The Top Tips for Successful Deer Hunting
Day 1: Hunting Wrong for Deer
Editor’s Note: There’s more to taking deer than just walking through the woods with a gun slung over your shoulder. Here are my rules to hunting deer the right way.
When I purchased my first deer rifle many years ago, I was convinced that my world of hunting would change. No longer would I be limited to a 40-yard shot, which was the effective range of my 12-gauge shotgun. Never again would I have to slip-in, crawl and search for deer in thick places. I no longer would be a traditional southern deer hunter. I could move into the world of big-game hunting with my new .30-06, make 400-yard shots like those I’d read about in outdoor magazines and bag deer across green fields. I could take a stand on a power line and shoot deer as far away as I could see them. I thought that with my new rifle, I could do everything but leap tall buildings in a single bound, outrun locomotives and catch bullets in my teeth. I believed that deer hunting would be far-less complicated and easier than ever before. Why I even had a telescopic sight that went from 4X to 9X magnification. “If I can see a deer, I can kill him,” I told my buddies. I planned to change the sport from hunting deer to shooting deer.
The hunter who’s equipped with a high-powered rifle, a telescopic sight and a pair of binoculars usually doesn’t hunt in thick cover. He stands where he can see to the maximum killing distance of his weapon. Because I’d read all the magazine articles in which the authors made 300- to 400-yard shots every day, I believed that I too could down a deer at 400 yards. Therefore, I left the thick cover where I’d successfully harvested more than 35 bucks in 15 years of hunting and moved to the wide-open spaces. But I soon learned that open country wasn’t the promised land I thought it was.
Right away when I started hunting the open country, I realized that I’d given-up certain things. When I was “close hunting,” which was hunting in thick cover, I could hear deer walk and snort and sometimes scrape or play. But in the open country, I was unable to get near the deer as I did in thick cover. When I was hunting close, I relied heavily on my peripheral vision. Many times I’d stare down a logging road into a clear cut or be looking at a thicket, conscious of everything that my eyes could see. I might catch the movement of a deer’s ear, the swish of a deer’s tail or notice the reflection of the light off ivory-colored antlers. However, when I began hunting where I could see 400 yards in all directions, I had to use binoculars to try to spot the deer. In so doing, I gave-up my peripheral vision.
When using a shotgun, I knew exactly how it would pattern buckshot from 10 to 40 yards. I’d learned how to lead a running deer and often would shoot instinctively when a deer jumped from cover. But with a rifle and a telescopic sight, I had to locate the deer with the scope, put the crosshairs on the exact spot I wanted the bullet to go, attempt to calculate the distance, make the needed adjustments and finally pull the trigger. In the beginning, I found that most deer wouldn’t stand still long enough for me to figure out the math and sight-in correctly to get an accurate shot. So, I missed the first four bucks that I had a shot at with my brand-new rifle. I was on the verge of selling my .30-06 and going back to my 12 gauge when I made a very-important decision. I told myself, “I’m going to pretend that this high-powered deer rifle is a shotgun. I’m going to keep the scope on the lowest power while hunting and move back into thick cover.” The next three bucks I saw, I took at distances of less than 40 yards. I learned to hunt with a rifle and can make occasional 150-yard shots if needed. But hunting right is more than learning to use the weapon you choose to use to take deer. Hunting right involves more than hunting thick cover and more than being successful.