially in the counties by Iowa. Those areas are by the Missouri River, and the whitetails love the terrain by the river.
These lists were in no particular order, but Kansas is a sure bet for the top state to hunt whitetail deer on public land. It is constantly ranking high in categories for harvest versus number of hunters, harvest versus number of deer and harvest of trophy bucks versus total harvest. It is a pilgrimage whitetail hunting enthusiasts must make. The state is a magnet for large whitetails bucks too.
Hunter success ratios are high versus the low hunting pressure. The highest amount of pressure is actually by larger cities, and it is because there is more public land by them, and almost everyone in Kansas loves to hunt whitetail for sport, food or both. It has a program where landowners allow hunters access to private land called the Walk-in Hunting Access, so even though the whitetail section was devoted to public hunting, it needs to be pointed out Kansas can provide the best in both worlds.
The majority of large bucks come from the eastern part of Kansas. The prairies in Kansas may produce a low number of large bucks, but they are there hiding. They prefer ditches and irrigated crops in the rolling prairies. Hunting in Kansas will cost $395 for a nonresidential tag, but success is almost always going to happen yearly. If you love the sport of hunting whitetail deer, then go to Kansas as soon as you can.
If you’re like most people, with a regular job, you may only get a few days to hunt deer every year. Because your time in the field is probably limited, forgetting one simple item can literally ruin your hunt. It is awfully difficult to hunt without a weapon! And even if you just forget something simple like a pair of gloves, or don’t pack quite enough food, the amount of enjoyment you get out of hunting will drop significantly. This is where a good deer hunting equipment checklist is invaluable.
While you will need slightly different gear depending on whether you are hunting early or late in the season, using a bow or firearm, staying close to home or traveling across the country or are packing in or hunting close to the road, a good checklist will help you be sure you don’t forget anything you might need. It is suggested you go through all your gear at least a few weeks in advance of the season, so you will have plenty of time to secure replacements, if needed.
You can use the table of contents to jump to the section you’re most concerned about. Make sure to triple check the last item on the list, it is easy to forget but the consequences of doing so can literally be life changing!
Obviously, your choice of hunting weapon is not likely to be forgotten, but should be thoroughly checked over before the hunt.
Bow: Check your bow for any signs of wear or damage. Inspect the limbs, the cams and especially the string and replace anything that looks suspect.
Arrows: Aside from the arrows, or bolts, in your quiver, it is wise to have a few extras on hand.
Broadheads: Check fixed-blade broadheads for damage and be sure there is a sharp edge on each one. Inspect mechanical broadheads for any possible factory defects.
Broadhead Sharpener: It only takes one missed shot to dull a broadhead.
Small Game Head: This blunt rubber tip slips over the end of the arrow shaft and is perfect when that grouse perches up in a tree.
Archery Release: Unless you have time to practice every day, an archery release will improve your accuracy 10 fold. The release is designed to hold the bowstring at full draw and fire the bow with the push of a button.
Cocking Rope: If you hunt with a crossbow, a cocking rope is a must as cocking the bow by hand is not only hard on your arms and back, it can damage the bow.
Weapon: Check your rifle, shotgun or handgun thoroughly and inspect the scope, if so equipped, to be sure a lens hasn’t mysteriously become cracked or a turret cap has gone missing. It’s always worth firing your weapon a few days before the hunt to make sure it has maintained its zero.
Sling: While your rifle or shotgun should be in your hands when stillhunting or tracking, a sling can help shorten the walk to and from the stand, or when dragging out.
Holster: If you use a handgun, be sure the holster is in good shape.
Scope Covers: It has been known to occasionally rain or snow in the deer woods.
Field Cleaning Kit: You never know when something will get stuck in your barrel, and a cleaning rod will work a lot better than a stick.
Clothing needs can vary depending on latitude, altitude and weather. Layering several light pieces of clothing under your jacket will always keep you warmer, and drier, than a couple of heavy garments.
Insulated Parka: It gets cold in the woods, especially when sitting on stand all day.
Jacket: For early in the season when the temps are warmer, or when you plan to be on the move all day.
Windbreaker: Sometimes on even the nicest early-season day the wind can whip up out of nowhere.
Pants: Many hunters never consider a pair of warm and breathable hunting pants will aid in keeping their feet warm by helping to maintain the circulation to their feet.
Sweater: Dressing in layers allows you to add or take clothing off as needed.
Vest: A good hunting vest, with lots of pockets, will help you carry and organize and all your accessories. It will also keep you warm on the walk to the stand while carrying your jacket or parka, so you don’t get sweated up.
Thermal Underwear: Long underwear is a must to keep you warm, and to keep you dry it must have good wicking properties, like polypropylene.
Knit Cap: Approximately 10 percent of body heat is lost through your head, so a good knit cap will keep more that your head warm.
Cap with Visor or Brim: A good hat with some type of brim will help keep the sun, rain and the snow out of your eyes. You can wear this hat over your knit cap, if needed.
Facemask: The skin on your face is the most sensitive of anywhere on your body, so cover it up on those bitter cold days. Also, one of the most significant sources of heat loss in mammals is from repository function, and this is why dogs pant when they get hot. You can use the same process in reverse by simply wearing a mask that covers your mouth to prevent some of the heat from leaving your body.
Gloves: Even in mild weather, your hands are typically the fist thing to get cold. Be prepared with a pair of lightweight and a pair heavyweight gloves that are made from some type of wicking material, like polypropylene or wool.
Rain Gear: Having a packable rain jacket and pants or poncho is more than a luxury if you get caught in a downpour.
Boots: Your boots are one of the most important things you will wear. If you were boots that don’t fit well or aren’t broken in, you will be miserable on the hunt. Waterproof boots are a must, as you never know when you will have to ford a stream or river, or have to follow a buck into a swamp. In cold conditions, insulated boots will keep your feet warmer and boots with removable wicking liners work best. Read our guide to buying a great pair of hunting boots.
Extra Boot Liners: With an extra pair of liners you can start each day with dry boots.
Socks: Wear at least two pairs of socks; one lightweight cotton or polypropylene pair under a pair of good heavyweight wool socks will keep your feet warm, dry and help prevent blisters.
Casual Clothing: Unless you want to live in your hunting clothes, pack a sweatshirt and pants along with a jacket for doing camp chores.
Flashlight: Finding your way in or out of the woods, or tracking a deer, in the dark is always easier with light.
Spare Batteries: You never know when the batteries in your flashlight will run out. Always carry a spare pair.
Large Plastic Bags: Use to cover your gear, bow or rifle during an unexpected downpour.
Folding Saw: Use to clear shooting lanes and trimming branches from around your stand.
Small Radio or MP3 Player with Earbuds: Listen to music, talk shows or sporting events to pass the time on stand when the deer aren’t moving, or to relax in camp.
Tree Belt: A handy item with hooks to keep things like your rangefinder or binocos handy on the stand.
Personal Items: Lip balm, toilet paper, etc.
Pee Jug: A gallon milk jug or laundry detergent container will keep you from stinking up you hunting area with human scent. Fill it up during the day, pack it out and empty it when you get back to the truck.
Lady J: If you are a lady hunter, this handy little device is contoured to the shape of the pelvis. It slips inside your hunting pants and has a spout that sticks out the fly to allow you to go, into a jug, just like a guy.
Safety while hunting should always be a priority. While most hunters will spend their entire hunting lives without incident, just one bad break could cut short a lifetime of enjoyment.
Safety Harness: The number one accident hunters experience is falling from a tree stand. Don’t be a statistic. Keep your knife handy in case of a fall and if, for some reason, you can get yourself upright.
Cell Phone: Not only is your phone your lifeline in an emergency situation, such as getting hurt so bad you can’t even walk or your car battery goes dead, you can call out for pizza if you don’t bring home the venison.
Fire Starting: In an emergency being able to start a fire can literally be the difference between life and death. A good butane lighter or waterproof matches with some cotton balls saturated with petroleum jelly will start a fire even in the rain. If you forget the cotton balls, a plastic credit card makes great emergency tinder, and may even help your financial situation in the process.
Survival Blanket: A space blanket can be a lifesaver if you get wet or have to spend the night in the woods.
Backpack: Your pack needs to be the proper size for the type of hunting you will be doing. For some hunters, a small day pack may suffice. But if you plan on hauling meat in your pack, then you’ll need a much larger, sturdier pack. Check out our guide to hunting backpacks, which includes a section specifically for deer hunting.
Duffel Bags: If you are headed out of town for an extended hunt you will need something to pack all your gear in. As a tip, rolling up your clothes, instead of folding, will allow you to fit much more in a bag.
Bow or Gun Case: These will protect your most expensive piece of hunting equipment in transit, and are a necessity if traveling by plane. Just be sure your case is FAA approved if you plan to fly commercially.
Toiletry Kit: A week in the woods will require a bit of hygiene, so you don’t spook the deer or your hunting buddies.
Hunting Seat: Better than getting a wet and sore butt.
Handmuff with Warmers: Can be worn around your waist and keeps your shooting finger(s) warm and ready.
20+ Ft. Paracord: Used to raise and lower your gear from your tree stand.
Pack: A roomy waist or daypack to carry all your gear and extra clothing.
Deer Scent: Doe in estrus, for attracting the big guy during the rut, or a fox or skunk urine as a cover sent.
Scent Pads and Hanger: Hang scent pads from a tree or tie to drag behind your boots. If you don’t want to buy or carry a hanger you can just tie the pads to a tree branch with string or fishing line.
Scent-Killer Spray: Nothing stinks like human scents to a deer, particularly the smell of soaps, lotion, tobacco and other associated odors. Hunters support a gargantuan camouflage industry because humans are visually oriented. However, a deer’s nose it its primary defense. Spray scent killer on your boots and all your gear to kill human scent, both before and after heavy activities that cause perspiration. Spray some on a washcloth to use on the back of your neck, underarms and groin areas. Just as camo won’t make you completely invisible, scent killer won’t totally eliminate all human scent, but it will reduce it enough to keep from spooking the deer.
Baking Soda and Water: Carry a small bottle of baking soda dissolved in water to treat areas of your face where you may not want to use scent killer.
