Before hunting, scout, and before scouting, decide on the kind of deer you’d like to take. Why? Because whitetails easy to hunt, require less scouting and field preparations, those moderately difficult to hunt require more scouting and field preparations and those very difficult to hunt require much more scouting and field preparations than you realize. Over the long run in whitetail hunting, you generally get what you earn.
If you plan to hunt opening weekend only, your best bet would be to settle for a mature doe (2-1/2 years of age or older), a yearling (buck or doe) or a fawn. Though some mature does can be as difficult to hunt as older bucks, yearlings and fawns are the easiest of whitetails to hunt. These three classes of whitetails live together in relatively small home ranges, about 125 acres in size, requiring less scouting and field preparations.
Where there are a lot of deer trails and 2–3 inch long tracks (hoofs only) and ¼ to ½ inch droppings, you are in a doe range. Yearling buck tracks and droppings are the same length as those of mature does: tracks (3–3-1/8”) and droppings (1/2”). Where there are few deer trails, you are between doe ranges. There are usually 4–5 of doe ranges in a square-mile to choose from. You’ll only need two new, well-selected stand sites (located near fresh tracks and or droppings of such deer), one for each day of hunting.
If a moderately difficult to hunt mature buck is your intended quarry, settle for a 2-1/2 year-old, 6–8 pointer. To take such a buck, you should plan to hunt 3–4 successive days or two weekends in 1–2 areas about 250 acres in size — the average size of the home range of such a buck. Within this buck’s home range will be 1–2 ranges of mature does with young and all their deer signs plus signs made by the buck: tracks 3-3/8 “ in length and droppings 5/8” in length, likely clumped. Hunting (keying on) such a buck generally requires more scouting and field preparation and 1–2 different stand sites per day of hunting. The effort needed to find and prepare this number of stand sites can be reduced considerably by selecting stand sites and using a backpacked stool at ground level stand sites with adequate natural cover requiring little or no preparation during the hunting season. Beginning on day three, ground level stand sites are more effective than tree stands.
If you are determined to take a trophy-class, 3-1/2 to 6-1/2 year-old buck (one for the wall), you should plan to hunt one big buck, plus one or two backups, in a one square-mile area — the size of the home range largest buck in your hunting area. Also living within this area will be roughly 14–29 other deer: mature bucks and does, yearling bucks and does and fawns. Being regularly successful at taking bucks of this class requires considerable scouting. My sons and I generally scout two or more times (3–4 days each) 2–3 weeks before each hunting season begins. We select 1–2 different stand sites (which can be elevated stand sites), preferably at spots never used before near fresh tracks and or droppings made by a big buck, to be used during the first 2–3 days of the hunting season. Finding more stand sites while scouting preseason is recommended, but most of the additional stand sites we may need during our remaining days of hunting are selected via a special wolf-inspired, no-alarm method of scouting during the hunting season. These stand sites are generally at ground-level (requiring no noisy installation of a portable tree stand), downwind or crosswind of very fresh signs made by a big unalarmed (walking) buck with tracks measuring 3-5/8 to 4”, droppings measuring ¾ to 1-1/8”, likely clumped, and/or a freshly made or renewed ground scrape more than 2’ in diameter.
If you prefer to depend on luck rather than doing all the scouting and field preparations necessary to more regularly take more difficult to hunt whitetails, you should expect to take no more than 1-2 trophy-class bucks (bucks for the wall) during your lifetime of whitetail hunting.
Next blog: gear and what to look for.