Kirby Puckett, formerly a centerfielder for the Minnesota Twins, was best known as one of the most consistent hitters in the majors. Every season he would hit over .300, drive in around 100 runs, put 20 or so over the fence and often lead the league in doubles.
Puckett was a versatile ball player. Like Puckett, whitetail hunters who make versatility a part of their game plan are the most consistently successful hunters.
Being a versatile whitetail hunter means being adept at still-hunting, hunting from a stand and driving. Learning how to do each is the easy part. Understanding when each of these techniques is most likely to be the most effective tactic you can employ is the real key. Knowing when and when not to use any one of these three techniques is what separates the Puckett's of deer hunting from the rest of the pack. Here is how you can become a member of that select group of deer hunters who can honestly call themselves versatile hunters.
When To Hunt From A Stand
Stand hunting is the most effective method you can use anytime deer are likely to be on the move. I break the main causes of deer movement down into three categories: natural movement, rut induced travel and escape and evasion as a result of hunting pressure. Anytime one or more of these factors is in effect, hunting from a stand is the best option you can employ.
If left undisturbed, a whitetail's daily pattern would go something like this. In late afternoon/early evening the animal will rise out of its day bed and begin to meander towards the main food source. It will feed as it goes, browsing or grazing depending upon what is available. Once at the main food source it will feed until the first compartment of its four stomachs is full.
Then it will lie down and chew its cud, usually rising again around midnight to eat its fill, before again lying down. Shortly before first light the deer will once again get up and fill its stomach before moving slowly back towards the bedding area. Another short feeding period will occur in late morning/early afternoon although this mid-day "snack" will consist of whatever the deer can find near the bedding area.
The best locations for stands, which take full advantage of natural movements are located between the feeding area and the bedding area. Most experienced hunters try to locate the stand closer to the bedding site than the food source for both morning and evening hunting. The advantage to this is that deer are more likely to show up during legal shooting hours if the stand is nearer the bedding area.
Deer Leave Feeding Area
Deer will often vacate the feeding area at the first hint of day, especially if the deer are feeding in an open field or clear-cut. This makes a morning stand overlooking the feeding area a poor choice. However, deer returning to the bedding area in the morning will often dilly-dally between the feeding site and the bedding area and not arrive until the sun is high and shooting light good.
In the evening the situation is somewhat reversed. Evening stands near feeding areas are generally good only for the very last minutes of shooting light, and rarely then for the big bucks, which will wait in the shadows until full dark before stepping into the open. An evening stand located between the bedding area and the feeding site takes advantage of the whitetails' habit of slowly meandering towards the feeding area and provides for shots while there is still good light. Mid-day stands need to be located as close as possible to the bedding area to take advantage of the limited distance deer move at this time of the day.
In our part of the country, the Midwest, this period begins during the last 10 days of October and lasts through the first 20 days of November. It is during this period that whitetail bucks will travel more during daylight hours than at any other time during their lives. It is that increased movement, which makes stand hunting a top tactic to use during the rut.
The appearance of abundant, fresh scrapes signals the onset of this special time of the year. A whitetail buck makes a scrape to let the does in the neighborhood know that he is now standing at stud. Scrapes, and the scent placed on the overhanging limb through forehead, preorbital and saliva glands, also identify the buck making the scrape to other bucks.
Up until the time the first does come into estrous, bucks will be on the move making scrapes, checking and freshening existing scrapes, inspecting does for any sign of readiness and generally making the rounds within their own home area and venturing into the domain of neighboring bucks.
Hunting from a stand near scrapes is the best bet during this period. If everything goes as planned you will get a crack at the buck that made the scrapes as he comes to check them. But even if that buck does not show, there is a good chance that other bucks will wander through the area as they roam in search of does.
Once does come into estrous, hunting over scrapes becomes less effective. The place for a stand now is near known concentrations of does or, barring that information, in a funnel. A funnel is anyplace where natural or manmade influences force deer to travel through a narrow corridor. Stands located in such places during the period when bucks are actively trailing, tending and chasing does can be the scene of nearly non-stop action. Hunters who do not plan to spend all day on stand during this period are greatly reducing their chances of scoring.
Handling Hunting Pressure
Hunting pressure is the main influence on deer movement during the first few days of the firearms season and on all weekends during the season. Whenever other hunters are in the woods, hunting from a stand is the best option. The old cliche, "let other hunters move the deer to you," remains sound advice.
When hunting pressure becomes a major factor most deer will seek out the most secure cover available within their home area. Normally the most secure cover will be the thickest cover available. A stand located between the bulk of the hunters and the thick cover is nearly always a winner. Hunters who can tolerate the often-claustrophobic conditions of hunting within the escape cover are often rewarded with point blank shots at the biggest bucks.
Read about improving your skills of still-hunting and driving in Part 2.
For a fine selection of Big Game Hunting gear, click here.
Gary Clancy writes a weekly column for sportsmansguide.com. Gary has hunted whitetail deer in 20 different states and provinces. He has harvested many record-book animals, and presented hunting seminars from Tennessee to Wisconsin. Gary also has authored or co-authored six hunting books, four on whitetail hunting.