Deer hunting isn’t easy. It takes time and experience to get good at it.
A successful hunter will have acquired the right skills, tools, analytical mind and patience before he will bring home the biggest bucks.
However, there is knowledge you can gain before heading into the woods that will increase your chances of success.
Whether you’re a seasoned hunter or heading out into the woods for the very first time, this in depth deer hunting guide will help you beat the odds.
Best Deer Hunting Times for Success
So what are the best hunting times for deer? The definitive answer is very much dependant on where you live and the amount of free time you have available.
That being said, there are still prime times you should at least aim for in order to increase your chances of success.
Let’s take a look at some of the most important variables to consider when selecting the best time to go deer hunting.
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The Time of Day
Let’s start with the most obvious issue – the time of day you head out.
The fact is deer are crepuscular. This means that they are most active at dawn and dusk. Clearly this is the best time to go deer hunting.
If you are in a position to hunt close to where you live, it becomes possible to hit the hunting sites before or after work at these prime times.
(For an in depth calendar of dawn and dusk times by state by month head here.)
Competition for the hunt
If your hunting grounds of choice suffer from a high amount of activity from other hunters, you may strategically choose the best times to avoid the crowds.
This generally means hunting weekdays, especially the days in the middle of the week – weekend hunters sometimes reserve Monday or Friday in order to extend their time across a 3 day weekend.
If this is not possible, a good way to get the most out of busy weekend hunt areas is to make the pressure work for you.
Choose to hang back in thick cover. When other hunters come and go out of the woods they are more likely to move the deer – this can and will offer shooting opportunities for you.
The Monthly Moon Cycle
The results translate into deer hunting tactics you can really use.
While the fact the deer mostly moved at twilight in all phases was not a surprise, the detailed research did unearth some interesting variations.
Movement in the early morning during the new moon saw an increase.
Midmorning movement rates were actually found to be higher during the non-quarter periods, (in other words, days not within 48 hours of full, new, and quarter moon phases).
Midday movement was shown to be at its zenith during the full moon, while late-afternoon action showed peak activity during the last quarter, (five to 10 days prior to the full moon).
While it can get a little complicated trying to plan your calendar to such subtle variations; they are still worth considering when planning the best time to go hunting.
Deer hunting the rut
Knowing the deer rutting months of your chosen hunting grounds is an important factor when planning the best time to go deer hunting.
On a state by state basis, most rut dates remain consistent each year.
In fact, the statistics from mid-continent to the north are very similar with peak breeding taking place sometime in early to mid-November.
However, moving south the rut times become more inconsistent making it beneficial for hunters new to an area to check local peak dates.
A good rule of thumb is to remember that bucks are most active a week to 10 days prior to the peak breeding time.
On the other end of the spectrum is the time when does are in estrus. If you end up heading out during this spell, the bucks will be in lockdown and your chances of success are severely diminished.
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Deer Calling Tips (A Chapter From Deer Hunting 101)
Deer calls are an important part of the successful deer hunt and are a tactic you should practice whenever the situation demands it.
Whatever you choose to use, the outcome is essentially the same. The call is designed to mimic the sounds deer make in an attempt to peak their interest.
This could be to draw the attention of an inquisitive buck. A call might also be used to stop a whitetail in their tracks just enough for you to eye up the deadly shot.
Knowing when to use the call can be hard for beginners to this particular deer hunting strategy; understandably you do not want to frighten away your quarry.
To help you overcome this, let’s take a look at the different types of call available and how and when you should use them.
The different types of deer call
There are four main categories of deer call:
- The Rattle
- The Grunt
- The Snort (Wheeze)
- The Bleat
Whitetails make some or all of these sounds. (Head here for a list of tools you can use to replicate these sounds on Amazon.com).
How to call whitetail deer (video guide)
Knowing when to Stop Deer Calling
Knowing when to stop deer calling (or not use it at all) is a vital part of the tactic.
- When a buck is coming towards you – It makes no sense to move or call again if the deer is heading towards you. This will only alert them to your position. Be patient and allow him to head towards you on his own accord.
