Consistently killing bucks, especially in the hunting pressure cooker that is the Michigan deer woods, has as much to do with avoiding critical mistakes as it does piecing together the perfect plan. These seven sins scuttle countless hunters’ seasons every year.
Here’s how to avoid them.
Undoubtedly, most of you are rolling your eyes right now. Another writer hammering away at a topic that’s been so over discussed it’s become cliché. Hear me out though. I’m not talking about spraying clothes and scent-free storage. They’re important, but if you don’t get that by now I’m not going to convince you. I’m talking about your literal approach to your stand, the idea of not only being mindful of where your scent is blowing during your sit on stand, but also where its wafting during your approach and retreat. Some of the best stand sites are tucked a razors edge from bedding areas and most of these stands are ruined because the most convenient approach routes blow the hunt before it ever starts. You should have multiple approach and departure routes for every stand you hang. That way you can choose the most appropriate route depending on the wind direction and where deer are bedding. It might mean a long, arduous walk, but not educating deer to your presence is essential in killing bucks.
Ruining November During October
For bowhunters, October 1 brings with it excitement and an outlet for months of pent up anticipation. Despite the temptation, don’t become over zealous and hop into your best stands when October arrives. This can be tough, especially for those with limited access to hunting ground, but I promise you, there is no better way to ruin a promising season than to spoil killer stands sites before they have a chance to blossom in November. Everyone wants to kill a deer and as soon as possible, but stay low impact to begin with. Start the season by focusing on bedding to feeding transition stands that minimize disturbance and the risk of getting busted. When the first cold snap in late October hits, take an early crack at one of your tightly tucked bedding area stands in hopes of catching a wandering buck looking for the first hot does. After that, go all in during the first two weeks of November. Be patient and wait for the perfect time to strike.
Hunters who can restrain themselves in October kill more bucks in November, simple fact.
Mobility is an overlooked key in year in and year out hunting success. To be clear, by “mobility” I’m referring to an open-minded approach that allows you to adjust to changing deer behavior as the season develops. This can be adjusting to deer movement on a daily basis based on observed activity or in a more general sense, altering stand strategies and the season progresses. If you’ve seen deer consistently working a ridgeline or skirting a cover edge for consecutive days, move over there. Don’t wait for the deer to come to you.
Once you’ve pinpointed a pattern, exploit it because they can change in an instant. The same applies to adjusting to the ebbs and flows of a long deer season. Putting all you hopes into one or two stand sites is a recipe for failure simply because movement patterns go though pronounced changes as the season wears on. In early October, food is going to be a focal point and buck travel routes to it are going to be your best bet for arrowing an early season trophy. A few weeks later, acorns begin falling and crop field don’t pull as much weight as they did the week prior. As the calendar flips to November, things change. Bucks shift their focus from food to ladies and this alters their once predictable travel routes, rendering early season stands less useful.
Now routes between doe bedding areas and pinch points between blocks of timber become priority stand sites. When the rut gives way to winter, food again rules the day. Having an approach that allows you to adjust to these changes exponentially improves your odds of success. For some this means hanging several stands. For others a hang and hunt approach makes more sense. Regardless of the setup, a mobile mindset improves the odds of success over a long season.
For me, this is one of the most difficult slipups to avoid. Maybe it’s habits ingrained over 20 years of hunting, habits built on tradition. Maybe it’s the simple fact that midday hunts can be brutally slow and for some reason it’s more acceptable to have a slow morning or evening, but a slow midday hunt is viewed as a massive waste of time. Regardless of the reason, it can be tough to hunt the midday, but don’t overlook it, especially during the peak of the rut. Each year, hunters kill bucks during the midday hours of November. In all honesty it makes complete sense. Bucks are tirelessly searching for does, midday or otherwise. In fact, midday movement might be slightly more predictable as bucks focus much of their time on checking doe bedding areas. Stands tucked between bedding areas or close to individual bedding areas can prove very effective. So, pack and sandwich and bottle of water, and spend lunch-time in the stand. The rut only comes once a year and you’ll never regret being in the woods for more of it.
Not Getting Aggressive
Though deer season is long, more of a marathon than a sprint, there is a very limited window when the biggest bucks are vulnerable. Though the dates can vary slightly, the first two weeks of November undoubtedly provide the best opportunity to kill a mature buck. When this two-week block arrives, forget to low impact, skirting the edges approach that defined the early season. Now is the time to get aggressive. Push the limits by setting up whisper close to bedding areas. Pulls the calls and scents from your pack early and often. When the timing is right, aggressive tactics can be the difference between a successful season and one littered with close calls.
Every hunter understands the value of persistence. But applying it as the season wears on can become a monumental challenge. The hunters who annually tag out are the ones who wake in the predawn darkness and trek to the stand despite not seeing a deer for the last two days. Successful hunters spend every possible moment in the woods, knowing that hunting is a game of odds and as the time investment increases with odds of killing a buck improve. If you feel your persistence wearing down, switch things up. Head to a new stand or try a different method. Strap on a climber and head to a piece of ground you haven’t hunted yet, or beat the public land crowd my hiking in further than everyone else. Do whatever it takes to find the motivation to simply be in the woods.
By doing that, you’ll kill more deer…
Blowing the Shot
Shot opportunities are the pinnacles of hunting seasons. As such, they are limited in number and fleeting in presentation. Successful seasons often boil down to a handful of seconds, the time between the pin or crosshairs settling on the buck’s chest and the trigger being squeezed. What happens in those few seconds determines the outcome of the season and rewards the countless hours devoted over the prior weeks and months. Or as is too often the case, a missed shot leaves the hunter contemplating what could have been and lamenting the potential success that narrowly slipped away. Now, don’t get me wrong. There is more to a successful hunt than a kill, but a kill culminates the experience and effort. To find more seasons ending with a harvested animal, become more skilled with your weapons. Practice religiously from realistic shooting situations. Rehearse the perfect shot on every shot and do it often enough that it becomes more instinct than voluntary action. It’s a simple fact: better shooters make more kills.
Eliminating these seven deadly mistakes from your seasons will go a long way to improving your odds of success and resulting in more bucks on the wall and venison in the freezer. Learn from every hunt, every encounter, and soon enough you’ll be the guy with the buck in his truck every fall.