Each year deer hunters, all of us, make mistakes. Sometimes they are minor mistakes, sometimes major. Not always do even the major mistakes turn out badly in terms of killing a deer or getting a shot. But sometimes they do. Over the 60 years I have hunted whitetail deer, I have determined what I feel to be the five biggest mistakes a hunter makes. Here they are in the order I rank them.
Keep these items in mind for hunting now, for scouting after this season, and for scouting next summer and fall for next year’s season.
Mistake #1: Failure to understand the animal you are hunting.
I have been a student of whitetail deer for more than six decades. I am still learning. I am still constantly reminded of how little I know. I have always wondered how a hunter can expect regular success on bucks over age 3-1/2 if they don’t work to learn all they can, and then test what they have learned.
Just reading and asking questions are not enough. You must get out in the woods and read sign, see what the deer has done. Then ask yourself why. Why did that deer do that? What caused that reaction? Will it happen every time?
If you ask any deer hunter what the deer’s preferred food source is right now, and they don’t know, they have not learned enough about the animal they hunt. Does the hunter know what will be the next preferred food source? Does he or she know why the deer are crossing a road in a particular place?
The questions and the answers are endless. It takes much more than just spending time in a stand. The more you ask and the more you learn, the better prepared hunter you will be, and it is a serious mistake not to be prepared.
A successful deer hunter will always have more questions than he or she has answers.
Persimmon is a preferred food source when dropping. Did you know there are two types of persimmons, early and late, and deer don’t always eat them?
Deer cross obstacles such as roads and fences in the same place, most of the time. Learn to recognize these crossings.
Mistake #2: Improper Scouting
Nothing prepares you for success more than proper scouting. Nothing costs you more than improper scouting.
Far too many hunters wait until the week or maybe the month before the season to begin scouting. However, proper scouting never stops. By far the most informative scouting is done in the weeks just after the season closes. That sets the stage for the rest of the scouting. It is then you learn what the bucks were doing when you were hunting them. It is then you find their hiding spots and secure travel trails. It is then you formulate your game plan for the next season.
Summer means long distance, non-invasive scouting with good optics. It is a prime way to spot where a buck enters and leaves a field without spooking him and may be a clue to finding autumn food sources. Hang a stand in the right place and stay away until you plan to kill him.
In the summer, your scouting is non-invasive. You glass open fields just at sundown. There is little to be learned other than there are some deer here. That’s all you need to know at that point. There is little reason to be in the woods. That starts when the mast begins to form on trees. You are now looking for food sources. You couldn’t care less if you see deer. In fact, you hope you don’t. You are looking for where the deer are going to be, not where they are.
In early fall, you combine your hunting with your scouting, you are looking for new rubs, early scrapes, previously unknown creek or road crossings. You adjust as the deer do, as new travel patterns emerge.
In late season, you adjust again. The stand that was so hot in November may be useless now. Look for the trails in deep cover and secure food sources. Look for the trails that lead to agricultural crops and, in doing so, pass through the really thick stuff.
To scout for only a day or so in September or October is a serious mistake. It will cost you deer.
Do plenty of post-season scouting and make notes. This often can be the key to next year’s success.
Mistake #3: Over-Dependence on Equipment and Gadgets
As technology developed new and improved products, deer hunters got lazy. Magic potions in bottles or in spray cans replaced knowledge and work and study. We began to depend on our equipment to compensate for inaccurate shooting, good yardage judging, clean clothes and proper stand placement. We began to believe the advertisements and all the new theories. The latest call couldn’t fail. The hottest new camo couldn’t fail. The most popular new scent couldn’t fail. The new scent eliminators couldn’t fail. But they did… and do.
There are no magic potions or gimmicks. They are all aids and, yes, they are an aid. Properly used, under the right conditions they do work sometimes. None of them work all the time and some of them are counterproductive. Unless you understand what the product is; know how it works; know how to use it properly and understand the limitations of the product, you are making a mistake. If you depend on a spray or clothing to prevent deer from smelling you and do not take advantage of the wind, you are making a mistake.
These products and others can be invaluable for the unforeseen vagaries of hunting. But to depend on them alone is a mistake and it will cost you.
Consistently successful callers (deer, elk, turkey, etc.) always anticipate success and prepare for a response. This anticipation is what I call the confidence factor, and it usually comes from experience and a working knowledge of the language of the game you’re hunting. You don’t have to learn the hard way. Learn the language, and when you make a deer call expect a deer to show up.
Don’t be afraid to hunt from the ground. With the right setup in the right place, it can be productive. Doesn’t always need to be a ground blind.
Mistake #4: We get patterned doing the patterning.
Can we pattern a mature buck? I don’t think so. If we could, the odds are that we’d get patterned long before we could pattern the buck. We spend too much time at the wrong time walking, exploring, hanging stands and generally polluting the woods with our scent when we should have been prepared and just biding our time, waiting for the perfect day.
The very best chance we have to kill a mature buck is the very first time we hunt him. Yet we continue to walk around our stands, looking for fresh sign, freshening scrapes and generally messing things up. We repeatedly walk to our stands on the same trail. We think our scent spray will keep him from smelling us, or our rubber boots will keep him from smelling where we walked.
But we push limbs out of the way with our hands and we wear the same hat every day. Deer smell where we place our hands far more than they smell where we walk. Rubber boots are of no advantage, I believe, and our hats stink (our hair holds odors for a long time). To think otherwise is a mistake, a big one.
Proper stand placement is crucial to success. Good scouting will give you the necessary info.
Mistake #5: Despite knowledge to the contrary, hunting the wrong times.
