Assessing Your Deer Season

Start your 2020 whitetail season on the right foot by recognizing what worked and what didn’t in 2019.

Assessing Your Deer Season

For many whitetail hunters, the latest deer season has come to a close, or will very soon. Now, you can put away hunting clothes, bows, guns, decoys, etc. and relax by a warm winter fire. While doing so, why not dig out your daily diary and review what worked and what didn’t? OK, if you don’t keep a daily diary, then just mentally go back and rethink your strategies and outcomes. It’s commonsense that tells us not everything we did the past hunting season was the right thing. Not everything was wrong either, but there is always room for improvement. Here are some of the things you might consider before you hit the woods next fall.

Don‘t Make a Grand Entrance

Several years ago, I attended a seminar given by Bill Winke. He hosts the Midwest Whitetails television show, and in my opinion it doesn’t get any better when it comes to hunting television. His seminar focused on getting to and from your treestand without being seen or smelled.

How many times have you headed into the woods before daylight, only to have a deer blow at you when less than 100 yards from the treestand? Did they hear you? Did they smell you? Did they see your flashlight? Who knows, but it happens and there are several things you can do to make a stealthier entrance.

First, whatever way you’ve chosen to enter your stand, go in a few weeks before the season and clear that path. I have a friend who uses a leaf blower to clear all debris from his path. A leaf rake works, too. A second thing you might consider may sound odd at first, but hear me out. Wait until you have enough light to see before going into your stand. Sounds like heresy to a hunter. I agree it’s nice to get into your stand 45 minutes before daylight to let things settle down, but doing so may create other problems. You can’t see deer in the dark, but they can see you and blow out. There is no real sight advantage to go in before daylight.  When you can see better, you are quieter, and you may spot deer before they see you. No alarm calls, no crashing off and alerting other deer.

Winke’s best advice during that seminar relative to getting to and from your stand, related to the path taken. Beginning right at his vehicle or any point of entrance, he utilizes depressions and ravines to prevent deer seeing him. He may go a bit out of his way to take advantage of a depression, but staying low is key. Additionally, Winke uses water every chance he gets. Small streams keep you low and out of sight, and they help eliminate odor. Walking in water doesn’t put any human scent on the ground. Paying attention to wind patterns coupled with the use of small streams as travel routes can be a great way to get to a stand. And when deciding where to place a stand, the availability of a small stream might be the clincher, making that stand exceptional.

Don’t Overdo It

If you read my February 2019 column, you know that a study conducted at Auburn University proves you can definitely overhunt a deer stand. As a reminder, the study found that near the end of the hunting season, bucks were four times less likely to enter the area around a given stand. Additionally, scientists found that if a stand was hunted 12 hours a week, the chance of harvesting a buck from that stand decreased by half.

I know your trail camera probably showed several good bucks near your favorite stand, and I’m sure the wind continues to be good for that stand. I also know how tempting it is to continue to go to that stand because of the incoming intel, but the data does not lie. Lighten up, give the stand a rest, and do it often. Have some other options that are also good. Think about some stand options right now, before the next season starts.

If you continue to see a decent amount of buck sign in the woods throughout the season but fail to spot deer during legal hunting time, then chances are good you’re overhunting the area, which is causing deer to travel only after dark.
If you continue to see a decent amount of buck sign in the woods throughout the season but fail to spot deer during legal hunting time, then chances are good you’re overhunting the area, which is causing deer to travel only after dark.

Start a Fire

Lots of farmers and hunters burn their land in the spring. Such fires stimulate growth, and we’ve always heard that a good spring fire was the thing to do. I’m not telling you not to burn in the spring to improve the habitat in your area. However, a new Mississippi study shows that you might consider a July fire right around your treestand sites. In Mississippi, these later fires stimulated good forb growth in October. Burn around stand sites and come bow season, you‘ll have forbs that will attract deer right to the stand.

Not every stand lends itself to a burn, and obviously you’ll need to take precautions when burning, but this Mississippi study showed that a late fire provided a catalyst for great forb growth in bow season. It might be worth a try around a few of your stand sites.

A Path to Your Door

In the past 10 years, as I’ve aged, I’ve used more ground blinds, but what follows could also apply to treestands. The technique I’m about to discuss started on a lease I had in Ohio. The portion of that lease allocated to me was an area that had been partially timbered, leaving pockets of mature trees. After timbering, there was nothing but blackberry thickets, multiflora rose and new growth saplings. It was almost impenetrable, but the deer loved it.

Four years before I got the lease, a Marsalis shale company went through those thickets and created survey lines. Those lines crisscrossed the area and grew back into 4- to 6-foot goldenrod. I found one great ground blind location relative to prevailing wind and access. It was a hub where three of those survey lines converged. The deer just needed easier access, so in late-July, I took a four-wheeler and ran up and down each of those lines for 150 yards. I bashed down the goldenrod and created trails that ran near my new treestand. Then, I put up my ground blind and a few trail cameras.

I returned 3 weeks later to check the trails and the cameras. Wow! It didn’t take the deer long to discover these man-made trails. That first year my trail cams showed four shooter bucks using those trails almost daily — all walking 20 to 25 yards from my blind. The wind was right the first day of bow season and before 8 a.m., I shot the third buck that walked by. The second and third year in that blind, I also took good bucks the first few days of the season. All I did was make a path that was easy for the deer to use. And they seemed happy to do so.

Find the Right Tree

We know deer love acorns, and we also know all acorns are not the same. Some oak species produce acorns with more tannin than others, and the deer have it figured out. In most whitetail range, deer will select white oak acorns over other species.

However, what you may not realize is all white oaks are not the same. A few will produce more and apparently better tasting acorns than other white oaks, and whitetails find and feed on acorns under those particular trees. 

Obviously we don’t want to be plowing around the woods during hunting season. However, once acorns start to fall and the deer get on them, it pays to spend some midday hours scouring the woods for these exceptional white oaks. With a little work, you’ll find a few oaks that have more deer sign under them. As you know, whitetails often pick up whole acorns and bite them in half. When they do that, half of the acorn lands on the ground. It may then get eaten, but some will remain and you’ll find those laying under the prime white oak trees. There may be only one such tree every 50 acres, but they are out there and the deer find them. After you find one of these target trees, check the wind, look for deer trails and set a stand or two accordingly. And yes, that tree will always be the one to produce more and better acorns for deer.

Conclusion

Nothing is effective all the time, but maybe, just maybe, one of the above-mentioned ideas might work at one or several of your existing stand sites. Or, maybe the above ideas triggered a thought on where you might put another deer stand. It’s never too early to plan for next deer season. It’s time to throw another log on the fire and make a plan.

Photos by Dave Maas

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