Guest Writer: Kenzie Fitzpatrick
Learning how to deer hunt can seem overwhelming, especially for the first time. Most of deer hunting isn’t the actual shooting part, but the time and preparation put into harvesting a deer. Having deer come to you without any prep work can happen, but there’s more to hunting than luck. The best hunters are those that take time to ready their fields, deer stands, cameras, feeders, and guns.
We know you’re eager to get out there and bag a legal deer, but let’s break down preparing how to deer hunt. Whether you own the property, are in a hunting lease, or are hunting public land, there are a few things that need to be done before you can set your sights on a deer.
Location, Tree Stands & Ground Blinds
Knowing where you’re going to hunt is the first step in knowing where to assess and set up. If I’m hunting in the woods, the very first thing I do before deer season starts is check my tree stands. Are they still stable? Has anything deteriorated from rain, flooding, or from any of the other elements? Or, if the property doesn’t have any tree stands, you know you need to bring your own. This can take time to research and find the right stand for you. Many of my friends hunt with me so it’s important that I find the right stand to support two adults. ALWAYS wear a safety harness when climbing and using a tree stand.
Ground blinds can range from custom-built wooden blinds with windows, chairs, shelves, and more to a simple camo tent. Find out more information about the property you’re hunting on to know what you need to bring to be comfortable. In-ground blinds, having a chair is super beneficial especially when the ground is wet or uncomfortable. You could be in the blind for one to four hours, so get comfy! If you’re hunting out of a tent, make sure you have a bipod, a shooting bag, or some other way to support your gun for the least amount of movement when you make your shot.
How To Deer Hunt
There are a plethora of trail cameras on the market today. Learning how to deer hunt is a lot easier if you check your trail cams. With larger properties, it’s crucial to know which spots to hunt in so you aren’t out on a wild goose chase hoping to get lucky. Choosing a trail camera can be a lot of fun as there are cameras that just take photos when there is movement. They have a memory card that only takes photos until the storage is reached, cameras that are battery or solar-powered, wireless or non-wireless, and so much more.
If you’re able to leave out trail cameras weeks before you plan to hunt, you’ll have a better idea of where to set up and what animals you may see. Replace batteries, clear memory cards, and ensure all of the cameras are working properly before you set them out.
Sighting in Your Gun
All hunters and firearm owners should zero their guns to their scopes/red dots with their hunting ammunition. This is the most important part of how to deer hunt. Hunting is about conservation and killing in the most humane way possible. If you don’t know what distance your optic or gun is sighted in at, take the time to figure it out. You need to know your gun is accurate before ever stepping foot in a hunting blind or stand.
Your hunting ammunition may not be the same ammunition you use for shooting at the range. Bullet ballistics are not all the same and it’s important you zero your gun with the same ammo you intend to hunt with. Poly-tipped .308 hunting ammo is designed to put meat on the table, not punch holes in paper targets.
Know and study your holds for sighting targets at specific distances. Once you have access to where you’ll be hunting, use a range finder to determine how far your shots could be and write down the holds for those distances so you can make a clean shot on the deer.
Buying a License
If you plan on hunting anywhere, plan to buy a hunting license. If you’re looking at out of state hunting permits, read and learn the state laws that you’ll be hunting in. Planning the duration of your hunt will also determine the length of the license you’ll need to purchase. It’s also key to know if you’ll be using “bait” or feeders as that is an extra charge for a hunting license.
Prepping Fields/Accessing Woods
Similar to tree stands or blinds, fields may need to be tended to before heading out to deer hunt. This can include clearing travel paths to get to your blinds and clearing your shooting lanes/line of sight to be able to make an accurate shot. As well as, planting food plots, and setting up feeders.
If you have an all-terrain vehicle you can borrow or use when it’s time to hunt, survey the property. Check paths to ensure they’re clear enough to walk through. Make sure nothing has washed out from rivers, ponds, rain, and take a look at the ground to see if you see any animal tracks.
If you plan to hunt using bait, feeders need to be full and either set on a timer or manually run. It’s a good idea to start this process well before the day you plan to deer hunt so they get used to where to go for food. Read our blog, “Best Time of Day to Hunt Deer” to find out how a deer’s eating habits control how to deer hunt.
Now that you’re getting closer to hunting deer, having the right gear is crucial to being safe and stealthy. The number one thing a deer hunter needs is at least one or two items of clothing that are orange. Find an orange hat, vest, or jacket so that other hunters can visually pick you up. This is especially essential when hunting public property as a lot of times, you don’t know who is setting up across from you and shooting in your direction. ALWAYS know your target and what’s beyond it. It’s not only a firearm safety rule, but could also save a hunter’s life.
Be sure to wear the right camouflage or blaze orange clothing for your surroundings. Purchase a scent remover to bathe in and help remove all the scent in your hair. You can also wash your clothing with a scent eliminator as well.
On The Hunt
The rest of learning how to deer hunt is about staying patient. Understand the best time of day to hunt deer so you are prepared to sit and wait during those times. When you see a deer in the woods, before ever thinking of taking a shot, analyze the deer to see if it’s legal. Don’t take the shot if you don’t have the proper tags.
Your tags will list hunting limitations for doe or bucks with a specific count of antler points. You need to know limitations ahead of time so you don’t illegally make a mistake. Remember to breathe and relax before pulling the trigger. You want to make a clean, accurate shot when a deer is in your crosshairs.
Always have a post-shot plan when it comes to harvesting the deer. This could include field stripping a deer where it lays to carry it back more easily to where your vehicle is. Or this could mean having an all-terrain vehicle gassed up and ready to load up the deer. Do you have a butcher to take the deer to? Do you plan on using a taxidermist for the body? Knowing what happens after the shot is just as important as prepping for the hunt.
Always obey the state, local, and federal laws when it comes to hunting deer. Remember that hunting isn’t always about killing the first deer you see. It’s about waiting for the right deer so that the next season may be prosperous because you waited. Have fun and teach the next generation of deer hunters.