When do deer move? The plain fact is they move whenever they want. Except for truly hot weather, as a general rule deer are no more active at daylight than they are at 10:30. In fact, more mature deer are killed between 10 a.m. and two p.m. than at any other time. The hunter who can effectively hunt all day has a huge advantage, but very few can. The operative word is effective. After three or four hours, most of us are just occupying space, not effectively hunting. By limiting our hunts to three or four hours in the morning and afternoon, we often miss the prime hunting time for mature whitetails.
During the rut, I routinely hunt four stands in one day, spending two or three hours in each. My final stand is usually on an approach trail or edge of a field. Often it is a ground blind, because a deer in a field is twice as likely to spot you in a tree stand as when you are in a properly placed ground blind. The other stands are in the timber.
I have killed as many bucks from 10:30-11:30 a.m. as at any other time. Think about it. Often, I am the only hunter in the woods at that time. And the deer know it. To skip midday hunting is a mistake.
Obviously, there are other mistakes we make and, just as obviously, we can make these five mistakes and still get lucky. But luck is when preparation meets opportunity. If you are making these mistakes, you are not prepared.
It was opening day of deer season. My nerves were as tight as violin strings, just like everyone else’s on opening day. Had someone shouted ‘BOO’ behind me, I probably could have landed on the moon.
About 9:00 am I heard two shots in the swamp directly in front of me. I was instantly at full alert, waiting for the big swamp buck to come at me!
Instead, a red suit was making its way toward me. It was an elderly woman, chewing and spitting tobacco, swearing with every other word.
She laid a big wad of tobacco juice on the snow at my feet and asked,
“What kind of a (expletive deleted) gun you shootin’?
“A Remington 20-gauge pump,” I said.
Her next words were more of an order than a statement.
“Follow me. My son Hermie just shot a bear.”
As we entered the swamp, I noticed Hermie looking at the ground, but I could not see what he was looking at. Once we reached his location, I could see he was standing on a blood trail, a bear’s blood trail.
The lady started barking orders like a drill instructor.
“Hermie take the (expletive deleted) blood trail. I will flank your right.”
She turned to me.
“You stay to his left. Be careful. We are dealing with a bear here.”
She didn’t need to tell me. My stomach was in knots. We slowly advanced on the trail. My eyes were trained straight ahead. We were in a tangle of alders, and it was difficult to see the other two red suits to my right.
Without warning, the bear jumped up right in front of me, maybe 10 yards away but no more.
I shot from the hip in pure reflexive, non-thinking, instant reaction. Had it been a red squirrel I might have done the same.
The bear dropped. My shot had broken its spine.“(Expletive deleted!) Hermie, you see that (expletive deleted) shot? Good job!”
Having a bear jump up in front of me at point blank range…incredible. It was heart stopping, unexpected, thrilling and any other emotion that could be layered on.
I thought the bear was a monster. OK, it weighed maybe 175 pounds; but you know how difficult it is to judge a bear’s weight. That’s why there’s the infamous ‘ground shrinkage’ regarding bears seen and bears shot.
I was 12 years old. This was my first day of deer hunting in my first season of deer hunting. I’ve not been the same since.
I have mentally thanked that foul-mouthed, brash old woman a thousand times for triggering my interest in bear hunting to such a degree that, over the years, it developed into a passion that continues to this day.
Back then (1962), it was legal to shoot bears during the Wisconsin firearms deer season and red was considered the proper safety color for your hunting jacket.
Bill Wiesner Biography
First hunter to complete the Great Lakes Grand Slam (deer, bear, turkey) with all types of bowhunting equipment – compound bow, recurve bow, longbow, and selfbow with stone heads. This means he has taken all three species with each type of bow.
First hunter to receive all five (coyote, bobcat, turkey, deer, bear) Wisconsin Bowhunters Association pin awards for animals taken in one season. This is extremely difficult, due principally to Wisconsin’s point system for issuing bear tags.
Active seminar speaker on archery gear, archery shooting safety, bowhunting and bear hunting topics.
Youth mentor and speaker at high schools in northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Penninsula.
Hunter education instructor for 25 years.
Bowhunting and archery/hunting safety instructor at Ted Nugent’s Kamp for Kids, 4-H clubs and youth archery organizations, and conducted Door County (Wisconsin) 4-H archery program.
Presents archery/bowhunting promotional programs at banquets and in-store events.
Member of the “Red Arrow Society”, awarded by the Lakota Sioux Nation for archery contributions to the tribe. This award is rarely given to a non-tribal member.
Books make ‘safe’ Christmas gifts when you are uncertain what gift to give to the hunters and archers on your Christmas gift list. They are ‘safe’ gifts to be given by a person who knows very little about those activities to someone who knows quite a bit and is active in their chosen sport.
“Now is the time to determine the hunting and archery interests of each person on your gift list, the game hunted and the hunting arms (firearm, bow and arrow) they use,” notes Glenn Helgeland, president of Target Communications Outdoor Books. “We’re coming into the peak of big game and small game hunting seasons across the country, particularly for deer, and interest is running high in their minds.
“They may be surprised you expressed interest, but you don’t need to tell them why” he adds. “They’re thinking in the moment, not about Christmas. Even better for you, of course, would be to already know that information.”
Once you have the necessary details noted for each person on your gift list, go to www.targetcommbooks.com to check out the ‘safe’ gift ideas. You will find titles on these subjects: 1) bow tuning and shooting, 2) mastering the mental side of bow shooting (target and hunting), 3) deer hunting, 4) deer calling, 5) turkey hunting, and 6) wild game cookbooks. Each book’s cover photo is shown, along with a description of the book’s contents, price and ordering information.
Stocking up on “safe” gifts now gives you enough time for wrapping and placement under the Christmas tree.