Let’s imagine you and I have decided to do some bass fishing. How are we going to do it? Should we put minnows on our hooks, cast them next to a weed bed and sit in our boat at the same spot all day long watching our bobbers? Let’s imagine we caught one. Should we then return to the same weed bed and fish the same way, anchored at that same spot, every day for a week or two and do the same year after year? Of course not. Every experienced bass angler knows a much better way to catch bass. Yet, this is exactly how a majority of American deer hunters have been hunting whitetails since the 1980s. What’s wrong with it? After millions of us have been doing this all these years, annually culling deer vulnerable to such hunting, almost all North American whitetails today that have survived two or more hunting seasons know exactly how to identify and avoid tree stand hunters. Sure, tree stand hunters still take deer (whether using bait or not), but most deer taken by them are inexperienced fawns and yearlings.
Opportunistic stand hunting, evolved from my 55 years of hunting-related research with wild deer, is a new, fair chase (no bait) hunting method akin to fishing for bass the most productive way, moving often. Not as often as bass fishermen, but changing stand sites every day or half day. Moves are not aimless. The word “opportunistic” refers to taking quick advantage of very fresh deer signs that reveal trails or sites being used by one or more specific, unalarmed whitetails right now. If things are done right, that or those deer will very likely use the same trail or visit the same site (a feeding area, for example) again later today or tomorrow morning. The fresh signs keyed on are discovered daily while hiking along a limited number of specific trails (minimizing the spread of lasting ruinous human trail scents) via a method of mid-hunt scouting that does not alarm whitetails (inspired by gray wolves). This puts the hunter close to a desirable quarry once or twice every day or half-day. Stand sites (elevated and/or ground level) used the first few days of a hunting season are selected and prepared 2-3 weeks before the opener. During the rest of the hunting season, additional stand sites are used right away or later the day they are selected or the following morning. Unless the fresh deer signs happen to be close to a stand site selected and prepared before the hunting season began, most are simple but well hidden ground-level stand sites (for use with a backpacked stool) that have certain mature-buck-effective characteristics and require very litle or no preparation. They are always located within sight of those fresh deer signs and are always downwind or crosswind.
Though not as simple a hunting method as still-hunting or making drives, opportunistic stand hunting is by far the most productive for taking mature bucks today (deer most other hunters rarely see). It enabled my three sons and me to take most of the 98 mature bucks we tagged between 1990 and 2017. Most were taken at stand sites never used before during the first two legal shooting hours of the day. Learn all about how to use this new and unusually productive way to hunt mature bucks and other deer in my newly published Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition.