Early Fall Whitetail Deer Hunting Tips
In a recent post I wrote about the excitement of archery elk hunting during the month of September, in fact the elk season opened here in Colorado today. I have a long hunt planned in a week and a half, and I am going out for a day hunt tomorrow to an area not far from home. But I realize that the majority of my readers will not be hunting elk, but rather whitetail deer, so I don’t want to overlook the fact that in many states archery deer seasons are also opening about now.
Revered by hunters and non-hunters alike, the whitetail deer is the most abundant and best known deer in the world. Unlike much of the wildlife that roamed North America before it was settled by Europeans, the whitetail now thrives in greater numbers and over a much wider range than it inhabited when the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. This is mostly due to excellent wildlife management, but also because the colonization of our country actually created more habitat for deer than existed before. For example, areas that were once arid and barren became settled, with crops planted, tree rows grown, water irrigated, and predators exterminated to a great extent. But it wasn’t all our doing, the whitetail deer is an incredibly sturdy animal that can survive and adapt like few other animals. A large whitetail buck is also one of the most majestic animals we have the pleasure to view or hunt.
Although the deer mating season in not until November, also known as the “rut,” you can have success hunting deer in the early seasons of archery and muzzle loader. In my opinion the hunting is actually easier in the early seasons, I’ll explain why in a minute. But first I want to talk about some of the behavioral characteristics of whitetails that will help you when it’s time to head out to the field.
While a buck can gore with its antlers, and does can fight with their sharp hooves, a deer’s main defense mechanism is its senses. Deer are constantly on alert for predators, and their hearing is their greatest sense. A deer’s hearing is so acute that it can detect another deer walking in a forest 50 yards away, and it can also distinguish the difference in the sound of a foot step of a bear or a human from that of another deer. In addition, a deer’s ears can operate independently of each other, rotating in different directions like satellite dishes on their heads, and picking up sounds with their cup-shaped ears from 360 degrees around them. Just to illustrate how much of a difference the ear shape makes, the next time you are out in the woods, make cups with your hands and place them behind your ears, it increases your hearing ability significantly.
A deer’s sense of smell is its second strongest defense, and quite possibly as strong as their hearing, but I had to choose one to be first. Because deer have a wet nose, like that of a dog, they can pick up scent particles drifting in the air from several hundred yards away. Those particles stick to their wet nose and register with their olfactory glands, and their elongated noses are filled with an intricate system of nasal passages that contain millions of olfactory receptor sites. This is why scent control and wind direction are so important when deer hunting.
Deer do have a keen sense of vision, but it is important to remember that deer have monocular vision rather than binocular vision, or three dimensional, like humans do. When focused on an object directly in front of me, I can see 160 – 170 degrees of a circle around that object. Because a deer’s eyes are on either side of their head, they can see 300 – 310 degrees around them at any time, but since their forward vision overlaps only 15% it means that if they were looking straight ahead at a motionless man they may not detect him unless there is movement. At the same time, their eyes are highly sensitive to any kind of movement in that 300 – 310 degree field of vision.
Whitetails generally have a home range where they spend most of their life, although this can be altered by hunting pressure or human development. A buck will spend 75% of its life in a 40 – 100 acre area, and it will know that area very well. It will know all of the travel corridors, the escape routes, and likely even remember where it was born. Knowing this, it becomes much easier for us hunters to figure out where to set up a tree stand or a ground blind, and this is where it all comes together in this article for this time of year.
Deer have one thing in mind right now, and that is eating. The bucks especially need to be putting on pounds right now in preparation for the coming rut and the following winter. The first thing to do is locate feeding areas, whether that be planted crops, soft mast such as apples, or a bit later hard mast such as acorns. Once you locate good feeding areas and see recent sign, next locate bedding areas, and they will usually not be too far away. Deer will bed in as heavy of cover as they can find, which may be a thicket of brush, a heavy tree line, or even a gully with little vegetation around it. Find the travel routes between the two areas and set up a stand or blind, and keep in mind the prevailing wind direction in the area at that time of year.
I know that last paragraph kind of over-simplifies it, but those are the basics. Of course your hunt can be influenced by many factors, such as hunting pressure and weather, but if you start with the simple basics, you are more likely to fill your tag. Good luck to everyone getting out hunting soon!