Deer Calls: You don’t have to carry enough grunt tubes to build a pipe organ, but every hunter should have one as a grunt can both call a buck in and stop him in his tracks for a standing shot. A doe bleating call can produce similar results. There are also some good all-in-one calls that can cut down on the number of calls you have to carry. A good pair of ratting antlers can make a cagey old buck come in to see who is fighting on his turf. If you don’t have access to a pair of real antlers for rattling, there are commercially-produced synthetic antlers, and bags with rods, that simulate a buck fight. Calls will work on all species of North-American deer, but are most effective on whitetails during the rut.
Tree Stand or Ground Blind: A tree stand will get you up and out of the deer’s line of sight and help you avoid his sense of smell. A ground blind is the next best option, if your not one for climbing trees. There are some great lightweight camouflage blinds that set up in a snap and will completely conceal you from your quarry.
Decoys: A doe decoy can make deer feel safer, increase their curiosity enough to get them to come take a look, or entice a buck to come in to breed the doe. A buck decoy can get a real buck to recklessly charge in for a fight.
Binoculars: Next to your gun or bow, a good pair of binos can be your most important piece of hunting equipment. Not only can it help you spot a deer at a distance, a pair of binoculars can help you evaluate the animal, determining if it is a buck or a doe, a “legal” buck in areas where there are antler-point restrictions, or a record-book rack if you are trophy hunting. A quality pair of binoculars can also help you tell the difference between an antler tine and a tree branch or a rock and the eye of a deer in thick cover.
Spotting Scope: Almost a necessity when hunting the wide-open spaces of the west, a good 50X plus power spotting scope can help locate animals that you may otherwise never knew were there.
Range Finder: What may hunters think of as a luxury item can mean the difference between a missed shot and a filled tag. Range finders are made for both archery and firearm hunters, with the former indicating ranges up to 80 yards and the latter up to 1,000 yards. Without a rangefinder you may pass up a shot at an opportunity that you think is out of your effective shooting range, when it is closer than you think.
Unless you are intimately familiar with your hunting area, always have some way of finding your way out of the woods.
Compass: Not only can a compass help you get back to your vehicle, it can also help you locate your deer after the shot. Often that bush, rock or tree you could so easily identify from your lofty perch is not so clear once your are out of the tree. Take a compass reading on the last spot you saw the deer running before you climb down and once safely on the ground line the compass reading up with the base of the tree and start walking.
GPS: Many of the new Global Positioning Satellite devices designed for hunters are as small as a cellphone and are capable of storing enough data to make Hansel and Gretel envious. As long as you don’t loose it in the river, you will never be lost.
Whether you are just out for the day or are headed to camp for a month, you need to fuel your furnace.
Water: The most crucial of all consumables when exerting yourself physically, running out of water on the hunt can literally be deadly. If you find yourself eight miles away from your truck/camp without water, and it is 80 degrees out, you’re in trouble. Use bottles or a hydration bladder, depending your preference, and pack more than you think you’ll need if you plan on doing a lot of hiking.
Lunch: Sandwiches are always ready when you are, or, if you have a way of heating water, a cup of instant soup or chili at midday can really lift your spirits. Balanced nutrition is key to sustain the physical exertion from hunting, make sure you are getting a good balance of protein, carbs, and fats.
Snacks: Fruit, energy bars, jerky, or nuts will keep your stomach from growing between meals. Trail mix is of course the classic hunting snack.
Thermos: A vacuum bottle of coffee, hot chocolate, tea or soup will keep you warm and cheery all day, and will mean not having to heat water for that soup at midday. Thermoses come in sizes from a pint to two quarts, so you can carry as much as you want or as little as you need. As a tip, stick to decaffeinated beverages as much as possible, so you won’t have to tinkle as often.
Menus: If you are going on an extended outing, you will need to plan out a menu for each day you will be gone. Unless you are camping next to an all-night diner, breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snack must all be accounted for. Take your time and sit down and think about what you want to eat for the duration of your trip. Just be sure to have enough fat and carbohydrates to give your body the energy it needs to trek through the woods all day. Canned, dehydrated and powder foods, like pasta, rice, spaghetti sauce and powder milk, will keep the best.
Ice Chest: Great for packing all your food, and if you camp by a creek you can use the unending supply of cold water, or ice of its cold enough, to keep your vittles chilled.
Utensils: Knives, forks, spoons, mugs, dishes, pots and pans, a dish tub and dish towels, so you don’t have to eat with your fingers.
Tent: If you are camping by yourself a small one or two-person tent is sufficient. For larger groups, a wall tent will keep everyone comfy and even give you space to cook your meals.
Sleeping bag(s): Be sure your bag is rated for at least 10 degrees colder than the lowest temperature you expect on the trip.
Sleeping Pads or Air Mattress: As the saying goes, an inch of insulation on the bottom is worth six inches on top. Closed-cell foam pads are thin, lightweight and great for insulating, but aren’t the softest for sleeping on. However, these work best when packing in away from the road, such as in the wilderness areas of the west. When space and weight is at an issue, an air mattress hard to beat.
Camp Stove and Fuel: A simple two-burner camp stove can cook your meals and double as a heater for your tent. A large bulk propane tank with a regulator hose will be more economical that buying small disposable bottles of propane at the discount mart.
Depending on where you are hunting, and the law, you may only need a knife and a rope to drag out your deer, or you may need to butcher it down to the bone on the spot.
Hunting Knife: A good fixed blade or folding knife to dress your deer. A high-quality folding knife can have some advantages over a fixed blade, often having two or three blades for different jobs, such as a standard blade, a gut hook and a saw blade. However, a fixed blade knife will be able to handle much more punishment.
Rubber Gloves: Will keep your hands clean of blood, and protect you from any diseases the deer may be carrying, during field dressing.
Plastic Bag: Large enough to hold the liver, heart and kidneys, if you save the organs.
Bone Saw: If you need to quarter your deer in the field.
Six-Foot Drag Rope: Better than having to pull the deer all the way back to your truck by its antlers.
Small Bock and Tackle: A couple of small double pulleys and 30 feet of paracord will allow you to get your deer up and off the ground all by your lonesome.
Orange Surveyor’s Tape: Use to mark a lost blood trail or the way back to your deer, should you have to leave it in the woods overnight.
Deer Tag: You know why you need it, just be sure you don’t forget it, or the game warden won’t be your biggest fan.
While it would be awesome to bag a stunning buck without any real preparation or effort, hunting typically takes a lot more dedication than that.
Although many hunting skills are best learned through time and experience, following some basic, common sense rules can help even inexperienced hunters. Listen to the techniques and tips given by those who have consistently succeeded in the past, and you’ll soon be on your way to becoming successful yourself.
Also, check out our in depth guide to hunting deer. It covers even more subjects and has information that will do doubt help tremendously this hunting season!
If you live in the right area, hunting on your own land is likely your best option. It’s conveniently located, which means that you won’t have to dedicate lots of time to traveling or packing up your gear. Besides this, you also have the ability to prepare it for deer season all year long, and you’ll be able to scout it as frequently as you’d like.
For those who live in town, finding a private spot to hunt can be somewhat difficult. If you’ve got friends who own land, asking around for permission to hunt on their property may pay off. At times, even total strangers may be amicable to letting you use their property. There’s no guarantee that they’ll allow it, however, so this isn’t a reliable way to find a spot to hunt.
Hunting on public lands is another option, and for many hunters, it’s the best one available. Although some people cringe at the idea of hunting in a potentially congested area, it’s still more than possible to be successful. In fact, nearby hunters who are clumsier or smellier than you may even send deer in your direction, giving you a better hunt than you would’ve had if they were absent.
When you arrive in a public hunting area, don’t be afraid to strike out away from the crowd. Oftentimes, hunters notice the same signs and place their stands along the same trails, resulting in a ridiculously congested area. By heading out to a more remote location, you’ll be able to avoid this sort of craziness.
If you’re in a poor area for hunting or simply like to travel out of your local neighborhood, then heading out-of-state may be the perfect option for you.
Black-tailed deer are the perfect game if you’ve always dreamed of experiencing the Alaskan frontier. They can also be found in parts of Alaska, as well as in Washington and parts of Oregon and California.
In the Midwestern United States, white-tail deer are plentiful, and their range extends throughout most of the country. However, in popular hunting states such as Kansas, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa you may find that finding public land is rather difficult. In this case, you’ll want to book your hunt with a reputable outfitter.
Want to go west? Although they’re becoming rarer, mule deer in the Rockies and western states make for impressive trophies. Their unique ears and forked racks set them apart from the more common whitetail deer, and they’re larger than their black-tail relatives. The most popular states for hunting these deer are Colorado and Wyoming, although Arizona and Utah are also great options. Drawing a tag for mule deer may take time, however, so don’t expect to make this trip last-minute.
Once you’ve found the land to hunt on, you’ll want to scout the area for signs of deer. You’ll also want to analyze the natural features and terrain to locate the areas deer gravitate towards.
The first step to doing this simply involves reading and interpreting a map of your hunting location. While most people use maps to find roads and rivers, hunters should know how to read and interpret all of the marking used to create the map, as these can lend you solid clues about where deer are likely to be. By identifying potential hot spots before you head out, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and have a solid idea of where to start looking.
Rivers and ponds are good places to start. Ponds attract thirsty game, especially when the weather is hot and dry. If you find a river which is too large to be crossed easily, you might be able to find deer trails following a similar path up to a ford. If you can locate this crossing area, it may be a great place for a stand.
Deer tend to travel over low ground when possible, so search for these areas and markings on a map. Hollows and gullies can be potential trail locations, so pay attention to them.
If you’re in a flat area, these low points might not be as obvious. Look for slight dips and ditches indicated by small contours on your map.
When you’re hunting in a mountainous area, pay attention to saddle-type areas in mountain ridges, as these will attract bucks who don’t wish to cross the ridge at higher points. The area where multiple ridges converge is also a likely location for a trail.
State game agencies often have websites can also provide a wealth of valuable research information for the area and type of deer you’ll be hunting. Other hunters may also provide valuable information, but you’ll need to be careful to separate fact from fiction when listening to their advice.
Once you’re in the area, you’ll want to start scouting the land in person to find actual evidence that deer are indeed present.
