You can study and learn from great hunters all you want, but at some point, the time comes to form some hypotheses and test them out. Hunting deer, especially mature deer, consists of so many intangibles and specific situations that you won’t truly know how to deal with them until you experience them for yourself. Let’s talk about making a plan to hunt a new property midseason. Maybe the spots you’ve been hunting have not been working out or you just need a plan b to hunt so you don’t burn out your other properties. This will be a quick guide to find an area, scout it, form a hunt plan, and move in. Doing this over and over repeating the process is how you will develop the skills needed to hunt deer well.
Pick A Property
Use OnX, Huntwise, or even google maps to locate some huntable public land in your county. When looking, focus on areas that have the 3 elements a property needs to hold and sustain deer: food, water, cover. Food doesn’t have to be something as obvious as an agricultural field, but a property with lots of mast trees or an abundance of thick woody browse likely contains all the food deer need. Look for something near where you live so you can easily get out there and do some hunting.
Using mapping software such as those apps mentioned above, start scouting the property on your computer. Utilize satellite and topographic information. Pay attention to features such as higher elevations, marsh or swamp areas, transition zones and pinch points (thin areas of cover connecting two larger areas of cover), and any obvious fields or open areas. Start marking areas of interest on the map. Any potential bedding sites, food sources, and travel corridors should be marked. Plan access routes to these sites. Look at alternative access routes or sites if the wind is different.
Get On The Ground
You have a couple of different options here. The first thing to do is drive to the area and scout the surroundings in your vehicle. Mark trailheads and potential parking spots on your map. Take note of any areas where you see other hunters parked. Next, you can either scout or do a scout/hunt and observation sit.
If you have a day to devote to pure scouting, it is always ideal. However, during hunting season it can be tough to find the time and there is also the consideration of disturbing other hunters on public land who are hunting. When going into scout, your job is to investigate the sites you marked on your map while you were e-scouting. Take notes (incorporate them into your waypoints in the map program) on any pertinent features you couldn’t see on the computer. Your goal is to confirm your suspicions as to whether or not deer are using those areas in the way you thought. Look for signs such as bedding spots, scat, rubs, scrapes, deer trails, or anything else that shows evidence of deer using these spots. Record the wind in those locations while on the ground, and also note the prevailing wind listed in the weather. This can give you an idea of how a prevailing wind changes in those areas.
If you are not able to scout first, then head in to hunt with a mobile setup (saddle, climber, or hang on treestand). Scout while you go and when you find sign in one of the spots you preselected, consider hanging your stand there. Pick a tree with decent visibility so that in the event you do not have deer come in range, you may still be able to observe them with binoculars to gain intel.
Go In And Hunt
Everything you’ve done so far has been part of the planning stage. You know what property you’re going to hunt. You’ve made some guesses about areas that deer would be using based on maps and have physically gone in to confirm the presence of deer in those areas. Now it’s time to go in and hunt. When you arrive at the area you’re hunting make sure and check the wind. If it is going the wrong way then you need to go to your plan B location on that property. Be stealthy as you walk in to hunt. Avoid unnecessary noise or movement. Do not walk close to any bedding areas you have identified. The goal is to sneak in, get in position, and wait for the deer to go about their normal routine. After the hunt, sneak out with the same care so the spot remains a viable location to hunt.
When hunting, remember that even if you’ve done everything right you may not be successful. That is just the nature of the game. However, the more you go through this process of picking locations to hunt, doing research, and hunting them—the quicker you will improve your skills and understanding of how to hunt deer. As you get better at this, you are going to begin to have more shots at deer consistently.