Deer Hunting 101:The Ultimate Guide and Tips For Beginners (17 Tips)
Planning to venture into the deer hunting world for the first time?
If yes, I can tell that you’re overexcited and you can’t wait to try out this new adventure and learn something new.
Unfortunately, deer hunting isn’t as easy as you might be thinking. It’s a game of patience. Sometimes you miss your target, get back home empty hands and feel frustrated.
Other times, not a single deer shows up!
BUT…with patience and determination, you can easily learn the ropes of deer hunting and rise to the level of an expert hunter.
In this post, I’ll talk you through 16 top beginner tips and tricks that will accelerate you on your path to becoming an expert hunter.
Let’s get into the details right away:
#1. Choose A Perfect Hunting Location
The most important tip in deer hunting is finding that perfect deer hunting area.
You can’t hunt deer where there’s no deer!
It is easy to think that you could just wake up and get to an area with deer. Remember that there are other hunters in those woods too.
They provide competition and may just as easily spoil all the efforts you have been adapting to make your hunt more successful.
So why not find a more suitable spot?
Public land may be the only available hunting area for most hunters. Finding one is quite easy since most are posted in adverts in the papers or through a single location search on the internet.
However, you might also find privately owned lands by individuals, schools, etc. that are open to public hunting, of course via exclusive agreements, etc.
Note that there are three types of land ownerships in the USA; local, state and federal lands. Take your time to go through the options outlined in either of these lands to find one that will be well suited as your hunting ground.
If you find a great spot that offers minimized competition and plenty of deer then guard that secret. Most hunters do not reveal their hunting grounds.
#2. Minimize Your Scent
Deer have a very acute sense of smell especially the American Whitetail Deer. They pick up on new scents in their vicinity quite quickly, including your body scent among other strange scents you may be carrying.
The buck will be alerted to your presence, take off or won’t come near your vicinity. You can’t hunt it if you can’t sight it.
So, how do you eliminate your scent?
You can incorporate these steps into your pre-hunting routine they will help minimize your odor.
- Packing and sealing your hunting clothes alongside natural debris such as dirt and leaves until you reach your hunting post and then change into them.
This prevents your hunting clothes from carrying otherwise strange odors e.g. gas if you needed to fill up beforehand etc.
- Using unscented soap and scent eliminating detergents for your showers and laundry before heading to hunt minimizes odor from the start.
Do not use heavily scented deodorants before the hunt. Instead, opt for cover sprays manufactured by hunting companies that either mask your scent or even attract the buck to you.
- Consider buying special hunting overalls that lock in your odor.
NOTE: Always select a hunting spot where the wind blows towards you and not towards the buck.
#3. Utilize Scent Attractors
I’m sure you haven’t come across this tool but when simply put, it involves the use of scents to lure the deer towards your line of sight.
These scents incorporate the natural scent from actual deer secretions that trick the deer into thinking that there is other new deer in the area and that the area isn’t hostile making it comfortable to walk about and towards you.
The type of scents present in the market are- Doe Estrous, Buck and Doe urine, Periorbital and Forehead gland scent, and the Buck Tarsal Gland Scent.
- Buck and Doe urine: uses the doe urine to attract both buck and doe while the buck urine only draws the buck.
- Periorbital and Forehead gland scent: this works best during and before the rut. It incorporates the scent of deer forehead and eyes when it rubs across a licking branch as it scrapes.
- Buck Tarsal Gland Scent: it uses the scent of urine that flows over the buck’s tarsal gland when it scrapes. It is best used when bucks are checking scrapes or actively rutting.
NOTE: While applying scents, make sure to check if they’re intended for Pre-rut, Rut or at Post-rut seasons. This is the surest way to get the best results.
#4. Air Thermals/Air Current Characteristics
Knowledge of the air thermal behavior in your hunting zone is key to choosing an ideal hunting spot and also as mentioned above to either minimize your scent or effectively use deer scent attractors.
Many hunters have an assumption that in the morning there is an air rise uphill and in the evening a downhill air flow. However, this isn’t always the case, and you’ll need more understanding of the factors in play i.e. weather, land characteristics and time.