Even if you aren’t going to begin hunting right away, you’ll want to do your best to eliminate your human scent and move cautiously while scouting. Alerting the deer to your presence can cause them to change their habits and move to different areas, resulting in a frustrating hunt for you later on.
The signs you’ll be searching for include droppings, food sources, bedding areas, rub lines, and scrapes. By locating these you’ll learn a lot about the habits of the local deer, giving you the ability to place your tree stand or blind in the perfect spot.
Taking a map with you while you scout is a wise move, as you’ll be able to mark the locations of your findings as you go. This will help you determine and remember the general area and habits of the deer at a glance.
Finally, don’t forget to keep your newly-obtained knowledge private. Telling others about what you’ve found may seem enjoyable at the time, but giving away your secrets could result in another hunter bagging your prize. Keep your cards close to your chest and save the stories for a later day.
Droppings are small and oval, and will be found in tightly clustered piles. Don’t confuse them with rabbit pellets, which are rounder and more scattered.
Fresh droppings look dark, and if they’re less than a day old they may also appear moist and shiny. In time, the color of the droppings fades to a near-tan color.
Larger, mature bucks tend to leave larger piles, so you’ll want to pay attention to the size of the pile.
The consistency of fresh droppings can also give you clues as to the diet, helping you locate food sources. Hard, firm pellets point to a diet of bushes and twigs. Very loose droppings indicate an abundance of fruit in the deer’s diet, while a medium consistency likely means that the diet is made of clover and grasses.
Deer forage for and eat about five pounds of food every day. Their diet consists of a wide variety of vegetation. To find popular feeding areas, you’ll want to pay close attention to the location of food sources, as well as to droppings and hoof prints.
Acorns are well-loved by deer, so take note of areas where they are abundant. In orchards, look for areas with deer sign and leftover pieces of fruit.
Fields are also attractive to deer, so keep your eyes open for cornfields with broken stalks, soybean fields with plants that are missing leaves, and alfalfa with ragged, torn off tops.
When going through bushes and underbrush, look for leaves that have been slightly chewed or are missing entirely.
Bedding areas can be a bit difficult for a rookie hunter to spot, but finding them will be very beneficial for your hunt. Look for leaves and grass which have been flattened and crushed.
If you find bedding areas in an optimal feeding location, such as a clover or alfalfa field or abandoned orchard, then the beds are used at night.
Scout around the area until you locate more beds in an area with more cover. If the beds you find are small and medium sized, then they likely belong to does and fawns.
Not sure whether you’ve found large or small beds? The biggest does will make beds about 35 to 40 inches long, so if you’re looking at beds that are this size and smaller, you’ve found the does’ bedding area.
The location of the bucks’ beds will vary depending on the time of year. In the late summer and early fall, the bachelor groups will likely have beds about a quarter mile to three quarters of a mile away from the nighttime beds. These beds will be found in areas with heavy cover.
In the most isolated patches of dense, heavy cover, you may be able to find the bed of a lone buck. This reclusive creature is likely to be a giant, so you’ll want to pay especially close attention to the signs that he leaves.
In late October, when the rut season begins, the bucks will leave their remote bedding areas and stick closer to the does. You’ll want to look for the bed of a single rutting buck just downwind of the does’ daytime bedding area.
Finally, once winter arrives and breeding ends the bucks and does will stay nearby each other, although the beds are typically still segregated by sex.
When you find bedding areas, be sure to leave them undisturbed and keep your distance. If you can pinpoint the location of both night and day beds, then setting up your stand in the area between these beds can give you a great hunting experience. However, messing with the area or leaving your scent can disturb the deer, and leave them feeling less-than secure. If they abandon these beds, the information you’ve learned about their habits will be worthless.
The next type of deer signs you’ll want to be looking for are deer rubs. These are created by bucks in anticipation of the breeding season. The buck will lower his head and rub the top of his head against a tree, creating a bare spot without any bark.
These rubs are typically about 18 inches off the ground, and may often be found in the area between the buck’s bed and feeding areas. If there are any small bushes nearby, you may want to look at them and observe whether or not they have been disturbed. When a buck is trying to shed the velvet off of his antlers he may try to use the bushes to scrape off the velvet.
Once you’ve found the rub, pay attention to which side of the tree is bare of bark–this is the side the buck was facing. Study the ground nearby to find indications of a trail, and follow it to find more rubs. This trail of rubs is known as a rub line, and it marks the buck’s travel route.
To locate rubs made by larger, more mature bucks you’ll want to start looking early if possible. Older bucks will make their first rubs in September. You’ll also want to make sure you’re looking at trees with a diameter of three inches or more.
If you find an area in the buck’s trail where brush narrows the trail and cuts off the ability for him to wander, then you’ve got a great place to place your tree stand.
Deer scrapes are areas where the ground has been scraped bare as a territorial marking sign. Deer will also urinate on the scrape, and often they will also mark any branches above the scrape with their scent using their saliva, foreheads, and antlers.
Scrapes look like clear patches where someone started to rake and gave up after less than a minute of effort. They’re typically about 18 inches large, and are typically in areas without heavy grass. (As this makes it difficult for the buck to scrape the ground clear with his hoofs.)
These signs are only made just before and during mating season, so don’t expect to see them at other times of the year. The earliest scrapes you find are most promising, as older bucks will begin making them sooner than their younger counterparts.
If you find a scrape which doesn’t have any branches above it, it’s likely that the buck wasn’t too serious about what he was doing. Keep searching for scrapes that do have branches a few feet above them, as deer are much more likely to return to these areas.
Most scrapes are made when it’s dark out, often just after the sun sets. Do your best to find a series of scrapes, and then plan to hunt the trail leading up to them.
For some, the method of scattering food around their tree stands or using automatic feeders is a great way to attract deer. Others use food to get deer to come to their trail cameras.
But before you even begin to consider this method, known as baiting, you should know that it is illegal in many states. Laws vary by state and can be very specific about what is legal or not, so be sure to do your research thoroughly.
Even if it is legal in the state you’re hunting in, many hunters shun the idea as being unethical, cheating, and taking the sport out of hunting. There are many other methods which you can successfully and legally use to attract deer, so you might be better off using one of them.
If you own the property you’ll be hunting on, then planting a plot of food specifically for the deer is a great way to keep them local.
Obviously, this is a method that takes a lot of dedication and long-term effort, so it’s not for everyone. However, if you’re an avid hunter and you want to ensure that you’ll be able to be successful while hunting your property, food plots can definitely pay off.
Corn, winter wheat, soybeans, peas, sorghum, and alfalfa are all good choices for food plots. Choose a food that they won’t otherwise find in your area — planting corn in an area full of cornfields just doesn’t make sense.
Apple trees and the acorns from oak trees can also be great for attracting deer, although they take years to grow. While they might take less effort than other crops, you won’t see any benefits from them for a long time.
Make sure you don’t plant food for the deer too closely to your vegetable garden, as you won’t want deer eating the produce there. Keep the plot away from roads as well, as cars will scare the deer away.
Now, if you’re wondering how this is different than baiting, you should realize that food plots are only designed to keep the deer in the area. Don’t expect to sit nearby and shoot deer as they come to your plot to eat — they’re likely to only visit at night, anyway. Baiting, on the other hand, is used like fish lure–it’s a one-time, deadly treat.
Another way to keep the deer coming to your area is by creating a salt lick.
If you’re going to use salt blocks, you’ll want to bury them and cover with a few inches of soil, then sprinkle a bit of salt on top so that the deer are able to locate the block. When using loose salt, clear the ground and pour the salt over the soil, then mix the salt and soil together using a stick.
Although it may take a while, it’s almost certain that the smell of salt will eventually attract the deer. This should result in them returning to visit frequently.
When choosing a place for your salt lick, make sure you select an area where an ugly spot isn’t going to be a problem. The salt in the ground will kill nearby plants, and the deer will dig up the salt to lick it, so this isn’t something you’ll want in your front yard.
If you’re not hunting your own property, then deer lures are definitely your best option. They can be purchased at most sporting goods stores, and come in a variety of scents and types.
The most commonly used scent is deer urine. The scent of a new deer in the area will arouse the curiosity of the local deer population, and they’re likely to come check it out.
Doe scent is especially effective when hunting bucks during the months prior to the peak of breeding season, which is in mid-November. You can apply it to leaves, grass, and trees to attract bucks to your area.
When using lures, you’ll want to be very careful not to get your own scent mingled in with the lures. Instead of bringing deer to you, you could end up scaring them away–and that’s definitely not what you want to accomplish.
As we’ve already mentioned a few times, you really don’t want deer to smell you. Older bucks are likely to be especially wary of human scents.
Deer who smell human scent will likely become skittish. Sensing danger, they’ll change their typical habits to avoid you or the areas you’ve been.
While it’s impossible to completely erase your scent and fool deer, you should be able to avoid their notice until it’s too late.
When you’re washing the clothing you’ll be hunting in, you’ll need to make sure that you use a laundry detergent which is totally scent-free. Wash everything you’ll be wearing, including your gloves, socks and other items.
If you can, hang the items to dry outdoors to help eliminate any leftover odors. When you must use a dryer, make sure you don’t use fabric softener and clean out the lint filter beforehand. If you wish to use dryer sheets, find types which are specifically designed for hunters and smell like the outdoors.
Cologne or perfume may be great on most days, but if you’re heading out to scout or hunt you should stay far away from these sorts of things.
Your soap, shampoo, deodorant, and any other products you use need to be totally scent-free.
Before you head out to hunt, avoid eating and drinking items which might taint your breath and give your location away. Alcohol, spicy foods and the like are best avoided.
If you’ve got to pump gas or spend a lot of time in and around your car, be very careful not to get any gas or car fluids on yourself or your clothing.
Your clothing isn’t the only thing you’ll bring with you, so don’t neglect the other gear you’ll be carrying. Your gun, tree stand, bags, boots, and even your phone can carry scents, so you’ll want to be conscious of this fact while handling them.
To get rid of the scents on these items, you can spray them with a neutralizing spray or a cover scent.
Many hunters believe that ozone generators are very effective at removing much of their scent and preventing deer from being spooked. If you want to go beyond the typical methods of removing scent, this may be an option for you to look in to.
