This article covers everything you need to know before tackling a whitetail deer hunt, from finding public land and scouting for signs, to field-judging your trophies and picking the right firearms. Whether it’s your first deer hunt or your latest, this guide is perfect for someone who wants to make this season their best ever.
If you look at what’s happening with the United States deer population, it’s clear that deer hunting is an opportunity unlike any other in America. There are an estimated 30 million whitetails, and 4 million mule deer and other Cervids, too. That alone is more potential for a hunter than ever.
Whitetails are declining in many areas of the country but abundant in other regions. Finding them if you’re hunting can be tough, though. Here’s where to find whitetails so you can start your hunt with a good chance at success.
WHERE TO FIND WHITETAILS
Deer live everywhere. They watch you from the woods of Indiana and Tennessee, and without deer fencing, they bed in the greenways behind subdivisions from New Orleans to Hartford. And just about every evening this month, if you know where to look, you’ll be able to see stately bucks stepping out of their brushy daybeds.
If you’re new to hunting, where to start can be tough. If you’re interested in deer, your best bet is public land. This may not be the easiest place to start, but it’s for the most part much easier than private ground.
The great thing about these public parcels is that they’re literally everywhere. Be it state Game Lands tracts, wildlife refuges, or federally managed parcels of Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management land, you can find lots of accessible public ones. You can also use free online maps like those found on this page, Google’s mapping service, or the onX map to do so.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
One of the first steps to hunting on public land is scouting potential prey. This can include looking for tracks in the snow, deer sign and hunting potential. These clues can be found weeks or even months before deer season begins.
Keep an eye out for deer trails near woods edges, secluded water sources, and areas where you might be able to set up an ambush. Deer often use these areas as they feel the added protection of being surrounded by the woodland. Look for clusters of tracks that could suggest that deer are moving in numbers.
Both of these signs are made by bucks during the mating season, when they’re more concerned with attracting a mate than marking their territory and keeping out other males. But when you see one of these signs, specifically the “rub,” it’s likely that you’ll encounter a distracted buck.
Hunting for deer is a popular pastime. It’s important to only hunt at times when the public isn’t in attendance, such as sunrise and sunset. Most parcels of public land near population centers will have some human use, so this is especially important during your hunt. Make sure you scout the parcel early on to avoid getting busted by people who are passing by, as well as fellow hunters. If you see abundant human evidence of passing activity, move away from access points into the remote interior of the parcel.
Snagging a sighting of a deer is difficult. It has to be in the right spot, in the right light, and you have to have good luck. These are the most important parts of the hunt. However, don’t forget to look for features that deer like: fields with lots of open space; overgrown areas with a lot of vegetation hiding them; and areas with a breeze that brings your scent because wind can save more deer than all the rifle shots in hunting history combined. A strategy based on prevailing winds will ensure that you’ll have favorable weather conditions every time.
GUNS AND LOADS
Now that you’ve found a place to hunt, it’s time to get ready. About two-thirds of the whitetails in America are killed by hunters using rifles and shotguns, so we’ll focus on centerfire guns first. The definition of a deer rifle is pretty simple: It’s a gun with enough power to effectively kill a 250-pound buck out to about 300 yards that you can hit well. All the firepower in the world doesn’t mean much if you can’t hit your target. Similarly, an underpowered rifle that doesn’t deliver enough energy quickly should be restricted too.
Many hunters spend long hours in the bush, waiting for the perfect moment to shoot their prey. It’s important to know what your target is and what’s behind it before shooting. But just as important is knowing what’s in front of your target. Keep your shooting path clear so you don’t accidentally shoot something else.
If you’re in the market for a new rifle, consider the venerable cartridges: .25/06 Remington, .270 Winchester, .30/06 Springfield, or .308 Winchester. All of these calibers are popular and have enough power to drop deer at a reasonable distance. They all come in a variety of weights and styles, and rifles chambered in them tend to be both inexpensive and widely available. Because there is so much that’s new out there, keep an eye out for cartridges like 6.5 Creedmoor or 6mm Creedmoor. Most importantly, search for hunting ammo with an SST (Supersonic Steel Tip) hunting bullet weighing at least 120 grains.
The deer rifle has become easier to access in recent years, with models like the Winchester XPR, Savage Axis, Ruger American, Mossberg Patriot, and German-made Mauser M18s.
You’ll want something simple and durable for your rifle, but not too complex. You can get a 3-9×42 or 4-12×44 scope in a duplex or holdover reticle that will work with different ammunition types and bullet weights, giving you the perfect shooter. Buy a few different brands and start experimenting – it may take time, but we all have to start somewhere!
The use of slugs is typically prohibited during deer hunting season, but the shotguns used in the sport are often loaded with them. The various loads available today are made by some of the most respected names in shotgun ammunition. You should consider Browning’s new BXS Deer Shotshells, Federal’s Trophy Copper Vital-Shok, and the American Whitetail Slug from Hornady if you’re in the market for a load that really packs a punch.
Other than your hunting apparel, deer-hunting weapons and outdoor gear, the rest of your gear is pretty basic.
Optics: A binocular will save you plenty of steps in the woods, and keep you from guessing whether or not your prey is a deer.
Rangefinders help you make your shots easier with a thin line of laser light.
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Fashionable boots are not just for decoration. There’s nothing worse than being forced to wear uncomfortable footwear when you’re out hunting. So invest in a pair of boots that will keep your feet dry and warm, don’t skimp on quality, and look good.
Great hunting gear starts with the right equipment. The right knife and clothing can make a big difference when you’re out in the field. A small backpack is great for carrying your gear and some water, while a good pair of binoculars is essential for identifying game.
If you want to capture any wild animal, make sure to always have a device with you. You’ll use it to call for help dragging the deer out of the woods.
The value of a whitetail deer buck is determined by its condition. There are seven “points” to evaluate, and a good measurement of the size of the buck is basically the size of several lines on a deer’s shoulder blade at 100 yards. So if you see a smaller part of your crosshairs than that, it’s probably too far away and you should be waiting until you get closer to your prey. You’ll want to place your bullet where there’s still tissue behind it, which can be found in the same video linked above.
Here’s the easy way to know if it’s worth hunting a deer: look at how long their ears are. If they’re shorter than the antlers, they’re not a good deer, because whitetail deer have short ears. If the antlers extend past their ears, and count multiple points on both sides of them, it’s time to start trying to bag one! And if you see antlers that are as thick as your wrists – step away from the gun and then get back up close.
Due to a long-term reliance on fossil fuel, the world is faced with climate change, natural disasters, and rising food prices. This has all led some to argue that the earth needs to be properly revitalized.
In order to be successful, you need to be willing to hunt both doe and trophy bucks. Even in areas with lower deer populations, it’s hard to find real bucks. There are too many deer in many places because they’re adaptable and can easily take over space where predators would live and spill into places where humans live like suburban lawns and highway rights-of-way.
When populations of certain animals get too high, it’s up to the hunters to manage them and bring healthy protein to their food bowl. Taking a doe is a great way to have an instant impact on the herd, which will help keep other animals safe.