Air thermals are in effect when the ground is sufficiently heated up by the sun. Before or an hour after sunrise there will probably be downhill air movement so placing your hunting stands uphill puts you upwind to the deer.
The same happens in the evening when the air moves downhill.
Don’t to place your stand directly uphill or downhill from the deer ground while in wait of a particular air flow. The current flow can be against you at the moment causing the deer to detect you.
Do place your stand sideways, so you can quickly move in and out even when the air thermal is against you.
These characteristics are unpredictable…but uncertainty can be reduced if you scout the air conditions of the regularly and beforehand.
Winds are put into account since they directly influence air thermals and also blow scents toward or away from the deer.
Knowing your hunting ground conditions should make you better placed for that successful hunt.
#5.Do Sufficient Scouting
Just like every other field activity, scouting is a must-do when it comes to deer hunting. There are two types of observation; direct and indirect.
- Direct recon involves going directly into your hunting ground to get a picture of the terrain and the prevailing conditions in the area either by random walks, hikes or even overhead with chopper etc.
- Indirect recon involves getting a view of the area from the internet, e.g., google maps, etc. that will provide you with an overhead view of your hunting area and also some prevailing weather conditions.
This activity lets you have a feel of the area, makes you more prepared for the terrain and increases your knowledge on the deer trails, bedding and feeding grounds. This will help you when choosing the perfect spot to set up your hunting stand.
Of course, direct on-ground scouting has more advantages over indirect method as it allows you to familiarize yourself with the hunting spot better. So, I’d advise you to go with the former.
#6. Every Time Isn’t Hunting Time!
Deer hunting season is a well-known fact to most. However, there’s a good time and a not-so-good time for successful deer hunting.
During the perfect time for deer hunting, you will spend less time in the woods before you can sight and shoot a deer.
However, if you go hunting at the wrong time, it may take quite some time before you can even sight that deer.
So what’s the best time for hunting? The answer is simple, Early season. This is early fall or in the late summer.
You may find hunters in the woods as soon as August!
What’s so special about this time?
At this time the deer is still unpressured and are more likely to trot right into along your hunting spot. Also, there’s a lot more deer to be found in the woods unlike later in the season when most have been hunted down.
In the early season, the main worry of the deer is finding food resources before the drastic change in climate sets in and what they’re after, e.g., food plots, crop field is more evident to you so you can adequately place yourself along one of their food search paths.
At around September, you can be sure to find buck groups with predictable food source paths too.
Planning your hunting spot around this could lead you to shoot down one those humongous bucks.
#7. How Will That Hunting Blind Help?
Most hunters can attest that having a hunting blind should top your list of most needed deer hunting gear.
How does a blind help you?
It’s simple- Concealment! Effective concealment from the deer increases your chances of a successful hunt.
There are different blinds available on the market today, with the most popular ones beings the ground and tree stands blinds.
They come in a variety of designs and features to make that long hunting wait easy and more comfortable.
Some come with roomy center height for making standing shots, while others come with a chair for one or two people, letting you hunt while comfortably seated.
Others have unique features such as odor locking and shadow minimization functions that prevent the deer from sighting or smelling you.
They are made with camo designs on the exterior that easily blend with your foliage environment to sufficiently conceal you.
The blinds can have 360 or 180 degrees mesh windows with gun ports that enable you to sight and target the deer and also allow you to shoot with either your firearm or crossbow.
Each blind has differently sized interior space that can allow one to four individuals to comfortably stay in it. So you could just as well bring your hunting mentor along.
The principal advantage that comes with a blind is the protection against the harsh weather conditions and pests such as flies and mosquitoes you may come across experience while in the field.
#8. Practice How To Set Up/Take Down Your Stand
I remember my first time using a stand… it took me more than an hour to successfully do the job.
Like most beginners, I skimmed through the setup manual and thought myself well versed and ready to use my stand.
Most blinds come brazenly engraved with a simple ‘Pop-Up’ process that depicts how the spring should let you set it up and take it down in a minute or less.
With this idea set in mind, I put off trying to set it up thinking that would go as planned, though this is rarely the case.
Going through stand set up reviews, I realized that most hunters have experienced this. The simple solution was to practice.
