Learning to hunt comes with a lot of firsts. You’ll learn tricks and oddities you never would have imagined had something to do with hunting. You’re also going to learn things that can be applied to other aspects of your life as well. The whole prospect of all that hunting entails can be intimidating. When I first started to learn to hunt, I was certain I’d never learned enough to be a “real” hunter. The more I did, learned, and experienced; the more I realized that hunting really comes down to 5 core concepts. When I apply these 5 traits to my hunting, I accomplish most if not all of what I set out to do.
1) Learn to understand the basics of maps.
Google maps, onX, Huntlogix, and similar programs will become your best resource if you use them correctly. Google maps and onX are the crux of AJ and my preparations when hunting season is approaching. Don’t just rely on our choices though. Explore the various programs accessible to you. Determine what is going to work best for you and your environment. And if you don’t know how to read the maps, learn. Especially when it comes to hunting deer, elk, or similar animals that are already known to be elusive and skittish you’re going to need to understand where you’re going even before you get there. What do I mean by that? Well, that’s where rule #2 comes into play.
2) Hunters must think like a deer.
Where would a deer want to be: at night, in the morning, during the bright heat of the day? Do you know what a deer will be looking for: when laying in its bed, when walking to its watering hole, while grazing on the field of greens it visits daily? What sounds are particularly concerning to the deer? Can you anticipate what smells will alert them to your presence before you even know you’re within range? Some of these basics are within your control to anticipate, prepare for, and even manipulate. Others, you’ll have to learn to spot and work around as quickly as possible. In addition to the Outdoors Quest, YouTube is full of videos especially focused on these concerns. The Hunting Public, Whitetail Habitat Solutions, and Hushin are just a few of the channels packed with applicable information.
Shared vs personal space (hunters & deer)
Bucks scratch their antlers along tree trunks and other hard surfaces to mark their territory as well as to help groom themselves. Knowing how to spot these scratches can help you trace their patterns. Recognizing their tracks in conjunction with those scratches can help lead you to their stomping grounds quickly. It’s going to help identify areas that a deer is most isolated as well as areas that multiple deer are challenging each other’s domains. The quicker you can locate their paths and common locations, the quicker you’ll get that harvest.
Early morning and early evening, deer want to feed. Identifying areas they are likely to stop for food, cross as they approach those feeding grounds, or stop to get that drink of water will tell you where you could set up in preparation for their approach. Coverage will be a consideration from two different aspects. You need coverage to prevent them from knowing you’re there. They’ll be using coverage to protect themselves from threats such as you.
These are intelligent creatures.
They are always on the lookout for a threat of any kind. Even with the best caution, though, everyone lets their guard down for a moment or two. That moment where their guard is down and they expose themselves to your aim is the moment you’re watching for. When deer are not alone, when there are distractions around to muffle your presence, you will be more likely to find that glitch in their armor.
Bedding vs traveling deer
Hunting a bedding deer can, in many ways, create a more challenging circumstance. Knowing where they bed, though, will provide you with ample information. Especially if you use it in conjunction with the maps you are learning from step one. In North American territories, the wind and weather patterns create a bit of consistency that allows deer to become somewhat predictable. When possible, a deer is going to choose a sloped landscape so that he can see as much of the approaching land as possible. Add to this the need to be sheltered from bad weather while still being able to smell approaching threats as much as possible, and you can pretty much predict that they will have a southwest-facing front porch on their home.
Their eyes are substantially less reliable than their noses so they need to see as much as possible without being seen, but they can smell anything drifting on the surrounding air with virtually no effort. For these reasons, it’s good practice to mask your scent as much as possible and attempt to approach potential bedding areas from higher elevations that have a southbound approach pattern. The maps will show you where these ideal terrains can be found and help you identify possible paths. See the pattern here?
3) Everything you think about must revolve around pressure.
Pressure for you
We are creatures of habit. When the hunting bug bites, the challenge can become a year-round pressure to figure out the puzzle of catching that next animal. We’ll explore maps and hike territories unfamiliar to us. We’ll setup trail cams, talk with fellow hunters, and even strike up conversations with local residents all in the hope of getting that tad bit of information that we didn’t have before.
We put pressure on ourselves to get that trophy buck. We put pressure on ourselves to tag out.
When we’re new, we put pressure on ourselves to get that first buck, that first doe, that first harvest…The pressure can become overwhelming if you let it.
Pressure for survival
In a lot of ways, this is the pressure your target is feeling also. They are feeling the pressure every day to survive. They must be aware of predatory animals, dangerous terrain, life-threatening weather, and human invaders. There is pressure every day to find food, clean water, and build adequate shelter while traveling. The breeding season brings on added pressures from other bucks encroaching on their territory; the natural drive to reproduce; and still, they need to eat, drink water, and find shelter. Then us humans get thrown into the mix at an even more frequent rate than other times of the year.
