Every time you’re within shooting distance of a whitetail is a chance to learn.
By Dale R. Larson
To be a successful bowhunter, I’ve always held on to this theory: The more time you spend in the animal’s environment, the more you’ll learn about the animal, its habitat and even about yourself.
This is especially true each time you encounter a whitetail and remain undetected.
Encounters with deer are valuable training aids. It’s easy to get caught up in the superficial sight of the approaching buck or its slinking retreat after being busted. However, you should scrutinize such encounters for every detail, attempting to fill the gaps in the data bank.
Bowhunting yields the opportunity for close encounters, usually at a slow pace, allowing the hunter to gather data for the learning process. Ask yourself “why” and “how” questions to make sense of an encounter. Why did the deer change directions where it did? Why did it stop to wind check where it did? Why is the deer so alert? How did it react to the snapping twig? How did it react to the calling sequence?
Some data will be stored within the computer between your ears. For most of us, a daily log will prove invaluable. Body language or reactions to calling and scents will easily be captured in your mental computer, but other data, like direction of travel, activity at the encounter, time and weather will likely be forgotten without a daily log. The log will provide factual data that can be used not only for hunting, but also to develop a management plan or hunting strategy.
Whitetail encounters let you know how well your scent elimination system, calling technique, stand placement and overall hunt strategy are working. The deer’s reaction to your entrance and exit trails or scent will give you a report card on scent elimination. Using a wind indicator will define your current scent column so you know exactly when your scent could be detected. Watching the deer’s reaction to scents or lures answers questions. Is the scent accepted? Is there any human scent present? Is this a mature buck?
You can also experiment with the tolerance level or reaction to your body movement while drawing your bow or changing shooting positions. Be aware these experiments might spook other deer, giving away your stand location or just plain educating deer to your methods. Every encounter gives you a read on your stand placement.
Bowhunters go to great pains to find the perfect tree. Rather than driving yourself crazy locating that perfect tree, chose one in the general area that allows good visibility, yet keeps you concealed. This stand site might not be in the right place for the shot, but it’s definitely in the right spot to fine-tune stand placement from your encounters. I treat every stand site as an observation tower.
Encounters make the adrenaline flow, check your performance under pressure and give you confidence to close the deal. The more time you spend in close encounters, the more comfortable you become within a deer’s presence.
Practice drawing, placing your sight pin on a small tuft of hair and waiting for the right shot angle. As the buck is moving, picture all the different shot angles to connect with the vitals. Pay attention to shoulder placement at different body positions. Doing all these simulations ahead of time prevents crashing your mental computer at the moment of truth.
Encounters will let you know what the local deer are comfortable with or what their tolerance level is. Deer become accustomed to certain noises and discover where to expect human scent. Glean this information from your encounters and use it to your advantage.
I’ve witnessed bucks avoiding patternable hunters, thereby making them huntable for me. I’ve observed bucks tracking vehicle noise from over a mile away, but not paying any attention to the noise of the local farmer’s vehicle. Consistently, I’ve seen deer at ease at a human scent-saturated feeding station, while a visiting buck turned inside out within the calm local deer group after picking up human scent.
Deer have different tolerance levels, as well as varying memory retention. From yearly encounters with the same buck, there seems to be no retention, or maybe not enough repetition to be imprinted. During one encounter, my hunting partner shot a buck in the shoulder blade. I was hunting the same stand a week later when I noticed antler tines in the brush. Through the binoculars, I recognized it to be the same buck.
The deer was staged off and intensely staring at the stand site. After several minutes of visual searching, it bolted across the opening it had to cross only to stop on the other side. From protection of cover, it turned back, staring again. I watched the buck do the same thing several times that season. The following year, I was sitting in the same stand only to have this buck walk nonchalantly right under the stand as if nothing had ever happened.
An encounter can be as good as a kill, as long as you use the facts to your advantage.
This article was published in the December 2005 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.