Whitetail deer have about 300 million scent receptors. If the wind is blowing your scent straight towards the deer, then they’re going to pick it up even if you’ve gone to great lengths to minimize and disguise it. Pay close attention to the direction of even the slightest breezes, and be sure to set up your stand or blind downwind of where the deer will be.
For those who own smartphones, there are apps available which may be very helpful for keeping track of exactly how the wind is blowing. Otherwise, simple observation and deduction will provide you with what you need to know.
Although tree stands seem to be more popular these days, using a blind can be a great way to hunt as well.
Moving your blind around is much easier than relocating a tree stand, but taking the time to hide it will require a good bit of time. If you’ve got talent and know how to camouflage a blind well, then this won’t be a big deal–but if you’re horrible at hiding it, then a tree stand is probably a far better option, as stands don’t require hiding like blinds do.
Blinds tend to be quite a bit more comfortable. The small space available on stands makes it difficult to stay in place for more than a few hours, but blinds allow you to move around a stretch a bit more.
Hunters tend to disagree on whether or not a blind or a stand gives you the best amount of scent control. With a blind, you’re able to shelter yourself from the wind more. Tree stands, however, put you and your scent on a higher plane.
The height of a tree stand gives you a better vantage point, allowing you to see much more of the surrounding area. Because you have a good vantage point, they’re also more forgiving in their placement. You can get away with placing your stand in areas where a blind wouldn’t work at all.
Many bow hunters firmly believe that a stand is crucial to success with a bow, and argue that hunting from the ground is nearly impossible.
If you have the ability, investing in both a stand and blind can be beneficial for a serious hunter. However, if you can only choose one then choose the option which suits you best and learn the skills necessary for using it successfully.
Before you begin hunting, it’s important to make sure that both you and other people stay safe. Safety rules may seem boring to some. However, they actually ensure that hunting remains a sport rather than becoming a life-threatening experience.
Some of the most important safety rules to remember are those on gun safety. Even if you’re using a bow, many of the same rules still apply.
Always be completely certain of your target before you shoot. Don’t ever send a bullet or arrow flying simply because you saw some motion — that’s how people end up shooting their friends and fellow hunters.
Always make sure that your gun or bow is in optimal working condition. Clean your firearms regularly.
If you’re using a tree stand to hunt, remember that the height poses another source of danger. While staying safe may seem easy at first, your muscles can become stiff after hours of inactivity, and poor weather conditions can make it even less safe.
If you’re hunting from an elevated tree stand then you need to be sure to always use your safety harness. Be sure you know how to set up your stand properly and safely. If you’ve never used it before, then practicing before you head out is a good idea. Store all of the components together so that you don’t forget vital parts or pieces.
Finally, remember that even if you take every possible precaution accidents can still happen. If you’re going to head out alone, it’s especially important to let others know where you’re planning to go and when you’ll be back.
Most cell phone services provide coverage maps on their websites. Checking to see if you’re likely to have coverage is a good idea, and you should let others know beforehand if it’s likely that you’ll be unable to contact them while hunting.
If you’re headed into an area which is unfamiliar or which is likely to have dangerous wildlife or terrain, make sure you prepare for the unexpected beforehand. Take any safety equipment you may need, and brush up on your knowledge of first-aid.
Deer hunting is a time honored tradition in American culture. It is a way to feed your family higher quality protein than you could ever find in a store. It is a thrilling adventure and sport, filled with adrenaline rushes and brutally long hikes carrying heavy packs. It is a way to connect with nature, and our more primal side. It’s easy to see why so many individuals in the US go out each year in pursuit of a trophy buck or a full freezer (or, more likely, both).
Many people these days aren’t raised as hunters. This guide is a great starting point for anyone that is interested in learning how to hunt deer. It will go over everything from equipment, to spotting, to legalities and even what to do after a successful hunt. Whether you are a novice or a seasoned hunter, there is something here for you. It is long and in depth, so use the table of contents to jump around easily to the topics that you most want to learn about.
Good luck, and we’ll see you in the field!
Preparation is without a doubt the most important aspect of becoming a successful deer hunter. If you aren’t fully prepared for any circumstances that could pop up, you’ll find yourself in big trouble if the worst happens. What if you are stuck out in the cold without survival gear? What if you forgot your deer tag and get caught by the authorities? Or what if you don’t have the right weapon and you can’t make a clean kill? There are way too many potential circumstances to list, so I won’t get into them all. Moral of the story is, be prepared for anything when deer hunting.
This section covers some of the biggest things you need to do to get prepared. Read over it carefully, and make sure that you have thought of all the things you may need for your specific circumstances. If you’re going to be using an ATV, do you have extra gas for it? If you are hiking through snow, do you have waterproof boots that won’t slip when you walk? There are an infinite amount of possibilities, so make sure you’re prepared for all of them properly.
The absolute number one thing you need to do before anything else when getting ready for the upcoming deer hunting season is making sure you are totally legal. If you don’t, you could end up in jail for poaching. So get your valid hunting license first. In some cases with most states, you’ll have to take a class before getting the license.
Once you get your license, you may need to get a tag. Again, this varies by state, but it is extremely important that you get one that is for the species of deer you want, the sex of deer you intend to hunt, and for the right area. You may have to put in for a lottery in order to draw the right to buy a tag. In my home state of Idaho, for instance, there are certain areas where you can buy a “general” tag that allows you to hunt for one male deer. However, there are certain areas, which are typically much more desirable to hunt in, where you have to put in and win a lottery to be able to hunt there.
If you want to find out more details about the legal aspects of hunting deer in your state, first check out the homepage of we have articles here covering every state.
From there, check out your state’s government’s website, they will have an entire section (and sometimes a separate website) dedicated to hunting laws.
Knowing what you are hunting is one of the most important aspects of deer hunting. There are big differences between the species that you need to be aware of. Not only will it help to know the behaviors and habitat of the species you are hunting, but it will also keep you out of potential legal trouble. If you have a “whitetail only” tag and you shoot a mule deer, you could be faced with poaching charges.
Here are rundowns on four of the most common deer species to hunt in the lower 48 states:
The whitetail is one of the most common deer to hunt in the United States. It has abundant populations in many different areas.
Distinctive in its appearance, the whitetail deer is the species from which all sub-species originate. Its coat changes with the seasons. During the early spring to late summer their coat is red/brown to deep red. This changes to a coal/gray color from early fall through the winter season. Just like its name, its one unique feature is the whitetail underside. The species raises this as a warning of danger.
Population locations depend primarily on their eating habits. Although they will eat mice and birds, this is rare. Whitetails are primarily herbivorous and feed on clover, mushrooms, grasses and hay. They will eat unprotected animal feed, gardens and agricultural growth as well as personal pet food. Their steady foraging will damage areas if the population is not controlled.
Understanding whitetail deer patterns means remembering they go where an abundance of food supply is available, they move to secure locations, and breeding factors. The seasonal movement of the whitetail deer species begins during the fall with the majority of the species conducting their movement at dusk and early morning. The male (buck) lays low during this time while the female (doe) locates a secure location. The feeding range, where food is available, usually consists of a one-mile radius.
The average size of this species varies depending on its sex and location. Male whitetails can weigh in between 100 lbs. to 350 lbs. Average weight is between 80 and 135 lbs. The female primarily is smaller and weighs in at an average of 125 lbs. The male’s antlers regrow annually with the growth period most predominant from spring through early winter. At this point, the male will then shed the antlers. Depending on the male’s access to an abundant feeding ground, the age of the deer, and time of year, they can potentially grow eight-point antler racks.
The Live Outdoors website lists whitetail deer rankings for the five optimal hunting areas in the United States. It is important to state that these rankings change from year to year as the deer population changes from region to region. Colorado takes the number one spot with Iowa taking second place. Although it is not in the United States – Alberta, Canada is third, followed by Arizona fourth and Texas taking fifth.
There are over seventeen sub-species of the whitetail deer hunted in the United States. This whitetail deer information may slightly change depending on climate conditions. Out of the seventeen, the largest are the Northern Woodland, the Kansas, the Dakota, the Texas, the Northwest species, and the Avery Island whitetail. Average size sub-species include the South Carolina (Hilton Head and Hunting Island species), the Blackbeard Island, Florida whitetail, and Florida Coastal.
The smallest of the seventeen sub species are the Florida Key-deer with Bull’s Island being small and limited, as well as the Carmen Mountain, the Arizona and Columbian.
The most popular hunted species all other sub-species derive from is the Virginian whitetail deer. Its range covers over ten states and is considered a good size deer with large antler growth.
Mule deer are widely distributed throughout western North America. They can be found from north central Canada, west to southeast Alaska, all along the Pacific coast, down to Baja, and from Baja west to the Texas panhandle.
Mule deer are named for their large mule-like ears. Even though their ear canals are roughly the same size as that of humans, their ears can be nine inches in length. They can also swivel their ears 360 degrees to listen for predators. The mule deer can hear a much larger range of frequencies than humans can, making this one very nervous animal.
Another feature that differentiates the mule deer from other deer species is that their tail set is downward, unlike the whitetail deer which holds its tail upright. Another characteristic of the mule deer is the bounding gait they exhibit, called stotting. When not walking, stotting or loping, a Mule deer is capable of running 40 mph for several miles before stopping, a good asset to possess when you consider mule deer are the number one prey of mountain lions. Mountain lions depend so heavily on the mule deer for food that the mountain lion’s jaw has evolved over time to fit the throat and windpipe of deer in order to hasten their kill.
The life span of the mule deer in the wild is about ten years. They are susceptible to a host of diseases and parasites such as Chronic Wasting Disease, Hoof and Mouth, plus many bacterial infections. Tough winters can also decimate herd populations in higher elevations. Normally, the first good snowfall will trigger the mule deer migration from the high mountains down to their winter range. Failure to move lower before heavy snow will leave them snowbound and starving.
Mule deer does can birth from one to four fawns in late spring. Both sexes tend to browse and band together as the snow and ice retreat. The deer head back to higher elevations prior to the onset of summer. The bucks’ antlers shed in winter and by spring are quickly growing back as food sources become more available. It is during this time that the antlers are referred to as being “in velvet” due to the soft membranes covering the boney growths.
By late summer, mule deer segregate according to gender. Younger bucks group together in bands called bastards, while the older, more experienced bucks go alone, waiting for the rut to begin.
