We as human beings have been hunting for thousands of years. There is nothing that can beat the thrill of taking down your first buck and eating its testicles raw (yeah, I know it is gross, but that is a tradition here where I come from).
It is also not everyone that has the privilege of hunting as it can become an expensive hobby. For those that can hunt each year should benefit from every moment out in the hunting fields.
There is also nothing worse than spending a whole week at a property and not spotting a single deer. I have been there. So here is what you will get.
This guide will show you everything that you need to get started. We will begin with the legal issues, preparation, some info about deer and their behavior and more.
Are you ready?
Getting ready for hunting season
You need to plan and prepare your hunting season before you can take it on with both hands. If this is your first time hunting, then this section will help you a lot.
1. When is hunting season?
Deer season usually starts from September and ends at the end of January. It is also essential to note that the dates for the hunting season for each state might differ. In this case, I am going to use the state of Missouri.
You also need to remember that each weapon type (Bowhunting, Muzzleloader, and Rifles, etc) will also have a set period which will allow you to use that weapon. In the case of Missouri, you are only allowed to hunt with a bow from 15 September 2018 up to 9 November 2018 and then from 21 November up to 15 January.
The reason why there is a hunting season is to allow the animals to breed and to conserve a species. To get all of this information, you can visit the regulated government website for wildlife conservation and protection in your specific state.
2. You need to cover all legal issues
I wonder what would happen if there was no laws that you should follow for when you want to hunt? I think hunters would go crazy and there will be nothing standing between us and the extinction of an animal.
a) Hunter safety course
If you are new to hunting, then you might need to complete a hunter safety course and in return will receive an ID card. You might also need this card for when you want to purchase a hunting license.
b) Your hunting license and animal tags
This section about licensing might also be covered in your safety course. It is imperative to obtain a hunting permit (license) which will give you a legal status to hunt a specific animal. This is a good thing which will help to conserve our species.
You can obtain your permit from your local Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and also the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Along with the license, you will even get tags which you must use to tag the animals.
This permit will also give you restrictions which will include the following:
There are also zones where each one has their methods on how to tag animals. View this PDF for more information. It is also important to note that you will need a firearm license which is seperate from that of your hunting license.
3. Where should you hunt
There are two types of areas where you can hunt, and it includes private and public land. If it is public land, then make sure that you have the necessary permits for that location.
If it is private land, then you must make sure to get permission from the owner of that land to hunt on their property. You should also make sure to ask for a month or two in advance.
Preparing your gear
Now that you have all of your legal aspects in order let’s start with the fun stuff which is your gear. You can be the best hunter under the sun, but your skills become useless if your equipment is not in order.
1. Choosing your weapon
The type of weapon that you will use will depend heavily on your taste and also your skill level for that weapon.
For bow hunting, I would recommend a bow that has at least 40 pounds draw weight for deer hunting. Some hunters prefer to use compound bows which requires more skill than for instance crossbows. I have a guide on compound bows and also crossbows as well.
Bowhunting can be challenging but fun as hell. You will need to practice beforehand though. Some hunters prefer the easier route which is firearms. For each weapon, you need to set your maximum range and also be comfortable with it.
For hunting deer, you also want a rifle that will do the job but is not overpowered. You cannot use the same weapon to hunt deer as if you would hunt elephants for example. For hunting deer, I would recommend using the .243 Winchester and also the .270 Winchester.
The .243 Winchester is excellent for hunters that have a small frame and if you do not want to cause too much damage to the meat, while the .270 Winchester has more power and can do more damage to the meat.
2. Sighting in your weapon
What use is your rifle if it will not shoot straight? Just because you could hit your target last year, will not mean that it will be the same this year. This is the reason why it is vital to sight in your weapon beforehand. Some people also like to call this zeroing a rifle.
As a general rule of thumb, treat your weapon as brand new before the hunting season start. Whether you are using a scope or your usual iron sights, the principle stays the same.
First, you need to make sure that there is no wind present. Get yourself a rifle vice to make sure the rifle is secured in position and also level. Place a target at a starting distance of 25 yards. Now you need to adjust or center the crosshair of the scope on the bullseye.