Before the hunting season starts, I practiced on the stand set up in my backyard. Went through the manual, and each evening I would set it up and take it down as quietly as I could while continuously timing myself.
With time it becomes easier to set up your stand fast, quietly and efficiently.
This is an added advantage in the field since it minimizes the probability of the deer sighting you or of air currents revealing your scent.
Take out that stand and start practicing.
#9. Never Forget Insect Repellent
While preparing for the hunting season one thing that continuously escaped my mind using insect repellants. That was until I got a tick bite that ended my hunting game abruptly.
Nowadays this is among the first things I do, and I douse myself in bug spray before entering the hunting grounds.
There are numerous insects present in the wild some fatal in case you have allergies to insect bites like I am while others are just plain bothersome.
The most encountered ones are the mosquitoes, ticks, and ants.
There are various repellents present in the market, both physical and chemical types. Instruments such as Therma-cell lantern is a physical device that will attract and kill mosquitoes.
While other chemical based repellents used to ward off ticks, chiggers, etc. need you to adequately apply it on either your skin or clothes.
Make sure you sufficiently douse your hunting apparel in tick repellent to avoid being bitten or conveying these pesky insects into your home.
Get yourself an all-in-one repellant, this will give you more time to concentrate on the effective application of that one bug spray adequately.
#10. Minimize and Time your Movements
In case you aren’t making use of a blind, make sure that you can stay put and minimize movements while in the hunting ground.
Practice before the hunting season arrives and also do a recon beforehand, it should make it easier to know which paths to follow while in the field.
Before I got a blind, I realized that I would make sharp movements, especially when I made a sighting, and this would scare away the deer.
More slow change in postures allowed me to comfortably adjust myself without necessarily being seen by the deer.
Learn how to time your movements, have a planned schedule in which you make slow, slight changes while you are either perched on a tree or the ground.
This lets you regularly move and turn to avoid that numbness and pain that comes with staying in one position for a long while.
During off season take some time to practice on more comfortable hunting positions and how to slowly switch from stance to stance with minimized detection.
Being good at this will eventually let you sight, target and shoot the deer while still efficiently concealing yourself.
#11. Quick Movements
Well, this may seem ironical based on the previous tip, but it is quite important especially when changing hunting spots in the field.
You will need to be agile and swift to prevent detection or warding off the deer.
Deer have sensitive senses that may alert the sound of a man is trotting on forest leaves, and you’d be surprised how well adapted the animal is to you as a predator!
So the solution lies in making quickly stepped sprints for about 20 yards or so, then stop and repeat. Keep in mind to maintain your footfalls as light as possible while doing this.
This masks your movements while creating a more squirrel or skunk like movement masking that should be a pass for normal forest animal movements.
Remember to keep an eye on the deer, and if it is alerted to your presence, you should stay as still as possible up until it goes back to its grazing or movements.
Note that deer can stand still for quite some time while staring at your direction so be prepared to easily switch between the minimized and quick movements.
#12. Clear Shooting Paths
It is important to adequately prepare your hunting spot and the area around it, especially when using a blind in the field.
Make sure that before hunting season you have picked out a place for your blind or tree stand and practice on the probable shooting positions it provides. Idealize all paths within which the deer may appear.
After this clear the shooting paths off any obstructions. Also choose a position in which you can quickly switch from one shooting path to another with minimized movements.
Note that you have to affirm the safety strap for more secure movement while on the tree. The same applies to ground blinds, and clear the shooting path the mesh and gun ports provide.
As stated earlier, this is best done before the hunting season. This is because more mature deer pick up on alien tracks and odors and also the smell of freshly cut foliage which may ward off the deer.
#13. Learn The Art of Tracking The Deer
This should be a primary skill but most deer hunters fail when it comes to accurately tracking deer.
So where do you start from? Let me give you a few great starting points…
- Deer tracks: Deer hoof prints imprinted in the forest floor. Depending on the level of dryness and erosion, they should depict how long ago the deer had been there.
The size of the print and difference between print marks should show how large the deer is, i.e., bigger and wider stride foot prints are made by mature bucks.