Cooling weather appears to be the mechanism by which nature tells the mule deer it’s time again to breed. The bucks spar with brush and tree limbs, honing their fighting skills while marking their territories. The larger bucks become stirred by the sounds of rattling antlers and move in from their haunts to do battle for the right to breed.
Blacktail deer inhabit the western reaches of North America from British Columbia into California along the coast and some distance inland.
Dan Gibson, a blacktail deer information expert, says the deer can be found as much as 100 miles from the coast. While they may range further inland, they grow increasingly rare as the distance from the ocean increases.
The most recent genetic studies show the blacktail deer is a subspecies of mule deer.
Most trophy-class blacktails are in the 140-pound range. While 200-pounders have been killed, they are very rare. Males are larger than the females when fully mature. Young deer can be the same size. Trophies are typically mature deer. Young animals have not had time to get full expression of their antlers. Blacktail bucks shed their antlers every year and grow a new set by fall. While also extremely rare, female blacktail can have antlers.
The blacktail deer is crepuscular, active in the twilight hours of early morning and late evening, but can be found foraging any at time of the day or night. They prefer the edge of open areas and thick woods as this is where their preferred food is commonly found.
The blacktail is a browser. It will feed briefly in one place and move on, unless it has a compelling reason to stay in one spot. They eat a wide variety of plants, preferring tender green plants if at all possible. The can eat Douglas fir, Organ yew and western cedar if necessary. Food plots of native vegetation and domesticated peas, beans and grasses will attract these animals. Baiting these deer can cause them to concentrate in one area and stay at a feeding station for a while.
The deer feed heavily in spring and summer to build up fat reserves for the winter. Starvation is a major cause of death among these animals.
During the rut, breeding season, big males will be active almost constantly, giving little time to feeding and sleeping. The bucks are much less wary during the rut and most trophy-class animals are killed at this time. Bucks will lose weight during the breeding period. The rut is at a maximum in November.
Hunting regulations vary by state and province. In parts of California a bow-only season opens in July. In other
places, the hunt does not begin until September or October. Hunting regulations also vary as to what antler-size and gender animals can be killed.
Successful hunters will find movement patterns for the deer in an area. They will learn where the deer feed and where they bed down. Putting a hunting stand between these two locations allows a hunter to kill a blacktail on the way to bed down in the morning or on the way to feed in the evening. In both cases, the hunter should be in the stand well before he expects to see deer.
Hunting pressure will turn these animals completely nocturnal, even during the rut.
California produces the most record book bucks, but the very biggest come from the northern reaches of the blacktail’s territory.
Named after Dr. Elliot Couse, the naturalist and ornithologist who discovered them, Couse deer are a diminutive subspecies of whitetail deer. Nicknamed the “grey ghost” for their seemingly supernatural ability to appear and vanish like smoke, the elusive little deer is one of the most challenging species of all North American big game animals.
Volumes have been written about Coues deer; however, much of the available Coues whitetail deer information is incomplete or inaccurate. Commonly mispronounced either “cows” or “coos,” Couse is properly spoken “kouse,” as in replacing the “h” in house with a “k.”
Couse deer have one of the most restricted ranges of all species of whitetail deer. Inhabiting the mountainous regions of the desert southwest of the United States and the mountains of northern Mexico, Couse deer are not found in low-lying valleys like their larger cousins of the northern United States. Living at elevations from 3,000 to 10,000 feet, Couse deer primarily inhabit southwest New Mexico, south and central Arizona, California along the Arizona border and almost all of Sonora, Mexico.
Coues deer do not migrate and have a limited individual home range of less than 1,000 acres. During the morning hours Couse whitetails are found feeding on southern hillsides and then bedded during the day, under trees or in tall grass on north facing hillsides in the summer months and southern facing slopes during the winter.
Aside from their smaller physical size, Coues whitetails are no different from their larger relatives. Larger only than the key whitetail deer found in the Florida Keys, Coues whitetails stand between 24 and 32 inches high at the shoulder. Male deer weigh an average of 125 pounds with the does averaging approximately 80 pounds.
Coues whitetail antlers have the same configuration as other whitetails, with points typically growing upwards off one long main beam; females do not have antlers. Matching their smaller body sizes, Coues deer antlers are also much smaller than standard size whitetails with the largest antlers on record scoring 144 1/8 points, compared to the overall world record whitetail with an antler score of 213 5/8 points.
Coues deer forage in thickets of acacia, manzanita, mesquite and scrub oak. The deer’s diet also includes the fruit of cacti, Ceanothus, mountain mahogany and various forbs and grasses.
In the U.S., only Arizona and New Mexico hold hunting seasons for Couse deer. Because of the terrain they inhabit, a combination of traditional whitetail hunting methods and western hunting techniques used for mule deer and elk work best when pursuing Coues whitetails.
During morning and evening hours, when deer are feeding, setting up at the top of a south facing slope and glassing below can be highly productive. During midday, when deer are bedded, glassing with binoculars or spotting scope and stocking with range is the best option. Because most of the west is so arid, setting up by an active watering hole is highly productive. Unlike other species of whitetails, Coues deer are generally vocal throughout the day, making them susceptible to calling into range with snort and grunt calls. During the rut rattling antlers can be effective.
If seeking further Coues whitetail deer information, consult credible sources such as state fish and game departments.
After you’ve done some research, and before you get your tag, you need to decide on what kind of weapon you will use to hunt deer. This decision will depend on several different factors.
The first question to ask yourself is what are you comfortable with? Did you grow up around guns? Are you an ace archer? Whatever weapon you choose, you need to make sure you are more than fully comfortable with it.
Below are descriptions of five of the most common weapon types to use when deer hunting.
Rifle hunting is by far the most common, and for good reason. Rifles are powerful, relatively simple to use and maintain, and can be had for a low investment. They allow you to kill deer from long ranges, even beyond 500 yards if you are a very good shot and have a nice rifle. Even a novice hunter with a small amount of time spent on the range practicing can kill a deer from several hundred yards away with a rifle. This makes them an ideal hunting weapon for many.
If you are going to use a rifle, then picking the right rifle is a critical decision to make. There are many different choices out there, ranging from inexpensive packages to rifles that run thousands even without optics. Choosing the right rifle will come down to these things:
Pick a Caliber
The first step on picking your first (or next) deer rifle is to pick the right caliber to shoot out of your gun. This is the most crucial step of the process. Take the following into consideration when you pick yours:
Pick the caliber that fits you best based on those three conditions. I, personally, shoot a 270 WSM, but this is also my elk rifle. If it wasn’t for that, I’d shoot a 243.
Pick a Brand and Model
Next you have to pick the brand and model that you want to buy. There are many different options out there. To pick, weigh in these questions:
I am a big Remington fan, so my deer rifle is a Remington 700 SPS, which I think is a great all around gun for around $500 new. This is a very reasonable price for the gun you get. If I was willing to spend more money, I would get either a 700 Sendero, or one of the new Tikka tactical rifles.
Used or New?
Then you must answer the final question, used or new? There is definitely validity to both sides of that debate. If you want to break in the rifle yourself and know every detail of every part of that rifle’s life, then buy new. That’s what I typically choose to do. If you don’t care so much about that and want to shave some cost off of an expensive purchase, then buy used, just make sure that you buy from someone that you trust.
Buying a rifle for this year’s deer hunting season that you both enjoy shooting and is of good quality, will ensure that you only have to make this difficult decision once. It can be hard to pick the right rifle, but I hope that the advice above has helped you look at what counts in a rifle.
Once you have your rifle you need to get a scope to mount on it. There are an innumerable amount of options out there, so do some shopping. Prices vary from $50 to $2000. The main difference will be the quality of optics, meaning the amount of light they let in and the clarity of the glass.
There are several things you should consider when you purchase a deer hunting scope. Get one that is simple. All the tactical knobs and fancy adjustment dials will do you no good in the field unless you are shooting from very long range. A simple reticle is best, as it provides you the most unencumbered view. There is much debate as to the best amount of zoom for a hunting scope. Most hunters, including myself, use a 3 – 9 power. Anything less than that isn’t enough for a long shot, and anything more is overkill for 95% of the shots you’ll take on deer in the
field. A 40mm lens is the most common, and works very well. If you would like a little bit more light coming through, a 50mm lens is a great option, but it will cost you slightly more. Scopes in general are more about personal preference than anything else. Whatever you can see through well that is in your price range is what you should use.
For a great resource on buying rifle scopes, check out OpticsDen.com.
The next most common type of weapon for deer hunting is the bow. Archery hunting requires much more skill and practice then simple rifle hunting. This is both a deterrent, and for more many a huge incentive, seeing as it provides an extra challenge. In order to kill a deer with a bow, you will need to be very close, within around 50 yards, and often closer.
If you are going to hunt with a bow, you will need to first invest in quality equipment. Do some research and find a quality bow that will fit you well. Go to a big outfitter and find out what your draw length is, and what you can pull back for a draw weight. Once you’ve figured that out, decide what kind of bow you want to get.
The most common type for modern hunters is the compound bow. They look very complicated, but they are definitely more powerful and lethal than any other option. They are also much easier to be accurate with, which can be a big factor if you are just starting out in archery. Make sure you learn about all the accessories, as these are very important with a compound bow. Also make sure you learn the ins and outs of your particular model.
If you want to be more traditional, then you can get an old school long bow. They have no sights, can be very difficult to pull back and hold steady compared to a long bow, but many love them from a traditional sense.
If you want something of a compromise, you can get a recurve bow. They are similar to a long bow, but they have curves at the top and bottom, making the bow more powerful and efficient. They also usually have sights for aiming and rests that create less drag on the arrow.
Once you have the bow you want, and some broad head arrows, you should practice shooting quite a bit. It takes serious skill to shoot well, and a bow isn’t nearly as effective as a rifle. If you don’t hit the deer in the exact right spot, you may be blood trailing it quite a distance and you may never find it. It is well worth taking the time to practice if you are going to bow hunt.
Bow hunting also requires different hunting tactics than rifle. For the most part, bow hunters sit in stands at game trails and other areas where deer are likely to come by. Keep that in mind when deciding what kind of weapon you will hunt deer with.