Pressure from population
The human factor is, literally, the biggest pressure of all. We are faced with pressure from family and friends to get that harvest. We are pressured by other hunters who challenge us for our chosen turf. Especially when you hunt public lands you are going to be surrounded by multiple other hunters.
Consider these basic numbers:
Texas has roughly 1.3 million acres of public hunting land. Deer are not going to be found in all of these areas. So, for sake of argument, let’s go with 1 million acres of available hunting land. More than 2.4 million hunting licenses were sold in Texas for the 2020-2021 season. That means there are potentially 2.5 people hunting any acre of public hunting land you choose to navigate. A deer needs roughly 25 acres of land to forage for a year of survival. That means you’ve got an average of 62.5 hunters on the land you’re trying to find one deer on. This is the very definition of pressure.
Alleviate some of that pressure
Your mindset can go a long way in relieving yourself of pressure. Your choice in actions can solve many of the remaining pressure issues for yourself as well as your target deer. Study those maps, explore areas that are not as popularly discussed on social media (we’ve talked about using Facebook groups as a resource in the past) and be ready for just about anything. If you’re prepared, you’re not going to be caught off guard by those ill-prepared reckless hunters that are stumbling all over each other and sending the deer directly towards you (because you prepared in advance).
4) Prepare, prepare, prepare.
We have talked quite a bit about the benefits of preparation when it comes to fishing. Now, it’s time to translate that into the necessity of preparation when it comes to hunting. When you hunt, be it alone or with a hunting buddy, you are placing yourself in harm’s way. Animals will kill to protect themselves. Knowing how to watch for dangers, being ready to evade or protect yourself from a predator more capable than you is an absolute must. Add to this, the need to be prepared for unforeseen: a Widowmaker that you walk under, loose soil that can collapse under your weight while navigating a cliffside, or a hole hidden from sight by autumn’s falling leaves. Most importantly, other hunters.
Don't be one of "those" hunters.
As a new hunter, you have probably not dealt with many of the reckless shooters yet. I can not, in good conscience, call these individuals hunters. A hunter practices the rules of gun safety and the rules of hunter safety. These shooters that I’m referring to, are determined to shoot anything they can. They are notorious for shooting when they hear a leaf move without even looking for the actual source. They, frequently, brag to other hunters about their determination to shoot first and look later. Your saving grace is that they’re typically as bad a shot as they are a hunter. According to the International Hunter Education Association, the potential for being struck by one of these types of shooters is rather slim, almost impossible…Almost…
You can never expect someone else to be prepared for your protection. If you go into every hunting situation determined to be as prepared as you can be, you will eliminate most of your potential risks. How do you make yourself prepared for all these variables? Have your necessities and emergency supplies with you. Know the weather patterns and potential changes that may arise while you’re out there. Study your maps and regulations. Public hunting land will have available resources (usually from the local parks and wildlife department). And learn. Off-season, read blogs and tutorials from reputable sources, take classes (firearms, archery, hunting, or anything else you believe might help), and practice with your weapon of choice.
5) Rules are meant to be broken...Laws, not so much.
I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, rules were meant to be broken. When you’re dealing with animals and nature, this rings true rather frequently. You can spend hours every day studying maps, identifying terrain, elevations, and vegetation patterns only to be defeated by the odd rainstorm that washes away your dreams of the “perfect” blind. You can track a buck with trail cams and scouting missions for a solid year only to be blindsided by that random hog hunter that traipses through your clearing an hour after you set up on the one day you have to hunt between work schedules and open season for your selected zone. These are rules of nature. They change as frequently as we humans make them up.
Something else changes almost as frequently.
Laws. Unfortunately, laws aren’t made to be broken. And breaking the laws can result in you losing any future chances of hunting. That’s why it’s imperative that you learn your local hunting regulations. Save the site to your local licensing agency on your computer. If your game wardens have a hunting manual, get it. Here in Texas, the Parks and Wildlife Department issues an annual booklet online with all the current laws, regulations, and requirements. It covers everything: Hunting, fishing, boating, and licenses on the website or in an app. If you’re in doubt of what you can and can’t do, that book will have the answer. If you don’t understand the answer you read, there are numbers to call to ask for clarification.
Frequently, you’ll hear people say “well I didn’t know that was the rule.” After the influx of “outdoorsmen” that appeared during the 2020-2021 season, the game wardens have developed a particular immunity to that excuse. You may, honestly, have not known; but it is still your responsibility to find out. One good solution to this is to take the hunter safety course. Even if you’re exempt in your area, or you took one as a kid when you went once with dad and grandpa, you’ll benefit from the information they have to offer. It comes back to that need to prepare. If you’re prepared for the unforeseen variables, you’re prepared for your success.