If there’s one thing we have a lot of in Michigan it is hunters. Now don’t get me wrong, numbers of hunters have been declining for a while. We must get them back up. Even so, for a state with a population of only 10 million people, we have consistently ranked in the top 5 states with the highest number of hunters. With around 650,000 deer hunters as of 2018, there are a lot of people hitting the woods chasing whitetail deer every year. The vast majority of these hunters are located in and hunting in the lower peninsula. What this means is that the deer in our state are going to behave much differently than deer in a state with fewer hunters such as Nevada or Delaware.
How Pressure Affects Deer
Deer are not born with an instinct to react to pressure. It is a learned and ingrained behavior through conditioning. If every time you went from the kitchen to the bedroom someone was in your house and then sometimes shot at you, you would quickly learn to alter your patterns to avoid these negative interactions. Deer are no different. Young deer in Michigan are generally the ones we see a lot of (and often in groups with their mother and other does). They haven’t yet learned the necessity to deal with the orange army roaming the Michigan woods every year.
Older deer are a different story—especially bucks, who spend much more time alone. The saying is “they don’t get that old by being stupid”, but it should really be followed by “especially in Michigan.” Mature whitetails in our state are going to spend much less time being active in daylight, especially in the open. They are going to be fanatical about checking the wind before approaching any areas that they can’t see through. If moving through thick cover, a pressured mature deer will likely be moving with the wind in its face. Pressured bucks are known to bed down in areas where they are facing the wind and have some type of protection behind them.
All of this is going to explain why we see a disproportionate number of young deer compared to mature ones. Pressure changes their behavior and turns them into ghost-like creatures, moving secretly through the landscape.
How To Deal With Pressured Deer
To successfully hunt pressured deer consistently, you are going to need to be on top of your game. Mistakes that would normally not be a big deal in other states are going to quickly end your chances of seeing a mature deer in Michigan. The most important thing is going to be controlling the direction of your scent. If the wind is wrong do not hunt the spot. Even if you are playing the wind well, you still may consider utilizing a scent control regimen before hitting the woods. Mature bucks who suspect a hunter is nearby are going to only come in with the wind in their face to try and pick up your scent. While scent control products will never eliminate your scent completely, they can help in this circumstance.
When entering the woods and heading to your blind or treestand you will need to be silent and stealthy. Don’t go tromping through leaves snapping twigs as you walk. As you climb up the tree or set up your stand be deliberate and quiet. Remember slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Move as little as possible while in the treestand or blind. Avoid flashlights while entering or leaving the woods if possible. If you must use one keep it on a dim setting or consider a red or green light. This will disturb the deer less.
Avoid overhunting a location. Vary the properties you hunt and vary the trees you hunt within those properties. If the deer can pick up on your pattern they will quickly alter their behavior to avoid you.
It’s Like Playing A Different Game
Hunting heavily pressured deer vs. lightly pressured deer can seem like you are hunting a different species. Finding and hunting mature deer in a state like Michigan is not impossible, though it may seem like it at times. To be consistently successful, you are going to need to perform at your best. Be meticulous with your scent control regimen and never hunt a spot with the wrong wind. Silence your gear and learn to walk silently through the woods. Vary the locations you hunt and the trees you pick in those locations. Be patient, put in the work, and you may find success—even when hunting pressured deer.