If you think rifle hunting is too easy and bow hunting too difficult, then this may be your perfect option. Shotguns are firearms, but they lack the range and precision of a rifle. Shotguns are most often associated with bird hunting. However, if you load them up with slugs, they become very effective deer guns. If you do choose to hunt with a shotgun, make sure you check the laws in your area. In some states there is an entirely separate season for shotgun hunters.
A shotgun is typically cheaper than a rifle seeing as you wouldn’t normally buy a scope. Shotguns with slugs have a range of around 100 yards, 150 if you have an ideal setup, so there is no real need for the magnification of a scope. This does save money, and can add an increased challenge to your hunt.
An alternative, yet similar method to the shotgun is muzzleloader hunting. Again, make sure you check with your states laws first. A muzzleloader is what it sounds like, a gun that you load from the muzzle. That means you only get one shot at a deer, as reloading takes quite some time. The strategies you use will be similar to hunting with a bow or a shotgun; the main difference will be that there is almost no chance for a second shot.
The last weapon on this list is the crossbow. In many respects, it is similar to the last two weapons, so I’ll be brief. Again, check the legality, and know that you may not get a second shot with this type of weapon. However, it can be an effective way to deer hunt.
According to some hunters, the only essential deer hunting equipment is a rifle and ammunition. However, if you want to have a safe and successful hunt, there are a number of pieces of gear that can help substantially. Here is a look at some of the most important equipment for any successful deer hunt.
It may seem obvious, but many hunters don’t pay nearly enough attention to the clothing they wear in the field. The first and most important consideration is the weather. Planning equipment for a hunt should begin with a survey of the local climate. In particular, attention should be paid to the average temperature for the time of year, typical chances of rain or other inclement weather and advanced forecasts if available.
When hunting in a location where cold weather is expected, dressing in layers is essential. An excellent first layer is a pair of long underwear. Even when cold weather is not expected, layering can be beneficial because it allows a hunter to add or remove layers to remain comfortable regardless of the conditions. While hunting in areas of excessive heat, clothing should be lightweight, loose-fitting and breathable. Clothing that wicks sweat away from the skin is also a good choice. Some such clothing has the added benefit of neutralizing the smell from sweat, reducing the chance of being detected by deer or other animals.
Because deer have extraordinarily sensitive hearing, all clothing should be made from material that makes as little noise as possible while moving. Natural fibers such as wool and cotton are generally the best choice, while materials such as nylon and denim should be avoided. Wool is typically the best overall choice for clothing because it is effective at regulating temperature in both warm and cold climates, it performs well in wet conditions and, despite taking longer to dry, it often feels drier on the skin than other materials.
The final consideration for clothing is a quality pair of boots. Because each individual is different, there is no right or wrong answer here. The important thing is to find a pair of boots that is comfortable to wear for long distances. A great test is to wear the boots on a long hike. After the hike, there should be little or no foot discomfort. The preferred material is Gore-Tex since it helps protect the feet from water and snow.
Although many hunters can and do get by with just one knife, carrying two knives can prove very useful. While one blade can be used for field dressing deer, the other should be better suited for survival and other tasks hunters may be faced with. For field dressing, the ideal knife is thin easily maneuvered. Some people even prefer very small knives for field dressing, despite the large hunting knife stereotype. While fixed blades are sturdier, a folding blade design will also work well and be safer and more convenient to carry. Here is a resource with some great folding knife recommendations.
The second, larger knife should have a blade of at least four inches and be of fixed-blade design. This knife can be used for cutting rope, chopping wood, butchering game animals and a variety of other tasks. Hunters must be prepared to survive in the woods should they get lost or blocked in by weather, and a large knife is perhaps the best survival tool available.
There are many knives out there that can fill both requirements, which will mean less to carry.
Hunting can only be successful if the game is able to be seen, and to that end a good set of optics is crucial. Because of the extreme sensitivity and fickle nature of deer, being able to see them from great distances can be a huge advantage. When choosing optics, low-light performance is perhaps the most important consideration. Deer tend to be most active at dusk and dawn, so hunter’s optics must perform well in these conditions. Binoculars with 42-50mm objective lenses are a popular choice for this application. If you want to find the best pair of binoculars to purchase for hunting, check out the guide on OpticsDen.com.
Magnification depends upon the area being hunted. When cover is ample or sight lines are frequently limited, a lower magnification power with a wider field of view is best suited for the job. For open, rugged areas with little cover, a higher magnification is necessary. Magnification power greater than ten is difficult to hold steady without the use of a tripod, however, so a balance must be struck between image quality and magnification power.
The final pieces of essential deer hunting equipment are several items that can be carried in a fanny pack or other small carrying space. These items are intended to be useful not only for the hunt, but also for survival if it should become necessary. The first item is a 50-foot length of parachute cord. This cord is small, lightweight and incredibly strong. It is strong enough to hang a deer, and it can also be taken apart to access its several smaller component cords. These smaller cords can be used for shelter construction, traps and many other things.
A GPS unit is an excellent addition to the kit and should be included if possible, though a functioning compass is a suitable substitute. A small map of the hunting area should be included as well. Safety and survival equipment should include a small first aid kit, snake bite kits if necessary, odorless insect repellant, water purification tablets, a space blanket, cable saw and a small flashlight. Finally, some means of starting a fire should also be included. There are a number of options for this, including lighters, matches, and chemical fire starters. Perhaps the most reliable option, however, is a flint fire starter.
Ultimately, there is an almost endless variety of equipment and supplies that can improve the hunting experience and make it safer. There is rarely a single correct choice, and it depends greatly on the needs and abilities of the hunter. One hunter’s essential deer hunting equipment may be unnecessary to another. However, the equipment items listed above are perhaps the most important pieces to ensure a safe and successful deer hunt in nearly any location.
Deer scouting techniques are as varied as are species of deer and the habitats in which they live. For instance, scouting for mule deer in the thick chaparral of southwest Texas, where visibility and accessibility are nearly zero at ground level, is going to require a different approach than scouting for mule deer in canyon country where you can see from horizon to horizon.
Obviously, in thick chaparral, deer scouting techniques will require you to find a vantage point where you can view a source of attraction for the deer to come to, such as food or water. This is why blinds on tall telescoping scissors are so popular for hunters in this part of the country.
Check first with your state’s hunting regulations before you put out deer attractants like salt blocks or feed. Doing so is strictly prohibited in many jurisdictions and you could find yourself on the wrong side of the law.
The best possible deer scouting technique is the actual time you spend in the field prior to deer season, walking the fields, observing the woods, looking for deer and their signs. Where the buck rubs are located, a buck has clearly marked out his territory, and the higher the rub, the bigger the buck. Look for deer tracks around the rub and on the game trails. If you have a game camera, this could be an ideal place to set it up. If you don’t have a game cam, consider raking an area of soft ground on the game trail or near a water tank and return frequently to see if deer are using it. Water tanks and preferred food sources are also ideal locations for game cams.
Game cams can be your eyes and even ears for your deer scouting techniques out in the field when you can’t be there. The cost of a good, inexpensive game cam starts at around $120.00. At that price, you basically get a motion sensor and maybe a 2.5 megapixel digital camera in one. But it doesn’t cost much more to upgrade to a better unit. Today’s top shelf game cams are not much different from the hi-tech surveillance cameras used in high crime areas in the city. Costs of the better units can run $500 or more. These cams can come equipped with microphones and broadband Internet connections so you can see the video in real time. Manufacturers have made these cameras incredibly stealthy, too, by making them remarkably quiet and nearly invisible to game. LED lighting, infrared and night vision are replacing strobe flashes because the flashes scare away game. Even the cheaper game cam models come with expandable memory and auxiliary power jacks, allowing the deer scout to leave the camera unattended much longer in the field.
For those deer scouts unfamiliar with the game cam, start with a more affordable unit, but one that allows a memory card and has an auxiliary power jack. Nothing can be more frustrating than getting back out to the field after setting the camera up, only to find the batteries died at some point or the memory is full and you don’t have any idea what great pictures you may have lost. Having more than one game cam is also a good idea. The effective field of vision for game cams is only about sixty to eighty feet in daylight, and much less at night. Why monitor only one area if you can afford to monitor several? It’s also a very good idea to get familiar with your game cam around the home, long before you burn your precious time and fuel heading out to the woods with a camera you know nothing about. Read the manual and know the settings so you won’t be disappointed once you have set it up in the field.
A good deer scout knows the game he’s scouting. He knows the deer’s sense of smell could be a thousand times better than his own. Before heading to the field to scout, bathe with odorless soap. Wash your cloths in odorless detergent and don’t smoke or use any aftershave or scented antiperspirant. Be aware of the wind directions in the field and try to stay downwind of where you hope to see deer.
Keep in mind that a deer’s vision is poor when it comes to discerning unmoving objects, but its vision does allows it to see movement at a great distance. Once a vantage point is found, be still, very still. If possible, move only your eyes and don’t raise your binoculars quickly if you need to use them. If standing, be motionless against an object like a tree, and keep very quiet. Don’t stand with your legs apart, keep them together. Your legs apart look like an inverted V, and this shape very rarely appears in nature. Deer are color blind, so wearing camouflage in the field is not much of a benefit. Camouflage is even illegal to wear in some states and you may be required instead to wear a certain amount of hunter orange.
Before deer scouting anywhere, show friends or family a map of where you plan to go, and tell them when you will return. Prepare for foul weather with adequate clothing and make certain ahead of time that your vehicle is up to the task and the terrain. Take a GPS along and know how to use it in advance. The GPS will also come in handy for flagging any spots where deer activity is observed. Take enough food and water to last beyond the number of days you plan to be gone. Pay your cell phone bill, and make sure the batteries are fully charged. Take a flashlight, spare batteries and lighters.
Now that you’re prepared for your deer hunt, it’s time to learn what to do when you get out there. Deer hunting can be very exciting, with some tense action when you do spot deer, but it also can be dangerous. Make sure you read the chapter on weapon safety, regardless of how experienced you are with guns. It is never harmful to get a reminder.
Hunting is a skill, so read the tips provided in that section of the book. However, know that to be a successful hunter, you will need practice and experience. No matter how much you read, you need some in the field experience. I highly recommend you go with an experienced hunter the first time you go out. It will help you tremendously.
