Whitetail Strategy: Why Less Is More

You’ve heard the advice, “You can’t kill ‘em from the couch.” Here’s why that philosophy is likely hurting your chances of killing a mature whitetail buck.

Whitetail Strategy: Why Less Is More

The author recently received a cell trail cam pic of a mature buck visiting one of his vine mock scrapes in South Dakota. Note the date: Oct. 19, 2022. Is it smart to pursue this buck during the weekend of October 22-23? Or is there a better chance this buck will be active during daylight if the author stays off the property and waits until October 29-30?

Jeff Helmers is founder of Big Rack Trophy Products & Whitetail Academy in Onalaska, Wisconsin. Click here to read an article about Helmers’ unique operation by our columnist Darron McDougal.

I say “unique” because I doubt you’ve heard about a whitetail hunting strategy and property like it ever before. To quickly summarize, Helmers manages his 41-acre parcel (yes, it’s that small) in such a way that he knows where the mature bucks will feed and bed, and the trails they’ll take in between. He has only two deer stands (box blinds) on the property, and both are placed near the only food plot. One stand covers a northerly wind, the other covers a southerly wind.

He monitors deer activity with trail cams, and he waits until conditions are perfect before sitting in a stand. By “perfect” I mean that the buck he or his daughter Catie (shown in the photo below) want to kill is on his feet during daylight hours and predictable. When all the odds are stacked in the Helmers’ favor, they move in for the kill. Literally.

During an entire deer season, they might hunt one day. Or two. Or three. Check out Helmers' quote from McDougal’s 2018 article: “As a father, I always let Catie take the biggest buck on our property each year. For 14 consecutive years, she’s taken her target buck, and the last five were around the 150 class. That’s incredible considering what we started with. She hunted only seven times to kill those five bucks.”

Read that last sentence again: “She hunted only seven times to kill those five bucks.”

Jeff Helmers and his daughter Catie with bucks killed on their 41-acre Wisconsin property.
Jeff Helmers and his daughter Catie with bucks killed on their 41-acre Wisconsin property.

You Can’t Kill ‘Em From the Couch?

You’ve no doubt heard the hunting advice, “You can’t kill ‘em from the couch.” It means that hard work and dedication is rewarded with shooting opportunities in the field.

Helmers and other successful big-buck hunters disagree. Jeff Sturgis, a well-known whitetail land/hunting consultant, recently published a YouTube video called “Worst Deer Hunting Advice Ever.” The focus of the 14-minute video (bottom of this page) is Sturgis explaining why “You can’t kill ‘em from the couch” is horrible advice. He explains very clearly why “less is more” when it comes to managing your treestand sits.

It’s important to note that Sturgis doesn’t take the “less is more” hunting philosophy to the degree in which Helmers does. Sturgis acknowledges that almost all hunters want to be out in the field, and not sitting on the couch, so he provides advice on how to manage your time in the whitetail woods. I assume Helmers would agree with everything Sturgis says in terms of hunting pressure, but Helmers, with only 41 acres, doesn’t have options for “hunting the edges.” And to my knowledge, Helmers isn’t interested in spending time on nearby public land.

For my own deer hunting, I’ve tried through the last few years to hunt smarter, not harder. But I’ll admit that it’s a hard habit to break. I enjoy the grind; I enjoy the day after day after day long periods in the field in pursuit of whitetails. I want to pursue whitetails every available minute I have away from work and other commitments. But I’m learning that my odds of success, especially on smaller tracts of private land, go down the more I target my property.

When I think about the upcoming whitetail rut, and specifically my permission property in South Dakota (160 acres; a half-mile-long stretch of river-bottom), I know in my bones that my chance of killing a top-end buck (something in the top 10 percent of the deer herd; a buck scoring 125-150-ish) would be best if I limited my time in the field to only 3 days.

Here’s what I mean: I should check my weather app and then pick the best single weather day (for a dark-to-dark sit) within the period of October 29-31. Then, I’d stay out of the river-bottom for about a week. Next, I’d pick the best single weather day (for a dark-to-dark sit) within the period of November 6-8. Finally, I’d pick the best single weather day (for a dark-to-dark sit) within the period of November 13-15.

I could pursue whitetails on public or Walk-In properties several miles away on all of my other available hunting days, but avoid the prime half-mile river-bottom entirely (not even to check trail cams) except for my 3 dark-to-dark hunting days.

If I could adhere to such a strict game plan — if I could avoid the temptation of hunting the river-bottom too much! — then I can almost guarantee my results would be outstanding. Because the entire property would basically be a sanctuary through October and November, whitetails of all ages would travel freely during daylight. The odds of a mature buck walking through a shooting lane during one of my three dark-to-dark sits would be off-the-charts high.

It’s easy to say, but hard to implement.

Check out Jeff Sturgis’ video below about hunting pressure and “killing ‘em from the couch.”


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