You invested a lot of time and effort into preparing for the whitetail season ahead. When opening day arrives, that makes it easy to believe you have covered all the bases and are ready to hunt.
What else you should put time into is going through common hunting scenarios that could mean the difference between success and failure. We all make mistakes. Here is a dozen common—yet crucial—mistakes and how to avoid them.
#1 Scrape Strategies
Bucks use scrapes as a means of marking their turf. Hunting over scrapes—either natural or manmade—is an ideal strategy for patterning movements of prime bucks. Most scrape activity occurs during pre-rut and into the early rut.
Don’t: Hunt directly over a scrape.
Do: Hunt downwind and set up along trails leading to the scrape. Bucks visit scrapes at night, so you are most likely to intercept a passing buck approaching a stake, rather than right on top of it.
#2 Make More Noise
Rattle devices—either a set of antlers or an artificial bag-style setup—are your prime weapons of choice for another form of communication between whitetail deer.
Don’t: Be timid when using rattles. Bucks don’t just push the other around. It’s an all-out fight when two bucks lock antlers.
Do: Make noise. Rattle as loud as possible so the sound covers more territory to attract more bucks.
#3 Set Covenants
Deer hunting is all about the camaraderie shared between hunting buddies. There’s nothing like telling hunting stories by the campfire.
Don’t: If you own or lease hunting property, you might be tempted to invite one and all to join in on the fun without limits. Don’t do that.
Do: If you are partners in the lease, then develop covenants that divide up the dates and times when you have the place to yourself. Set restrictions on the number of guests, what days, areas and methods are allowable to avoid over-pressuring deer. And save the best of all the above for yourself and your partners.
#4 Hunting History
Last season, you harvested a big buck, which you pay homage to each time you see the mount in your man cave.
Don’t: It’s easy to hunt history, instead of being open-minded about where the next trophy buck will be most active. Don’t get locked in on hunting history. Old bucks can grow wary of where, when and how they are hunted. They didn’t get old being dumb.
Do: Mix it up. Give them a changeup to throw them off. The less predictable you are with your timing, the greater chances you have of finding a mature buck.
#5 Save The Best For Last
You have been waiting for opening day all year. The temptation is to hunt your best stand first, knowing it poses the greatest odds of success.
Don’t: Hunt your best areas too soon.
Do: Don’t blow it. Let the moon and stars line up. Save your best location for the perfect conditions.
#6 Food Plot Focus
You put in a lot of sweat and hard work to get food plots in shape for the growing season. Reaping the benefits of all that effort is what you stand to gain in finding a trophy deer munching on the clover.
Don’t: Spend all your time hunting over food plots. The biggest bucks—the smartest of the herd—are often too wary to visit major feeding areas except at night.
Do: Hunt your plots, but also primary food sources used by deer all year. Look for natural foods like stands of acorn-producing oak trees, honeysuckle, laurel, sumac, along clear cuts, and clearings offering food and a method of retreat.
#7 Grunting Cadence
Grunt calls are designed to bring deer into shooting range, so it’s tempting to grab the call when you see the buck.
Don’t: Don’t bring attention to yourself if the buck is already headed in your direction. Hold off.
Do: Call if he moves the opposite direction, or sways his head back and forth, which precedes making a change in direction.
Shot placement is crucial. Too often it’s never thought out until the moment of truth is at hand.
Don’t: Complicate an opportunity for a good shot by guessing the distance between you and the buck.
Do: Get it right ahead of time. Scan landmarks with a digital rangefinder and set key distances using yardage stakes or key landmarks that stand out.
#9 Playing The Wind
The cardinal rule of deer hunting is to hunt downwind. Just remember that wind direction can change, going around the compass dial during fall on any given day. Wind direction can vary from stand to stand on the same property, based on topography.
Don’t: Set up the same direction each time you hunt, thinking that spot is always the prevailing wind direction. Winds don’t always blow from the north in fall.
Do: Carry a wind checker, either commercially available, or using natural fibers from a milkweed pod. You will know exactly which stand to set up on downwind from the deer.
#10 Stand Placement
There is more to mounting your climbing stand than placing it downwind.
Don’t: Just place the stand downwind. You might hang it facing the sun—a big no-no—or so high that all you see is skyline. Improper placement could also prevent you from getting a critical broadside shot.
Do: Go through all the factors that can hinder good shot placement. Make sure the tree is alive and safe for a stand. If so, survey the shot line and make sure visibility is clear to the target area. Cover nearby is ideal, because it breaks up your body outline. Know the direction of the sun, and check for forecasted wind directions.
#11 Route Planning
How you plan to enter and exit stands, undetected, is just as important as stand placement.
Don’t: Set your entry and exit route upwind so your scent is detected by every deer in the surrounding area. Noise is a factor, too. Just one loud snap of your boot on a tree limb can ruin the day.
Do: Plan your route based on the general idea of where deer movement is most active. Avoid it, even if it means taking a longer, more difficult path to your stand.
#12 Stand Down
It’s easy to spend more time on your best stand because of past success, or when in your mind it’s the best of the best on the property.
Don’t: Fall into a trap and hunt your old, reliable and faithful stand.
Do: Research shows that mature bucks quickly respond to hunting pressure. Hunt multiple stands, mixing it up and staying away from your prime stand until the conditions are right.
And here’s a bonus tip if an ATV is your mode of transportation between camp and stand. Think of your off-road vehicle as part of your hunting gear. You inspected your bow and rifle to make sure all parts are working, performing any needed maintenance. Do the same with the ATV. Inspect everything from bumper to bumper. If any scheduled maintenance is needed, do it now so you have the peace of mind knowing the ATV is ready for action. You can cover all the bases at your nearest Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Boating Center, also where TRACKER OFF ROAD vehicles are sold and serviced. Find your nearest location here.