Weapon safety is the absolute most important thing to learn when getting started in the hunting world. Some meat in the freezer isn’t worth accidentally putting a bullet through your own leg. Read over these basic weapon safety rules regardless of whatever weapon you choose to hunt with; they apply to anything.
These five rules are a great foundation to build up good weapon safety habits. If you want to learn more about it (and you should), here is a great resource:
Below are six of the most common deer hunting techniques. When deciding which one to use, think about where you will be hunting, and the habits and movements of the deer you’ve been spotting.
As deer possess extraordinarily sharp senses of smell and hearing, locating a likely looking ambush spot and then letting the deer come to you is perhaps the most productive of all basic deer hunting techniques. Working in all types of cover, from thick brush to open meadows and parks, stand hunting is effective for all deer species. Stand hunting works especially well when the woods are dry and noisy, or if the hunter is unfamiliar with the territory or terrain.
For stand hunting to be productive it is necessary to locate an area where there are obvious signs of deer activity. Look for spots where two or more trails converge, with fresh hoof prints along both trails. Locate feeding areas, such as apple orchards, crop fields and oak trees. During the rut, or breeding season, look for places where a buck has marked his territory by making scrapes, patches where the deer has dug down to the bare earth with its hoofs, or rubs, spots on trees where the buck has removed the bark with its antlers. Additionally, if water is scarce in an area, a water hole can be a productive place to wait. Locating two or more indicators in the same area is a sign of an ideal place to post a stand.
Select a stand location that offers a good vantage point, such as on a hill overlooking the area deer are expected to be moving through. Sit up against a tree or make a ground blind out of natural materials, such as dead tree limbs, to breakup your outline. Tree stands can be highly productive, providing a superior vantage point of the surrounding area and will keep human scent off the ground. However, use caution as many hunters are seriously injured every year by falling from tree stands; be sure to use a safety harness at all times when climbing and in a tree stand.
Requiring the patience of Job to be successfully executed, still hunting can be very effective. Still hunting requires moving through the woods at a slow and methodical pace. The goal in still hunting is to move slowly enough so that the hunter sees the deer before the deer spots the hunter. However, the problem with still hunting is that most hunters become impatient and begin moving too fast, spooking the deer before they get close enough for a shot.
Ideally, still hunting is done by taking three very quiet and slow steps, avoiding any ground debris or overhanging branches that have the potential of making any sound whatsoever. The area is then looked over inch by inch, preferably with binoculars, looking for any signs of deer, before taking another three steps.
Best suited to open areas where deer can be seen at a distance, spotting and stalking is exactly as it sounds. Setting up on a vantage point that provides a good view, the hunter thoroughly examines the terrain with binoculars or a spotting scope. When spotting, a hunter must look for anything that could give away the deer’s presence, such as the glint of light off an antler or eyeball. A highly successful spotting technique is to look for birds on the ground. As birds are obviously smaller than deer, any deer will stand out like a sore thumb.
Once a deer is spotted a stalking route must be carefully planned out to keep the hunter hidden while approaching within range, taking advantage of all available cover such as ravines, dry washes, crop fields and stands of timber. Spotting and stalking is highly effective during midday hours, when animals are bedded. Additionally, spotting deer in the morning, while they are on the move, and waiting for the animals to bed down for the day can also be a highly productive strategy.
A combination of spotting and stalking and still hunting, there are two methods of tracking. The first involves cutting a fresh set of tracks and slowly following them, in still-hunting mode, until the deer is found. The second tracking technique requires a level of physical fitness that few hunters possess. Once a set of tracks is discovered, the hunter literally starts running on the trail until the deer is caught up with. The hunter then gives the deer 15 to 20 minutes to settle down and then begins still hunting. Tacking works best after a new snowfall or rain when the ground is soft and quiet.
Drive hunting requires a group of hunters and a small section of land. The majority of the hunters, known as the drivers, take up positions forming a semi-circle around one end of the targeted area. The other hunters, generally two to four depending on the size of the group and the plot of land being driven, are called the standers or blockers. The standers take up positions at the far end of the area being driven and wait for the driver to push the deer to them. Overall, drive hunting is not as effective as other methods, as deer are highly skilled at slipping between the drivers. Additionally, all drivers must use extreme care not to shoot in the direction of the other drivers, often preventing them from taking shots themselves. One drive technique that does have some success is posting trailing hunters behind the drivers, who will often catch deer trying to slip backwards through the line of drivers.
A final basic deer hunting technique involves walking through an area with thick cover, such as a corn field, and shooting the deer as they jump up to run, usually with a shotgun. Because there is often little or no time to identify if the deer is a buck or doe, jump shooting is most effective in areas where it is legal to shoot either sex. Also because of safety issues, jump shooting should only be done on private land where there are no other hunters present.
You’ve done your job, you put out the effort. You picked a good spot, used the right technique, and there is a deer in front of you. Now what?
First off, calm yourself down. In the heat of the hunt and the excitement of seeing an animal, it’s easy to get over excited or anxious. This can cause you to take shots that aren’t good shots, make lots of noise accidentally, and many other things that will stop you from getting the kill.
Second, get your weapon ready. If you are hunting with a rifle, you should at least have it loaded at this point. Now chamber a round, take off the safety, and look through your scope at the animal. If you’re using a bow, nock an arrow if you haven’t already, pull back the bow, and find the deer in your sights.
Once you’re ready to shoot, don’t right away. Take a second again to calm your heart down. If you are shaking at all, take the time to let it calm down. You want a good, clean kill shot, not an injured animal.
Now, aim for the vital areas. These are going to be primarily towards the front of the animal, where the heart and lungs are. If you are a very good shot, you can also aim for the head or neck areas. Just know that they are smaller targets and much easier to miss. If you shoot a deer in the chest with a powerful weapon, it will almost surely die quickly. The key is to hit it right in the vital
area. This will be right behind the front leg, in the middle of the body.
Try to avoid hitting the deer in the guts. This means the back half of the deer’s body. If you do, you run serious risk of soiling some of the meat when the contents of the guts are released into the animal’s body. It also won’t be a clean kill, with the animal suffering unnecessarily and oftentimes running a significant distance before dying.
Sometimes, the kill doesn’t happen quite like you’d like it to. You hit the deer, but instead of dropping dead, it sprints off. You watch it go, but it quickly disappears behind some trees or on the other side of a hill. You have no hope of catching up with it, so your only option of finding the animal is to blood trail it.
Blood trailing is exactly what it sounds like: following the trail of fresh blood a wounded animal leaves behind. Blood will tend to spray pretty profusely from a gunshot or arrow wound, so often times it’ll be easy to follow a trail of blood. That isn’t always the case however. Some blood trails can have huge gaps in between the spatters of blood, and be in small amounts and hard to see.
First, find the point the deer was shot at. You should see some telltale sign there, such as a blood pool. Then start walking in the direction the deer ran in. Typically they run in the direction they were facing when hit. Look for blood as you walk. If you haven’t seen any in awhile, you may be missing the trail, and need to turn back to head in a different direction.
Deer like to take the path of least resistance when wounded. A meadow is much more appealing than a thick forest. Running downhill is much easier than up. This isn’t necessarily a rule, but it is definitely something to consider if you are having a hard time finding the trail.
Another thing to do when blood trailing is to keep your sense of smell fully engaged. Often times you’ll smell the deer before you see it, especially if you hit it in a not ideal location like the guts. I once shot a deer in the lower stomach area, and had to blood trail it. I had lost the trail for a little bit, but then smelled something that was clearly not supposed to be there. Sure enough, I looked around a tree, and there were the poor animal’s guts in a nice pile where they had fallen out while he ran. From there, it was easy to track the rest of the way, and I quickly found the animal.
Blood trailing is not something you want to do often, but it is something you should always be prepared to do. Hopefully you are successful in making clean kills, but if worse comes to worst, be ready to spend some time finding that animal whose life you took; it is well worth the effort.
So you made your big kill. You were well prepared, had the perfect spot scouted out, and found your deer. Your weapon came through, the target practice was all worth it, and you made a clean kill, and found it without a problem. Now you have a dead deer lying at your feet. What next?
First off, if you packed a camera, take some pictures if you want. You’ll never get another chance to get a picture with that deer once you’ve started cutting it up. What you do next will depend on if you are going to drag out the entire deer or pack out the meat. Either way you need to field dress/gut the animal. If you are packing it out you will also butcher it on the spot.
Once your home, you will have quite the task ahead of you to process the meat, hide, and antlers into what you are going to use them for. Read these chapters thoroughly, and do any additionally needed research.
The kill is often considered the most exciting part of deer hunting, but most people are not doing it for the fun. The truth is that many families rely on the meat to get them through the long winter months. This is why it is so important to learn the proper way to field dress a deer. One mistake could mean many pounds of lost meat.
After the deer is down, you want to make sure you are in an area that will allow you to field dress the deer comfortably. If you are not, drag the deer to flat area. For safety measures, hang something orange to a tree branch over the top of where you will be working. This will allow other hunters to see you.
The deer should be propped up on its back, which will allow you access to the chest and abdominal region. Using a sharp knife, you will start by cutting just below its sternum and all the way down to the genital region. Just be sure you are not cutting too deep; you just want the knife to go under the hide and its stomach muscles.
When you reach the genital area, you will need to cut around both sides. This will prevent you from cutting into the bladder and ruining the surrounding meat. For a buck, you will have to first cut the base of the penis and
testicles. For a doe, you will need to cut around the vaginal area and anus.
Before you do anything else, you will need to cut out the anus and tie off the intestines inside the deer. If you fail to tie them off, fecal matter will leak out and the meat will become tainted. With a doe, you will also need to cut and remove the reproductive system with the bladder.
By rolling the deer to its side, the entrails should simply slide out of the cavity and onto the ground. You will need to have your knife ready to cut any connective tissues that are still keeping them attached to the inside of the body.
The next step is to clear the chest cavity. Start by pinching or tying off the deer’s esophagus. You can then remove this along with the stomach. When this is done, cut the diaphragm away from the ribs and reach up to pull down as much of the esophagus and windpipe as possible. Cut this and remove it.
If you plan to save the heart and liver, you will need to remove these when you roll the deer back to its side to empty the contents of the chest cavity. These organs should be placed into a clean cloth or plastic bag after their removal.