- Deer on alert -A deer that is already alert does not need any extra encouragement. They will likely head in a different direction to your call.
- A buck showing disinterest – If the buck is already disinterested in your calls, you should stop. It clearly isn’t working and the call may also have a detrimental effect by putting them off returning to the area.
How to Use Deer Hunting Blinds (Pro Tactics)
Ground blinds are popular method for hunting whitetail deer.
In situations where a treestand or elevated blind are not practical, ground blinds can prove to be a fast and versatile alternative.
Not only do they provide cover a ground blind will also help block your human scent. Other benefits stem from the fact ground blinds can be used by rifle, bow or crossbow hunters.
Knowing where, when and how to set up your ground blind is essential to the success of the strategy.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the factors you should keep in mind when using one.
Knowing the trails and hunting area
It is important to know the area before you begin hunting. Spending time to carry out some pre-season scouting is essential to this.
Try to find the game trails that snake through dense cover, (a prize mature deer will rarely be seen out in the open).
Pinpointing travel corridors between feeding and bedding areas is really important. This will help you make a better choice on where to place your ground blind.
A good way to increase your knowledge of an area is to use trail cameras (especially if walking the trails on a regular basis is not an option).
The cameras will carry out the investigation for you, alerting you to areas of high activity.
If returning to the same hunting area year on year, try not to get complacent and set up based on what has happened previous.
Conditions change and deer are adaptable creatures. The best guiding factors on how to hunt deer comes from the information you can get today.
Set your ground blind up in advance
Whitetails are not stupid; a recent change to their environment will be noticed.
To maximise the effectiveness of your ground blind you need to set it up well in advance. This will allow the local deer to become accustomed to the new addition and to overcome any suspicions they may have before you begin using it.
Setting up the blind a few weeks before deer season is a good method to follow.
If early set up is not a practical possibility, you should do your utmost to place the blind somewhere inconspicuous.
Inside the tree line for better concealment is a good option. As long as you have done your research, a well concealed area close enough to get a shot off on your chosen trail should suffice.
Camouflage is your friend
This may seem like an obvious point to make, however adding camouflage to your blind is an important step to take.
Try to blend the cover in with its surroundings. Use branches, brush, leaves, whatever you can get your hands on from the local environment so that your blind is less likely to be seen.
The best ground blinds will have straps and harnesses that allow you to fix the natural vegetation in place.
Also, consider the fact that a new ground blind may have that straight from the factory smell. While some may have odor suppressant built in, nothing beats a large cover of foliage (left over a couple of weeks if possible) to disguise any unnatural smells.
Use the elements to reduce your presence
Your scent will carry on the wind, and a mature deer in the area will detect it. It is one of those simple facts of nature.
This means you need to do all you can to prevent this; knowing where to place your ground blind is essential.
Placing your blind downwind is one tactic you have at your disposal. Spraying scent-eliminating sprays across your clothes and gear is another strategy seasoned deer hunters often use.
Think about the direction of the early morning sun. Deer will pick up on any movement reflected in the sunshine. If the dawn light is bouncing of your face as you peer through the blind window, you have given them a clear indication of your presence.
All of this caution can actually mean you will need different ground blind positions for morning and evening hunts.
Finally, make sure to dress in dark clothing. A balaclava or face paint will also help offset your presence in the eyes of the deer.
Maximise your line of sight
With all that we have said above about finding the right spot, you still need to ensure your line of site gives you enough time to set up a shot.
Being well hidden in a space where you can remain undetected is useless if you have chosen a location with limited visibility on only one shooting lane.
By the time you have spotted your quarry and position yourself for shot, they will have moved out of the line of sight.
To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, the location of your ground blind should allow you to see the deer traveling up and down the trail.
Feeding areas will always prove useful; if you can find a pinch point or multiple lanes that funnel deer into small areas, all the better.
Just make sure your line of sight is not overly restricted and you will have time to make that winning shot.
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Early Season Deer Hunting Tips (Strategies to replicate)
Early season deer hunting has to be treated differently to the rut.