- Trails: Paths mostly taken by the deer between the bedding and feeding areas. Having a good knowledge of the path allows you to be better placed to sight one.
- Deer Droppings: Just like tracks, this shows how long ago the deer passed by whereby more recent droppings depict that the deer has passed by recently. Large bucks defecate immediately when they leave their bedding area you can assume that you are near there.
Larger sized droppings show that the deer is also a bigger, mature buck.
- Beds: This is important to note especially when doing the hunting recon. It gives you the starting point from which you can locate the possible deer trails between bedding and feeding areas.
- Scrapes: These are used to mark territories by mature bucks. In the early season, you can find a scrapes along correct deer trails and near food sources.
#14. Arm Yourself With A Pair Quality Binoculars (or Hunting Scopes)
Every serious hunter knows that leaving behind their binoculars or hunting scope is making a costly mistake.
Choosing a perfect pair can be quite tricky, but here I have stated some standard features to look out for:
Brightness, and magnification power. Brightness is controlled by the size of the objective lens while the magnification is the optical strength of the binoculars.
These are the basic configuration depicted on the binoculars and scopes.
When selecting this equipment, opt for one that gives a good plane of view. Most hunters think that binoculars with more magnification are better. However, they drastically reduce your plane of view.
Remember that the surface of the scope lens is reflective, so opt for fully multi coated lenses that are reinforced with an anti-reflective coating to sufficiently minimize glare and reduce the chance of deer catching that reflection, scaring it away.
#15. Hunting Equipment Part I: Crossbows
If you plan to hunt the deer with a bow, this is your part.
Crossbows have been a topic of debate in deer hunting. However, with time they seem to have become more accepted as seen with the adoption of active archery hunting seasons as seen with firearm seasons.
Below are some features you should make sure you should keep in mind when looking for a good crossbow:
- Limbs: compound limbs enable your arrow to be faster with speeds of up to 350fps and also lightweight with a draw weight of up to 165 pounds. It also allows for quieter shooting.
- Power stroke: This is the crossbows length, and it directly affects the speed and energy output of your crossbow. You can opt for the reverse draw system that is seen in more modern compound crossbows to achieve longer powers strokes.
- Scope: this enables the shortening of the crossbow learning curve. Most designs come equipped with a scope.
- Heads: Compound arrow heads are designed to be shorter and heavier to withstand the power produced by the bow making them far more efficient for shooting.
- Cocking device: Let’s you to align your string, this prevents erratic flying arrows that may will your target.
It can be quite intensive to cock a crossbow so opt for those with a crank-cocking device that will make it a breeze.
#16. Hunting Equipment Part II: A Hunting Rifle
For the bunch of new hunters who prefer hunting with a rifle:
Rifles are among the most used firearm while deer hunting. Rifle Action. Bolt, Semi-automatic, Lever, Single shot and Pump action are among the choices available on the market.
Bolt action is the most used due to its reliability and simplicity.
When in search of the perfect rifle for deer hunting there are various features you look into, like:
- Trigger: Consider using a rifle with adjustable factory trigger, it will improve your shooting skills. You can always get a gunsmith to install for you an aftermarket trigger.
- Caliber: Though this rarely affects your shooting prowess, make sure that you have a caliber that is legal in your hunting area. You can always use standard calibers with great reviews in your area.
- Scope: As with crossbows, this is an important feature. More priced rifles offer you better scope. However, a budget rifle may also deliver on the same.
#17. Lastly, Look For A Mentor
We have discussed various tips and tricks however, I do press on every beginner having a hunting mentor who will help them culture and build their hunting prowess.
Your mentor will give you a more practical approach that will build on the above tips.
I am also sure they possess more tips in hand especially if they are locally based and have more insight on the hunting conditions in your area.
There are various platforms for beginners in deer hunting, both locally and regionally grounded. Seek out a mentor or like-minded beginners.
Hunting is a very enjoyable sport especially when you can back home with that huge buck!
Incorporating some or all of these tips I’ve just shared with you above to plan and execute your hunt will dramatically increase your chances of making a kill.
Remember that practice, practice, and practice is the key to perfecting your deer hunting skills as a beginner or veteran hunter.
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