Now that you are confident that the rifle is secure and the crosshair on target, you can then fire the first shot. After you fire the shot, take a look through the scope and make sure that the crosshair is still where it was before you took the shot. Now you can adjust the crosshair so that it is on target. Take another shot to confirm.
You can continue up to 50 and 100 meters or any other distance you are comfortable with.
3. What to dress
The very first most important thing to remember is to wear a blazing orange jacket/vest or hat. Make sure that you know the laws regarding how “orange” you should be. The main reason behind the color orange is for safety so that other hunters can spot you easier without mistaking you for a deer.
Some people prefer to go camo when hunting. Camouflage does have some properties that can help you to blend into your surround area. I have also written a guide on how to choose the right ghillie suit. It is also essential to have the right boots for hunting.
Depending on how cold it is, you can also wear a nice pair of tactical gloves to protect you against the cold. It is also essential to make sure that you are dressed comfortably because the waiting game can take a while.
4. Additional hunting accessories
Now that we have covered clothes let’s continue with some of the gear that most people forget. To make it easier, I will place all of these in a list format. Please feel free to copy the list for your convenience.
- Take a backpack to store all of the essentials.
- Extra clothes such as a warm jacket or windbreaker.
- More scent blockers.
- Your deer callers.
- Do not forget to carry your permit and tags.
- A trusted hunting knife.
- A rangefinder to estimate the distance between you and your target.
These are the most critical and essential for hunting. Feel free to add more to this list as per your personal preference.
Know your prey (About deer)
To successfully hunt an animal, you need to know everything you can to increase the odds of actually spotting them. In this section, I am going to cover their senses and also their behavior.
1. Deer will smell you from far away
Deer can smell you from more than a kilometer away especially if the wind is not in your favor. They have 20 times more scent glands than us which makes them great at detecting our scent. They can even pick up the scent that you left on the floor and in the air.
The best weapon that you have against this ability of theirs is a scent block. You can spray this scent block below the soles of your boots and also on your hands. It is also advised to shower early in the morning before the hunt and also not to spray any deodorant.
I know of some professional hunters that cover themselves with doe urine to attract some of the biggest bucks around.
2. Deer’s sight is not that great
Deer can see far better than us at night which makes it a dumb idea for hunting at during night time. Their eyes are also situated on the side of their head. Because they cannot look at the same object with both eyes, they will not have the ability to focus their vision.
This disability of their makes it easier to hide your outline especially when their image of you is blurry. Ghillie suits also can hide your silhouette and make it harder for animals and people to spot you.
There is also this controversy whether deer can see the color blaze orange which is the color you must wear for safety purposes.
3. Deer have a great sense of hearing
There was once a study done to determine the extent as to which deer can hear. The conclusion stated that deer could hear you before they can see you. They also say that deer can hear you from 500 meters which are a long distance.
The consequence of this is that you must make as little noise as possible. It is advised to set up your tree stand or your popup blind early morning or the day before. What I am trying to say is that once your location is set up, that you should stay put. Hunting is a waiting game which rewards those that have patience.
Their great sense of hearing can also come to your advantage if you know how to use it against them. For instance, you can use deer callers which will lure the deer to your location. Use this tactic along with deer scent or urine, and you will have a potent combination of attraction.
4. The big buck’s behavior
If you are a hunter that is especially after the largest buck, then this section is for you. If you know how a mature buck behaves, then you can use that against them. Rut season (or breeding season) is the best time to hunt bucks.
During the peak of the rut season (From the beginning to mid-November), you will have a much higher success rate finding bucks. During this time their hormones will be overflowing, and they are now looking for a mate.
So where is a great place to start? Well, you have to find the does first. IF you can locate the does, then you can almost be sure that a buck will be close. You can also use doe urine (especially does that are in estrus) during the peak of the rut and a set of antlers during the pre-rut season.
The best time of the day to hunt for bucks is from 9 am up to 1 p.m. You can also head over to overgrown areas as buck prefer places with cover.
5. You need to understand their body language
One of the best behavior patterns that you should look for is aggression. When bucks are aggressive, they will not think twice to follow a call. Usually, they will travel to your location at a fast pace and will be little aware of their surroundings.
Another sign that is also a give away is if their ears are pulled backward or lies flat on their head. Aggressive bucks are out there to pick a fight and are too desperate and will not think twice to respond.