After you have cleaned up, you are ready to haul your deer home to butcher. However, many people are often disappointed by the amount of meat they actually yield from their kill. On average, about 40% of a deer’s weight will turn out to be meat. In other words, if you have a 100 pound deer, you should expect to see about 40 pounds of meat.
Due to the fact that only about 40% of your deer’s weight will be meat, you need to be very careful when field dressing the deer. Busting open the intestines or bladder can ruin a lot of it, but you also need to be careful when you get home. Hanging the deer to let the blood drain off is important, but you have to be aware of the temperatures. A deer hanging in temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit will quickly spoil your meat for consumption.
This was a quick overview of the process of field dressing a deer. If you want to watch a video, which I highly recommend you do before you attempt this, here are a couple of good ones:
There are plenty of resources online about this topic. If you need more information, do some searching around. This is one thing that you do not want to mess up on your hunt.
Honing your hunting skills also includes knowing the proper deer packing process. An experienced hunter not only knows how to make the kill, but is skilled in packing out properly and transporting the deer as well.
Once you’ve field dressed the animal, you can either butcher it in the field, or drag out the entire animal. Most often, people will drag out the entire animal. This allows them to butcher the animal in a safe and clean environment.
A quality constructed hip harness will make for a great investment for dragging your kill from the field. When horses and cart mechanisms are impractical or unavailable, a sturdy hip harness is easier on the body and requires little equipment haul.
Some hunting enthusiasts enlist the help of a specially designed cart for the purpose of carcass transport. Many sporting goods stores provide a wide variety of models to choose. This process allows for easy transporting of an entire deer, saving cutting for a later time and location.
Butchering in the field and then packing out your deer is time intensive and requires a level of patience and skill but will save on hauling heavier weight. Tying a rope around the deer’s back legs and securing it to a tree is the first step. Make sure no part of the animal is touching the ground. Gut the deer starting from the belly and ending where the last rib is located. Be sure to cut through the hide continuing to the anus. Completely sever any skin still holding the anus in place and reach into the cavity. After removing the entrails slice away any remaining organs still connected to the carcass. Leave any bones and entrails for scavengers.
Skinning the deer starts with a cut at the top and continuing to the first joint for each leg. From this cut, slice through each leg returning to your initial cavity cut. While pulling on the hide delicately slice the membrane and continue the process until the only connection of the hide to the animal is around the neck area. Sever the head as well as each front leg from each top joint. Remove the feet and continue to remove the mid-section, rib meat, etc. until you have removed the prime choices of meat. Severing the spine will help to remove the rear legs. Always securely wrap your meat in industrial strength plastic bags and finish by securing them closed with high quality tape.
Acquiring excellent pack out skills will ensure optimum meat condition and makes the process much easier to execute properly. If you use a wheeled cart pull or hip harness, properly wrap your deer to ensure no damage to the hide. If you’re going to butcher it in the field, make sure that all the meat is wrapped well in plastic bags before putting it in your pack.
Now that you have your deer out of the field, it’s time to process the meat. You can pay someone else to do it for you, but I don’t recommend this. It is easy to do yourself, and then you know exactly what is happening to your meat.
You do not want to begin butchering your deer until after the muscles have had a chance to finish the rigor mortis process, which is when all the muscles and tendons stiffen for about twenty four hours. Trying to butcher during this time will cause the muscles to toughen and the meat will not taste as good as it would if you had waited just another day.
Remember that aging meat is in no way controlled rot. To properly age meat, you need to hang it in a cool room, below 40 degrees Fahrenheit but above freezing, to prevent the growth of bacteria and allow the enzymes to do their work. As an animal matures, it develops collagen, which causes toughness. Hanging the meat allows the enzymes to break down the collagen, making the meat much more tender. It may be difficult to find a place to maintain a temperature according to the guidelines for a week or more, but if it is possible, that duration of time is the best to produce quality meet.
When you are preparing to butcher a deer, you should always keep safety in mind. Research any diseases that might be prevalent in the areas you are hunting. Since it is impossible to know from looking at the animal if it is infected, always use caution around any spinal or brain fluids, and consider using gloves to prevent the spread of pathogens.
If there is no threat of chronic waste disease in your area, the first step will be to cut the carcass in half. If there is a threat, leave the ribs intact and attached to the spine, and just cut any meat away from them before you throw them away. You should then remove the hind legs by cutting carefully around the joint. Many people like to remove the loin next by cutting carefully along the spine, followed by removing the two front legs. The neck and meat near the leg joints, along with organ meat, can all be used for stews and similar cooking. To help make your meat tenderer, try to always cut against the grain. After you have cut up the animal, use quality butcher paper to wrap up the meat and store the remaining parts in the freezer. Always be sure to mark what it is with the date so you use the oldest meat first.
Ground meat is an excellent way to store the meat and make fresh burgers and other ground meat dishes. It is recommended that you grind up the meat when it is as fresh as possible for ease and maximum taste.
Additionally, some find it easier to grind the meat when it is partially frozen. To prepare the meat this way, you do need to purchase a meat grinder, and they come in different sizes and strengths. Choose one that best suits how often you plan on grinding meat and the amount you are willing to spend. If it is going to be very infrequently, you can also consider speaking with a butcher to see if he can help grind the meat for a fee.
Venison is popular, tasty meat enjoyed by many. It is commonly acquired through hunting, leading many people to figure out the best way to handle the preparing of the meat. Hopefully this offered some guidance as to the preparation, butchering, and grinding of the meat so it can be stored for enjoyment.
Once you’ve dealt with the meat, it’s time to do something with the hide. Many people simply throw them away, which makes sense for some since they aren’t worth much and don’t serve too many practical purposes. However, you can tan your deer hide and have a nice piece to remember your deer by and maybe use for some sort of project or decoration. Tanning a deer hide is the process used when seeking to preserve the skin of the deer. This process will vary depending on the type of hide you are tanning.
Dry Scrape Tanning
This process involves drying out the hide on a pre-built frame. The hair and grain are hand scraped with a sharp tool. This particular method may be difficult and time consuming, however, the process assists in thinning the hide as well. Although tanning a deer hide using this method is possible, thick hides such as buffalo and bear are preferred.
Wet Scrape Tanning
Wet Scrape tanning involves the wet hide being scraped with a dull tool versus a sharp one. The process requires faster scraping motion in order to have optimal brain penetration. This requires no pre-built frame and leaves few if any tool marks. The wet scraping method is preferred for thinner hides such as deer.
Bucking involves a soaking process in a solution of alkaline. Once the hide has shown optimal swelling, you may start the wet scrape process. After rinsing the hide, it may be sufficiently dried. The bucking process allows for optimal brain tanning, if that is the rout you want to go. The alkaline mixture also sterilizes the hide while providing easier grain access. This process involves an extremely large quantity of water.
Pre-Smoking and Smoking
Pre-smoking starts by soaking the hide in water followed by a brain soaking. This process then involves slowly working the hide until optimally dried and placing it in a quality smoke house. Many who use this type of tanning consider it the perfect technique for producing a quality soft-textured hide.
Tanning a hide with the fur on is a long process and may require as much as eight to ten days. After removing any remaining flesh, a clean deer hide is then thoroughly soaked in a salt/alum/water mixture for up to ten days. Once the soaking process is complete, a thorough rinse is required and the hide is securely adhered to a clean, dry board with the skin facing the board side. After the skin has reached a nearly dry condition, the hide is rubbed with hide oil. After lightly moistening the hide, a follow-up rubbing process is required. This thoroughly softens the skin texture. It is important to apply this step to the skin side of the hide only. Once you have lightly sanded the skin with a fine grade sand paper, your hide is complete.
All of these processes require patience, knowledge, technique and skill. Enlisting someone who is trained in the process is helpful. Allowing an experienced tanner to supervise your initial tanning process will ensure no damage or mistakes are made to the skin. If you are unable to locate an experienced individual who will guide you through the process, it is highly recommended that you bring your hide to an experienced tannery for optimal results.
Once you’ve dealt with the hide, you now get to work with the real trophy. Assuming you killed a buck, you’ll have a nice rack to mount on your wall. You have several different options for mounting the antlers, so do what you think will look best in your setting and will be easiest for you based on your experience/capabilities.
This is the most traditional look. It involves cleaning the entire skull of the animal with the antlers still on, and then mounting it as one piece. Be forewarned, this process can get messy, and if you’re the kind of person that gets grossed out by brains, I would recommend a different option described below.
There are two ways to do this. The first is to bury the entire head in your backyard, and let the flesh decompose for at least several months. When you dig it up in the spring/summer, it should be relatively clean. There are drawbacks to this however, like the risk of the antlers being damaged while the head is buried.
The second is to go ahead and boil/remove all of the flesh from the head right away. Start by removing as much of the skin/flesh from the skull as you can with a knife. The more you get off now, the less it’ll stink later. After you’ve done that, you’re going to boil it in a large kettle with a low concentration of bleach water. DO THIS OUTSIDE. It smells horribly. Once you get your water to a boil, hang the head with a rope so that it is fully submerged in the water, but not touching the bottom. Let it boil for around an hour; then let it cool for at least 15 minutes. Scrape off any remaining flesh and brains. Much of the brains and the eyes should have fallen off during boiling. If not, use whatever tools necessary to get them out. After that, some people recommend a second round of bleach boiling, while others say using dry boric acid overnight is best. Do whatever you feel most comfortable with. Once it is completely clean and sanitized, it is ready to hang. You can easily put it on a plaque to add to the effect, or just hang it as is on a wall. If you are willing to put in the
work, a European mount will look fantastic.
Another great option for making a display out of your antlers is to use a mounting kit. This will allow you to skip the boiling process, and still have a professional looking display. These kits come with instructions to easily use. Here are a couple of examples:
If you don’t want to actually mount your antlers, there are plenty of options. There are an innumerable amount of crafts you can make with your antlers. I have an antler letter opener that I use every day. You can also make jewelry, chandeliers, candle holders, furniture, and virtually anything else you can think of. You are only limited by your imagination!
Well, almost 12,000 words later, that is a wrap. Hopefully you picked up a few useful bits of information from this guide, and you’ll be successful in your future hunts because of it. Be sure to contact us and let us know how your hunting season goes, we love to hear from our readers!