For centuries deer hunters have met in the lodge after the hunt to discuss strategies, what worked and what didn’t. This is because the wise hunter never stops learning. In fact, it’s your greatest advantage. We figure out new things about deer hunting all the time. Sometimes this is scientific, something about deer biology. Sometimes it’s just expert hunters passing on what they’ve noticed over the years.
If you’re a beginner out for your first deer, these tips can help you get off to a productive start without a frustrating hunting deer season of trial and error and ultimately have a successful deer hunt. If you’re a veteran deer hunter, take a look and see if there’s something you’d never thought of before. You never know what little change could bring in your next great trophy buck.
Get rid of your smell
You may think you finally tackled your body odor problem, but a deer can still smell you. It’s not enough to shower and wash your hunting gear. Since deer rely heavily on scent, you need to use specific odor neutral soaps and detergent designed for hunting whitetail deer. You can even keep your gear in a chest filled with leaves and pine needles to really mask the smell. Use a cover up deer scent as well, and bring it with you to the woods so you can continue to apply it throughout your hunt.
We’ve rounded up the top products for cloaking your natural odor in this article on the best cover scents.
Deer can also hear a lot better than people. Try to make as little sound as possible. Do this by parking a good distance from your stand and treading lightly.
Change the pace of your steps as well so you don’t sound too much like a human. If you accidentally make a loud noise while hiking, stop moving for several minutes. This will give any deer who heard you and are now on high alert time to calm back down.
Learn the deer language
Deer use a lot of different sounds to communicate with each other. Learn to use this to your advantage. Take various different kinds of deer calls with you when you hunt deer. Different calls can attract different kinds of deer at different times, so you’ll have to learn the language.
We’ve videos and explanations of all the sounds that deer make (and why they make them) in one of our most popular articles. So checkout that link!
Before you leave, make sure you have taken any necessary safety course, grabbed your license and tags and have checked the weather. Let someone know where you’re going too. Pack everything you need, including emergency supplies. Here’s a link to a checklist we put together that covers most of the items a deer hunter needs to pack.
Scope out the area
If you’re hunting a new piece of land, scope it out. You can do this in person by going out a couple of days before your deer hunt and finding where to put your tree stand, where to hike in, etc., based on how you think the deer will move. If you don’t feel like doing it in person, you can at least use satellite images online to view the terrain from above. Don’t forget to ask permission if you prefer a private hunting land.
Put your stand in the right place
So where do you put your stand? You have a few good options. Ridges work well because they give you a good view and keep your scent from reaching deer around you. The corners of fields are another good location. Deer enter fields via the corners to feed, so put your stand in a tree a bit off the corner and catch them going in. Lastly, you can try to put your stand at an intersection of several bed-to-feed paths. This will give you the best chance of spotting a deer that uses one of the paths. Locating deer scat will help you locate feeding areas.
For those wanting to bowhunt deer, you need to put your stand about 12-20 yards from where you expect to see the deer. It should also be downwind from where you expect the deer to be coming so they don’t pick up on your scent.
There are lots of different types of tree stand, and if you’re looking for a good one you might be interested to read these articles on the best treestands for bowhunting, the best hang-on tree stands and the best climbing tree stands.
Bad spots can be good spots
If you’re in hilly or mountainous terrain, reconsider going down into the ravine to hunt. Yeah, it’s inconvenient. It’ll be even more inconvenient to drag a deer up out of there, but all the other hunters are thinking the same thing. Deer figure it out too. You could have easy pickings if you’re willing to put in the work.
Put your stand up early in the hunting season
Deer, especially the mature, wiser ones you’ve really got your eye on, notice changes to the woods. Hanging your stand up early in the season if you can gets the deer used to its presence so they don’t think anything of it. This will make them more likely to cross its path.
Practice getting into your stand
After you’ve put your stand up, practice getting in it. This way when the time comes, you can slip in and get in your stand quietly without being detected. You’ll also be less likely to fall out of it ascending and descending the tree in the dark.
Falling out of tree stands is one of the major causes of hunter injury. So invest in a good safety harness and mitigate that risk.
Make sure you have a clear shot
When you have your stand up, make sure you’ll be able to hit your target. Not just where you think the deer will come in, but look around and find any lane you might need. Bring branch clippers or buy a folding saw and use them so you can get a comfortable and accurate shot.
Pay attention to the wind
A good hunter will know the direction of the wind before he leaves in the morning so he can stay downwind of the deer, but there’s even more to it than that. Deer like to follow warm rising air in the morning and evening called thermals, and these can clue you in as to where the deer will pass your stand.