Choosing the best hunting strategy
There are many ways to skin a cat (or hunting deer in this matter). You need to be familiar with the most common strategies use and also when to apply them.
1. You need to consider the weather
The weather is a huge factor that you need to take into consideration. In this section, I am going to point you to a suitable strategy on how to hunt in each weather condition.
a) It is raining
When it is raining, you are in luck. The noise from the water droplets makes it harder for the deer to hear you and the water droplets will also catch some of the scents that are laying in the air. So grab your rain gear and do not be afraid to get wet.
b) When it gets very hot
Anything above 75 degrees Fahrenheit is too hot. If the weather becomes too hot, then the deer will seek cover and not be visible in open areas. This phenomenon makes it harder to spot deer especially if they are laying in dense bushes. It is better to wait out the heat and hunt early morning or late afternoon.
c) Heavy wind
Two factors that are very important will be wind speed and the direction. Strong winds can carry your scent for miles so be very careful of the direction. You can also be smart and use the wind to your favor by, using doe urine.
If it is snowing without wind, then you are in for luck. Did you know that snow is also your best friend if you are a tracker? The reason for this is that the footprints of the animals will be more visible on the snow.
2. Using tree stands
Treestands are very useful and come in three types which include ladder, hang-on and also climbers. It is also crucial to use a safety harness with the treestand as it can be dangerous. There is no limit to the number of climbing tree stands that you can use. Read this guide on treestands to learn more.
You can set up treestands at very populated areas and wait out the deer. It is also essential to prepare the deer stand areas by clearing some of the shooting lanes. You can do this a couple of days before the days you plan to hunt.
It is also important to decorate your treestand with leafy branches that will hide your silhouette and make it harder for deer to spot you.
3. Make use of popup blinds
Popup blinds or ground blinds are very useful at hiding hunters and also blocking some of the scents. This method of hunting is also for the lazy hunter that wants to sit and wait for the deer. This strategy is also great for hunters that do not want to use tree stands.
a) Best locations
First, you need to find the best areas to set up your blinds. You can start by setting it up near bedding areas, water sources or somewhere in between. You can also place the stand near feeding sites and even areas that you know deer usually hang out.
It is also best practice to place a ground blind below a tree because the deer will know when something is out of place. It is also a good idea to set it up at a higher elevation.
b) Best size
Make sure that you choose the right blind for your purpose. Bowhunting blinds need to be larger than that used for rifles because of the draw length. If you are one person team, then I would recommend either the one or man blind. It is also essential to set it up early in the morning and take it down late in the afternoon. You should even get used to working in the dark.
c) Make sure your blind is facing the right direction
Most blinds will have three to four windows that you can use to shoot through. Make sure these windows are faced in the right direction. These areas can include game trails, water holes, grain fields and also bedding areas.
You also need to consider the wind direction before deploying your blind.
d) You need to camouflage your blind
You can use branches to help cover the blind in all areas. Just make sure not to include your windows too much. You also need to cover the areas where your blind is touching the ground which can help in hiding the outline of the blind.
Choosing the best hunting spot
You can have all of the best gear available, but if you are not hunting in the right spots, then it will be pretty useless. In this section, I am going to teach you how to find the best places available to spot deer.
1. Using trail cameras
Trail cameras can be a handy tool that will help you to spot deer. You also need to start collecting data from these cameras a month in advance. This way, you will have all of the data available for your next hunting season.
The data that you should collect is the places of the deer was spotted, the exact time and also the amount of deer detected. If you own the property of where you want to hunt, then you can collect these data throughout the year.
Another useful thing to remember is that some trail camera can send you images to your smartphone live if triggered. This way, you will be instantly updated when there is a deer in a specific location.
2. Look for tracking signs
Tracking signs such as footprints, droppings, antler scrapes on the ground can be beneficial at detecting movement. If the droppings are still fresh or still hot in temperature, then you can almost be sure that the deer as even close to your location.
If you are new to tracking deer, then you can have a look at my detailed guide on how to find animals.
3. Territorial areas
If you can find territorial markings in your area, then you are very likely to see large bucks in the area. These markings can be distinguished as scrapes on trees and small holes dug with their hooves in which to urinate.
