Low Impact Deer Hunting

by Cole Daniels

As a hunter, I often find myself in conversations with other hunters. It doesn’t matter if I know them or not. Hunters have a way of knowing that you are a hunter. Maybe it’s the wardrobe. I’ve noticed a trend in conversations about deer hunting. The person I talk to either gets really excited and tells me a story of great conquest or they look angry and complain of a terrible season. There are usually some choice words for wildlife agencies or neighbors or the idiots up the road. Rarely do I hear the words, “it wasn’t too bad.” It seems as though most people either have bang up seasons or they never click the safety off. A lot of the deerless stories end with the words “out of the ten of us, we got one deer.”

There are a lot of reasons for having a tough season and a lot of reasons for hunting with a big group. For many hunters, deer camp is like a family reunion. It’s an opportunity to get together, share stories, and pass on traditions. That’s what hunting should be about. Unfortunately, a great deal of land is required for a large group to hunt effectively. Hunting pressure is probably the biggest variable in keeping deer on a given piece of property whether it’s public or private. Low impact hunting activities can be the difference between having a great season or a disappointing one.

Scout Early, Scout Often
When hunting an area I’ve never hunted before, I usually still hunt. I move slowly through the woods looking for movement and deer sign. Hunting from a stand usually isn’t productive because I have no idea where deer want to be. The advantage of hunting a familiar area is you should know where deer want to be. Spend a day or two watching deer in areas you plan to hunt. Keep your distance and try to stay downwind if possible. If you can, scout different times of the day. Some areas are used frequently by deer in the morning and can be emptied out in the evening.

Scouting late, isn’t a bad idea either. After the season is over, you can do more intrusive scouting. Check out rubs, scrapes, and bedding areas. Preferred feeding areas also become easy to spot in the winter as well. Trails become more pronounced. Deer are easier to pattern after the season. Most hunters have left the woods and breeding is no longer a priority, food is.

Setting Stands
If it’s possible, set your stands well in advance of hunting season. This allows the stand’s scent to wear off and will make your morning or evening approach much quieter and faster. Set multiple stands to make it possible to hunt deer hotspots regardless of wind direction. Having multiple stand locations also allows you to let an area rest. If hunters constantly pressure one specific location, deer are going to learn to avoid it. Using multiple locations and allowing sets to rest will prevent deer from avoiding your stand. Some hunters will pass up using a particular stand until the rut is at it’s peak. They don’t want to “use up” their spot before the getting is good.

Tree stands are becoming increasingly affordable. However, I still can’t afford to put up as many stands as I’d like to. Instead, I’ll make ground blinds out of natural cover. Most good deer woods have plenty of fallen trees and scrub brush to make a great natural ground blind.

Have A Plan
The best way to minimize your impact is to have a plan. If you don’t have an aerial map of the area you plan to hunt, get one. They are easy to find online and free. Get a few color copies and take them to your local office products store. They will laminate your maps for a reasonable price which will make your maps last a long time. Plan a route in and out of your stand that will have a low impact on the area you plan to hunt. If you are hunting with others, select stand locations in an effort to minimize interference. Again, detailed maps can be a big help in this process.

Scent Control
In some areas scent control is more important than others. However, if there are multiple members in your hunting party, scent control takes on a bigger role. Rubber boots, scent control clothing, and scent control detergents and soaps are all part of a successful hunter’s program.

After The Shot
If someone puts a deer down on our property, we field dress the deer and hang it in the woods. Dragging a deer through prime deer cover while others are hunting is a no-no. There is plenty of time after hunting hours to get the deer out of the woods. Bring a small nylon rope along and hang the deer in a tree that will be easy to find in the dark. I recommend hanging the deer by the hind legs. This will allow the animal’s body heat to escape out of the chest cavity and will not harm a buck’s cape if you plan to get a shoulder mount. In warm conditions, I’ve seen meat spoil due to heat building up in the chest cavity of a deer hung by the head.

The best way to avoid over pressuring deer is by limiting the amount of hunters on a given area. If that’s not possible, try these tips to limit your impact on deer and increase your odds of having a great story the next time someone asks you how your season went.