It seems like each and every year hunters around the mid-west are killing bigger and bigger deer. I remember growing up when somebody harvesting a 200” deer was almost unheard of. Now it seems as if a deer of that caliber has become every serious hunter’s goal in their hunting career. There are a number of factors that contribute to bigger deer are being harvested every year, but we will save that for another article. Whether you are holding out for a 200 incher or just trying to connect with your first “wall hanger” there are several things that you can do to help put the odds in your favor for opening day.
Perhaps one of the most important factors in harvesting a monster whitetail is scouting. After all, you can’t kill a monster whitetail if you aren’t hunting where monster whitetail live. There are many different ways to scout and some techniques depend on the type of terrain you are hunting, but one thing is for sure – the more time you can spend scouting, the higher your odds of success will be.
- Trail cameras have become one of the most popular and the most effective ways to scout your property. They have certainly come a long ways since the days of film and a 24 picture capacity. Today, there are a TON of different cameras available at a number of price points. In my experience, with trail cameras, you get what you pay for. I have run everything from the cheapest Moultrie they make to the top of the line Reconyx cameras and I will say this…any camera is better than no camera!
- After you decide on a camera, it’s time to get it in the woods. I typically keep my cameras out year-round, however if you are on a new piece of property and are trying to find your “monster buck” the best time to put out your camera is mid-late summer. The deer haven’t been disturbed in quite some time and are finishing up growing their racks. In states where it’s legal, putting out an attractant such as corn or BB2 will help out immensely when trying to figure out what caliber of deer are on your property. In the summertime when deer are still in bachelor groups they tend to have a smaller range, so having multiple cameras can be extremely beneficial.
- Once you have a big buck located and have a good idea of the area he is living, it’s time to move on to the next step.
- While this may not be possible in all areas, glassing fields and observing from a distance can be very effective in patterning a mature buck. I like to get in an area and stay as far back as possible, while still being able to effectively scout. In the late summer months, soybean fields can be a magnet for big bucks. Not only can you locate your “monster buck” this way, but you can also get him patterned and possibly get a crack at him right when bow season kicks off.
- Like trail cameras, aerial and topographical (“topo”) maps have become more popular over the recent years as the information has become readily available to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. These can be great for getting a first look at a new property and deciding where to hang trail cameras or, if you are not able to make it to your property until season starts, they can be a very effective means of determining where to hunt when you do finally make it to the field.
Once you have located a big deer and have him scouted out, it’s time to make a game plan. If you don’t already have a stand where you plan on hunting him, it’s time to slip in there and get one, or several hung. The nice thing about early season is the deer are typically coming to the food sources with plenty of light left and since there are a lot of leaves on the trees a good place to hang your stand is on a field edge or just inside the timber. Typically, you won’t have to worry about bumping or disturbing the deer if you are not impeding too much. Although it seems that a SW wind is the prevailing wind in the mid-west during the early season, it is always nice to have options. If you can hang several sets for different wind scenarios, you will be able to maximize your time in the stand and increase your odds of harvesting that buck.
It’s finally here. All of that hard work in the summertime is about to pay off…hopefully! With the deer scouted and patterned and the stands in place, there is only one thing left to do – get in the tree. Here is where a lot of people make a mistake and where I have learned the lesson the hard way. Even though most seasons open up at shooting time on a specific day, I almost always opt out of the morning hunt. Unless the scenario is perfect for a morning hunt, you will most likely do yourself more harm than good by pushing it. I typically like to spend opening morning scouting yet again. If you can glass the field you think the buck is feeding in without disturbing the deer, you might be able to pinpoint where exactly he went in to bed for the day. That could change your game plan completely, or confirm that you should hunt the stand you were planning on getting in.
Once the afternoon rolls around, you want to make sure that the wind is in your favor and that you get in the tree extra early. You have put in too much time and effort to blow it on the first day. This time of year the conditions can be less that comfortable. With the hot temperatures and mosquitoes, you want to make sure you come prepared. I like to dress very lightly on the way in…just pants and a t-shirt. I carry a jacket and other clothing in my pack. I also like to bring a Thermocell or some type of repellant to keep the bugs away. I tend to be very cautions with products that might omit an odor in order to try and remain as scent free as possible. Also, bringing a water bottle or two can prove very handy.
Once you are in the stand and settled, wait patiently and don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t happen the first night. If an opportunity doesn’t present itself, slip out of the tree quietly after dark without disturbing the deer if possible. It seems that big bucks never do the exact same thing twice, so you never know when everything might come together. Stay at it and remember, you can never scout too much!