Deer Season Strategies, Part 2: The Middle Season is Go Time

by Robert Runnett

It’s the most wonderful time of year, and I’m not talking about Christmas. My existence can be defined by the anticipation of two things, the rut and spring gobbler season. The favorite of these two happens to be occurring right now. Does are coming into heat and the whitetail rut is popping off. The bucks have thrown caution to the wind. What may have been a nocturnal deer last week, will now feel the urge to move during the day in search of the finer things in life. Serious deer hunters have been storing vacation all year for the month of November. If you find yourself relatively new to deer hunting, I suggest you follow suit.

Preparation for your hunts can make or break them. Before you take to the woods, consider these. Is my muzzleloader sighted in and ready for use? What kind of wind am I looking for and am I prepared for the weather? And lastly, what deer am I willing to shoot?

The simplicity of a muzzleloader tends to fool a lot of hunters. I often see many people making rookie mistakes for several years with them. It does not require the hours of practice that archery hunting demands, thus creating the illusion that you can simply pull it out of the gun cabinet and head out into the woods. What it does require is attention to detail and maintenance. I shoot a fairly standard load, 100 grains of powder underneath a 250 grain bullet and powered by a 209 primer. Over the years this load setup has not changed for me. What has changed is the brand of each of the components. Sometimes it’s a discontinuing of the product, in other cases I will find one that is superior to what I’m using. Each time I change the formula, I will shoot my muzzleloader at least 10 times to ensure its accuracy and consistency.

The most important tool to carry with you with in the woods besides your muzzleloader is mental stamina, not necessarily mental toughness. It is easy to be mentally tough for a few hours in the stand. Mental stamina is the capacity to not give up on that big buck after you haven’t had any luck for 2 weeks. Choose items to take with you in the woods that will help you retain your mental stamina. Snacks are great for extended sits. Try to pick foods that are quiet and will not create noise. Bananas and sandwiches and two great options. A durable water bottle instead of a crinkly plastic one will help also. Ritz crackers taste great but it may not be beneficial to take a roll of them with you in the woods. It seems almost comical to say in the day of the smart phone, but a book to read will help as well to occupy your mind. I love immersing myself in nature as much as anyone, however staring at the same trees for the entire day can grow tiring.

Hunting in the weather can be tricky. Right now is when an all-day sit is likely to produce great results as bucks will be chasing does rather than worrying about a feeding pattern. Good rain gear can make a miserable day of sitting in the rain not quite so miserable. When hunting those rainy days I recommend taking a piece of a thin plastic bag and using electrical tape to cover the end of the barrel. Use a darker colored bag if you can. This will keep moisture out of the barrel and give you the best chance for a clean shot. The reason for thin plastic is that it tears easily and will not affect bullet trajectory.

Play the wind as best you can. When hunting a big buck that you have on camera, it can seem like a game of chess. The more you stress getting close to that deer to hunt him, the more likely you are to make a mistake. If you believe you have him figured out, pay attention to the wind when you pick your stand location. The last thing you want to do is get into a tree and realize that the wind is hitting you directly on the back of your neck blowing your scent into his bedding area. Predict where he is and what direction he will approach from and then make a move from there. You may also encounter him circling downwind of bedding areas looking for does. Use the wind to your advantage.

You can learn a lot from a deer’s body language. When the rut is on, deer are much more active and it’s easier to see what mood they are in. If a doe is being chased by a buck, she will typically have it written all over her face. A doe that is constantly looking over her shoulder, or one that seemed spooked, will usually have company following her. Maybe she’s had the same buck following her for several hours, or maybe she just got bumped out of her bed by a buck that caught her wind and came rushing in. The biggest deer I have ever killed was the result of patience and reading a doe and a smaller buck’s body language. The doe came by and was looking over her shoulder, 10 minutes later a decent 8 point buck emerged from where she had come from. This deer was a shooter on any given day, but his body language led me to believe that I needed to wait. He also looked over his shoulder and was hesitant to continue. I could sense that he felt like he needed permission to go forward. Sure enough, 50 yards behind him was the biggest deer I have ever seen in my life. I let him come into 12 yards before I shot him. Had I rushed my shot, or been impatient, I never would have seen this deer.

A calling trick that I will use during the rut is grunting when I see a doe or multiple does run by me out of range. They are likely being chased by a buck and this can trick him into thinking that the does he is chasing may have been intercepted by another buck in the area. There’s a pretty good chance that he will come in looking for a fight.

Prepare yourself before stepping into the woods this November and give yourself the best chance to be successful when the opportunity presents itself. Keep in mind that it’s not about having the most expensive gear or the coolest gadgets. It’s about making your actions count and bringing the right things to make your hunt successful.

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