How to keep Deer in Their Home Ranges Throughout Hunting Seasons – Part I

Not many days into a typical whitetail hunting season, most hunters begin wondering, where all the deer went. The answer depends on how you’ve been hunting. If you’ve been making drives or still-hunting (wandering aimlessly), most deer are then almost certain to be located where hunters aren’t making drives or still-hunting: in posted lands, for example, refuges or swamps and bogs, some of which may be as far away as 6–30 miles. If you’ve been stand hunting at one stand site where most hunters are stand hunting (during an archery season, for example), chances are most deer there are living quite normal lives out of sight 100 yards or more away.

Imagine hunting in an area where deer are merely living out of sight during an entire hunting season – like where my three sons, two grandsons, me and a number of weekend-only others hunt during a firearm season. We are stand hunters, of course, but not typical stand hunters. We rarely use a stand site longer than one-half to one day. The reason is, we hunt mature bucks only. Today, such deer are so skilled at finding, identifying and avoiding stand hunters in trees or on the ground that it is generally a waste of time to remain at one stand site longer than that.

Stand sites we use during the first 2–3 days of a hunting season are selected and prepared (if necessary) 2–3 weeks before the opener. During the rest of the hunting season, most are spur-of-the-moment, never-used-before selections near very fresh-deer signs. How, you might wonder, can so many hunters find and use so many stand sites, during the course of a hunting season without spooking and chasing all deer out of your hunting area?

The answer lies in another question: aside from “jumping” deer and alarming them enough to make them raise their tails and bound away, what makes whitetails abandon their ranges during a hunting season? The answer is, “overwhelming, much-feared trail and airborne scents emitted by hunters. Wherever a hunter travels on foot, a carpet of intense human odors that lasts four or more days is laid down and the hunter’s airborne odors sweep across the landscape throughout a triangular-shaped area 200 yards wide and 200 yards downwind. Airborne odors soon disappear after a hunter passes but continue unabated wherever a hunter halts to stand hunt.

Recent research by law enforcement officers in Minnesota have proven nothing a deer hunter can buy that is claimed to eliminate human odors can keep a K-9 dog from finding a human as quickly as a human not using these products. This means, of course, equally or more sensitive noses of whitetails cannot be fooled either (as I have been insisting since the 1970s). Sorry guys, this means today’s whitetail hunters must do something more than use certain soaps or soda, wear certain clothing or boots or spray themselves with certain potions to avoid being smelled and thus avoided by whitetails.

Blaze-Orange and Other Visual Handicaps

Blaze-orange hunting clothing is very easy for hunters to spot over great distances, providing well-proven safety for deer hunters while hunting within shooting range of other hunters. The trouble is, blaze-orange is also very easy for whitetails to spot. What they spot is different, however. Because whitetails lack receptors for colors in the red spectrum in their eyes, whitetails see reds in shades from black to white. Hunter red clothing of bygone hunting seasons appeared black to them (see photo on left above). Today’s blaze-orange clothing appears glowing white, most vivid when bathed in sunlight and moving (see center photo above). That’s not all. Regardless of what a tree stand hunter is wearing, natural camo when bowhunting or blaze-orange while firearm hunting, when seen against a bright sky in early morning or late evening when shadows are long or while shadowed beneath a mature tree at any time of the day, a hunter’s entire body will appear black against the sky or a snowy background, also especially visible while moving (see photo on right above). Today’s deer hunters therefore have three terrible visual handicaps to deal with: one caused by glowing blaze-orange, a second caused by eye-catching movements and a third caused by sky-lighting or snow-lighting. All three routinely ruin chances to take deer, most often without hunters realizing it.

There are effective ways to overcome these handicaps. One is, “mask or hide your body and movements while hunting.” This should be relatively easy for stand hunters, sitting or standing in one place amid natural cover for hours at a time as they do. Unfortunately, most are unaware of how easy they are for mature whitetails to discover and avoid and therefore find little reason to remain motionless long enough. When moving, few stand hunters move slowly enough to avoid being noticed by any of the 15–30 deer that live in the square-mile surrounding their stands. Few realize they should not move at all while one or both eyes of a nearby whitetail’s eyes are visible. Few select stand sites that provide adequate silhouette and motion hiding cover.

Today, ground level stand hunters generally use blinds to keep themselves and their movements hidden – blinds composed of natural, unaltered cover, blinds made from natural materials found lying on the ground and blinds made from man-made materials such as camo fabric with metal frameworks. I prefer using a fallen tree as a blind or natural unaltered cover deep and dense enough to mask or hide my entire body up to my neck while seated on my backpacked stool. I hide the light skin of my face and my head by wearing a camo headnet topped with my camo cap. I often add a fleecy evergreen bough to the top of my blind to further hide my head and head movements. I’ve taken several trophy bucks while seated behind a young evergreen with a horizontal space between boughs at eye level (quietly created with a knife when necessary) through which I could take aim without being noticed by those bucks.

My favorite tree to sit in while tree stand hunting is a mature red oak (which retains rust-colored leaves throughout winter) or a mature, well-branched evergreen closely surrounded by other mature trees that act as secondary blinds at stand level. Because height alone no longer hides hunters from mature whitetails, 9–10 feet above the ground is high enough for me. I make it a rule to a avoid altering surrounding cover as much as possible, using natural shooting windows through which to fire at deer rather than stand-to-ground shooting lanes which are instantly recognized as dangerous by today’s mature bucks. Admittedly, extra surrounding cover sometimes spoils opportunities to fire at nearby deer, but I’ve long been convinced such cover provides me with more opportunities to fire at mature bucks within easy shooting range.

Whether at ground level or in a tree, surrounding natural cover should be at least two-thirds effective at hiding your body and movements, if you are capable of remaining motionless for long periods and then when necessary, move very slowly. If you know you are going to move a lot, 80–100 percent hidden is recommended. It’s that important. The first time you begin easing up a rifle or bow up to fire at a big buck standing 10–50 yards away, you are going to wish your blind was 100% effective.

Here’s another bit of important advice, probably new to you: learn to fire your gun or bow while seated when stand hunting – you will be less noticeable and thus minimize noticeable movements at critical moments. Once learned, you will not only be more accurate when the chips are down, but your quarry will likely remain unaware you are near, therefore standing still or moving slowly when you take aim (an easy target).