Don’t intersect the deer’s path
When you walk to your tree stand, take a route that doesn’t cross any point where you expect the deer to travel. This may require mapping out your hike beforehand and parking somewhere inconvenient, but it’s important. If deer smell that a hunter touched their path recently, they won’t use it.
Don’t “skyline” a deer blind
Unlike deer stands, blinds rise up above other features and stick up into the sky. Your blind needs to be back-dropped by trees or shrubs, especially if it’s on a ridge. Otherwise the blind will only be back dropped by the sky, and it will easily stand out to the deer eye.
If you’re a bow hunter you might be interested in our roundup of the best ground blinds for bowhunting. Check em out!
Clear your area
Even if you’re already using one a ground blinds, clear the area under and around the blind of debris like leaves, needles and twigs. Otherwise you could make noise if you shift around, and this could send your deer running just when it’s in your sights.
Hunt at the right time
Deer have a different schedule than people. For the most part, deer move during the twilight hours, dawn and dusk. They sleep during the day. That means that at dawn they’ll be moving back to their bedding areas from the fields they feed in, and at dusk they’ll be going to opposite way. Get to the woods early and stay late to catch them on the move. More detail on this here in our article on exactly when the best time of day to hunt deer is.
Don’t leave for lunch
Bring something with you to eat. Most hunters don’t, and they’ll start to get hungry around noon. When they all start leaving the woods at the same time, and the pressure will put deer on the move. Outsmart your fellow sportsmen and stick it out.
Drag scent from your stand out
Scent drags are a great way to lure deer to you. A lot of hunters do it wrong, though. You might think you’ll just drag the scent from wherever you enter the woods to your tree stand–and this is certainly more convenient–but this will make the scent strongest at the wrong end. You have to start at your stand and then go out. This way the deer will follow the scent to its strongest point–right where you’ll be waiting.
If you’re looking for some recommendations on just which deer scent to get, you could do worse than plucking for one from out list of the best deer scents.
Don’t call too often
If you’re using deer calls, don’t use them too much. You have to give time for any deer that have heard the call to come to you. Too much noise could spook deer feeding nearby or at least tip it off that something isn’t right. 20-30 minutes is a good time to wait between calls.
The rut might last longer than you think
Not all does go in and out of estrus at the same time. Plus, if a doe did not mate while she was in estrus the first time, she’ll enter it again. More mature bucks have learned this over the years, and even after the peak rut, they’ll still be looking for the last few does to mate with. Don’t abandon tactics for your morning rut phase hunts immediately. They might still work to get you a trophy buck.
Make note of where you dropped your kill
If your deer drops immediately, make a good mental note of where it is in case you can’t see it when you get down from the stand. Animals that drop immediately are likely to get back up and run, so you need to know where to go to find the blood trail.
Let the deer run
Don’t jump out of your stand and go chasing after the first deer you shot. This will only make you more likely to lose it. Wait at least 30 minutes before looking for the blood trail. A fatally shot deer will usually bed down to die only a few hundred yards away. If you go chasing it, it may run a lot farther, and deer can run fast.
Don’t approach a dropped animal immediately
Once you’ve found your kill, don’t run up to it immediately. Even though it might appear dead, it might not be. If you approach and startle it, you’ll be too close to do anything about it. Instead, try making noise or throwing a rock or two from a distance. If it still doesn’t respond, it’s probably safe to go in.
Look everywhere for blood
You won’t find blood trails only on the ground. Make sure you look all around you, even above you for blood. This is important especially as the blood begins to coagulate, and the trail gets sparser. Every few minutes, stop walking and check all directions for blood.
Not literally breadcrumbs, but when the blood trail thins out, you should mark it. Bright colored flagging tape works best, but a lot of hunters just use toilet paper. This way you can find your last spot if you lose the trail.
Learn the skill of field dressing
The meat of a freshly downed deer will spoil more quickly when it still contains it’s entrails and whilst the body retains body heat. Removing these things will help slow bacterial growth and preserve your trophy and is known as field dressing. If there’s a chance you’ll be out in the hunt for a while, then you should dress as soon as you can. There are many good tutorials on how to do this, like the one below.
Drag your kill out the easy way
Dragging a deer out of the woods can be exhausting. Make it easy on yourself. Deer carts and sleds with harnesses are really helpful, but if you don’t have one, tie a rope to a stick to displace the weight across your shoulders. Speaking of shoulders, keep the deer’s off the ground. They catch on debris and just make your job that much harder.