The fact is, the bucks will not be charging around like they do in the Fall, however this does not mean you should be put off. The competition from other hunters will be lower, and if you know what you are doing, early season hunting can reap plenty of rewards.
These early season deer hunting tips will help you make that happen.
Be a good scout
As we covered above in our tips on using a ground blind, scouting the area is important when it comes to early season hunting.
Don’t rely on information gained from hunting the area during past seasons.
Things change; farmer’s fields may be planted differently leading to altered feeding locations; woods are cut, swamps may dry out and areas become overgrown.
All of this will impact where the deer will eat and sleep.
Early season hunters need to concentrate on where the deer are feeding. Bucks will normally use this time to build up their bulk.
Trail cams are an important asset in determining their movements. Get in and set them early.
Know what they are eating
Remember, the weather is hot early in the season. Deer are less active in the heat meaning they will bed down close to their food sources.
During this time of year those sources are in abundance. Essentially, you need to track down what is proving popular in your hunting area of choice. This involves understanding what is ripe for deer to eat and when.
If acorns are plentiful and are dropping from the trees, the deer will be there.
Plots planted in clover will prove popular in September and October.
If crops of soybeans and corn are in the vicinity, they will be the go to food of choice over any small plots that hunters plant in order to lure their prey.
Activity near water
Setting up shop near a stream, creek or river is a long shot early in the season.
Deer get a lot of the moisture they need from the foods that they eat late summer. This means the chances of catching one out in the open drinking water are slim.
However, the story is different in drought-stricken areas. In states that become very parched during the hot summer months, a stock tank or isolated pond may well prove to be a worthwhile haunt.
If there are water sources in your area that you believe might be fruitful, check out the tracks close by. If there is evidence of deer activity, it may be worth your time.
Choose your shot wisely
Early in the season Bucks are likely still in bachelor groups. If you see a buck approaching, it will often pay dividends to see who else might be joining him.
There could well be a larger member more worthy of your shot.
A good way to stay one step ahead here is to have studied the footage from your trail cams. That way you will know which buck you wish to target.
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Post Rut Hunting Tips (5 Top Tactics)
There’s no reason that the end of the rut should mean the end of your hunting for season.
Just as early season hunting can reap benefits if the correct techniques are used, so can hitting the woods late in the season.
You just need to change your deer hunting tactics accordingly. Here are a few simple tips that you can follow to make your post rut deer hunting trips a success:
Keep up the Scouting
Keep your eyes open when driving around the countryside after the rut. If you see deer in an area, they are likely not to roam too far. This will make a good starting point.
If by late season snow has fallen in your hunting spot of choice, use this to your advantage.
What better way to track their movements than marks in the snow.
Look for remote areas
Late season you are going to need to find locations that did not suffer a lot of hunting pressure during the rut.
This often means heading off the beaten track.
After a heavy rut bucks are understandably tired. They will actually seek out quiet, more remote locations in the hope of being left alone.
Think about their food sources too. These remote locations will need to have adequate food nearby as they will not be roaming too far by the end of the season.
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Hunting times – Early & Late
The days of the rut are over. It is unlikely that you will see a buck running around in clear view in the middle of the day.
Post rut will see their activity go back to a more nocturnal state.
Again, use good food sources to your advantage; head to these areas well before first light. Set up in heavy cover with a good range of sight.
The same principle will work at night as you try to target the buck when they come out of where they bed for a nocturnal feed.
Tone down the tactics
If the rut does not result in a successful breed, it is not unknown or the yearling to come into heat again.
This means that tactics used during the rut, if toned down a little, can be used to great effect.
Despite the bucks being more cautious now, a few soft calls and estrus scent may be enough to get them out of hiding to take a little look. A buck with antlers will still have an elevated level of testosterone.
However, tending and challenge calls will be less effective post rut. Rattling is not recommended as a result.
Blizzards can be useful
Bad weather can often get the deer moving. If a storm front is heading in, you may see more activity as they feed in preparation for when the storm hits.
The day or evening before the front moves in can be a very productive time to hunt as a result.