4. Agricultural fields
Agricultural fields are also a great place to find deer. Many agricultural areas that produce corn, wheat, soy, and beans will attract deer to its location because of the food. The best time to use these fields as a potential location is during the harvesting season.
5. Bedding area
If you can find the resting place of deer, then you are in luck. Some hunters prefer not to disturb the deer at their sleeping area as it can also be risky. The best advice that I can give is to set up a treestand or ground blind near these bedding areas. Preferably between them and water sources.
You will also notice a trail of footprints between the bedding area and water sources to confirm your spot. Another tip that I can give is to set up your stand when it is still dark.
6. Near water sources
Any water source can be used. It does not matter if it is natural or human-made. Just make sure that you can detect footprints or droppings near the water source to confirm the activity.
Find a hiding spot near the source and set up your tree stand.
How to lure the deer to your location
There will be cases where just waiting for deer to come close will not be enough, and you need to entice them to come closer. This action can be done by luring them using different tools and approaches.
1. Using scent
Using scent is one of the best ways to attract deer because deer have a perfect sense of smell. This tactic is especially useful for when the wind is in your favor. Some of the scents are used to cover your own while others are used to attract the deer.
The best type of scent that I know off for attraction is doe urine that is in estrus. You get some scent products that you can spray on your clothes or the sole of your shoes and other products that can be sprayed in the air.
I like to use a combination of both types. First, I will cover myself with an original scent in order not to spook the animals. If you do not have the money to buy cover scents, then you can wash with unscented soap mixed with baking soda. You can also put some on your clothes.
It is also essential to cover all of your sweat glands with the cover scent especially when it gets hot. Preferably, I would prefer not to sweat at all and wear clothing that is loose and lightweight.
2. Make use of deer callers
There are many different types of callers available on the market these days. Some callers are purely mechanical where you have to blow into them, while others make use of speakers powered by batteries.
Some deer callers will also cover the entire herd while some will only call the bucks. For the early season, it is best to use the bleating of the doe and also make sure that the grunt from the buck is not very loud or aggressive.
I also have a perfect guide on how to choose the best caller along with how to use them.
3. Feeding site
If you do not know of any feeding site, then you can easily create your own. You can go to any shop that houses farming supplies and buy a molasses block.
You can place these molasses blocks in densely populated areas to attract deer to the location. It is important to remember to do this a couple of months beforehand so that the deer can create a habit of going to the blocks.
These blocks have a sweet taste to them because of the molasses and deer find it irresistible. If you notice that the deer are eating from the block, then you need to keep placing a block at the same location.
Rattling the noise that comes from when the antlers of two opposing bucks are clashing against each other. It creates a unique sound that can easily be mimicked using the right tools.
The best time to use rattlers is during the pre-rut season. This is the time when the dominant bucks are the most aggressive. When they hear this sound, they will follow it thinking that two other younger bucks are fighting for dominance.
Before you pull the trigger
Now you are at the point where you have spotted a deer, and you are taking out your rifle to take the shot. Your heart is racing, and your hands start to sweat. This is the moment you have been waiting for, and you do not want to mess this up.
1. Choose a comfortable shooting distance
This part should be done at the shooting range before you head over to the hunting fields. You should have enough faith in your weapon to know the maximum distance you are comfortable with. If you could not group at least three shots in a row on the target at a specific range, then you are not ready to hunt at that distance.
The same can be said for bow hunting as well. What you can do beforehand is to set distance landmarks with the help of a rangefinder. If you are hunting at an open field, then you can use the rangefinder directly on the deer. A good benchmark for most hunters is between 15 to 30 yards.
2. Where should you aim
Now that you know the distance of your target and you have adjusted your scope, now you need to know the lethal spots on a deer before pulling the trigger. The best place to shoot a deer is right in the lungs. This is also the safest place to shoot because if the bullet drops more than you intended, then it might just hit the heart (depending on your angle) which is more lethal.
You will also notice that I have drawn red lines where the front limb exits the body by the shoulder. Just aim one inch next to the shoulder blade, and you will hit the lungs. This type of shot is for trophy hunters.
Another option is right between the eyes where the brain is located. This shot is more for hunters that do not want their meat spoiled.
Getting good at hunting deer takes experience, skill, and discipline. Even though this guide might guide you in the right direction, nothing will ever beat personal experience. Happy hunting.