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.
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.