Whitetail Hunting for Beginners
Written by Scott Christopherson (co-owner, IN THE HUNT)
Throughout my years as a bow hunter I have had the distinct privilege of hunting with arguably some of the best sportsmen in the country. They were always willing to share their knowledge and love of the outdoors with me and I will be forever grateful to them for that. As a young man I was fortunate to have a father that took the time to teach me how to hunt and as luck would have it I even had an opportunity to meet and learn from the legendary Fred Bear himself!
I figured it was time I began to share some of what I’ve learned so that the stories and knowledge that have helped to shape me can live on in my children and perhaps other people I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting.
Below is a short list of simple tips that can prove invaluable when getting started.
- Prepare and preserve
True love of the outdoors and unconditional respect for the wilderness are essential for harvesting a quality whitetail. The woods are home to a wide variety of God’s creatures and they all live and work in harmony with one another. As hunters and outdoorsmen it is our responsibility to navigate and collect important information for our hunt without disturbing wildlife. After all, it is we who are visitors in their home.
- Get comfortable in your surroundings
Some people have a fear of being in the woods by themselves (especially under darkness). My suggestion for getting over this fear is to spend more time scouting the land you will be hunting. After one or two times out in the field to scout your hunting land you will soon begin to notice that those once held fears of the woods will pass. One day you will begin to experience your surroundings differently. You’ll be calm and will find yourself enjoying the tranquility of the woods. That’s the good stuff right there. Securing a trophy buck is a great feeling, but there is something very powerful about being alone in the woods with only your thoughts to keep you company.
- Strategize and implement
Spend time shining fields, using game cameras, and mapping to help identify patterns and timetables for deer and their movement(s). Spotlights and cameras can be purchased at local sporting goods stores. It’s no secret that consistently successful hunters know where to be and when to be there. It’s all about anticipating the object of your hunt and being at least one or two steps ahead. Shining, game cameras and mapping are great tools that can and will help you determine ideal locations and placement of your hunting stand if you use one. It is worth it to invest your time in these tools.
- Ground Stand or Tree Stand?
I prefer to use a tree stand in most situations. A tree stand helps me get out of the whitetail’s line of site and also gets my scent off the ground. Sometimes I use a ground blind and when I do it is important to have it set up for the entire deer season so the deer become accustomed to its presence. Whether a tree or ground stand though, I place my stand where there are multiple deer runs between their bedding and feeding areas. You’ll know where bedding and feeding areas are based on your pre-hunt scouting efforts.
Additionally, it is necessary that I know yardages for the most likely places the deer will travel through. I create shooting widows so that no unexpected branches or undergrowth will alter my shot. It is crucial that I be comfortable with my shooting lanes and yardages so that when the opportunity comes and a trophy whitetail comes into view I will be prepared.
Wind out in the field can be your friend, and it can certainly work against you in a big way. Even if you do all you can to hide your scent the wind can make or break your day. The hunt is usually over before it begins if you are up wind from the area the deer are coming from. Always have a back-up plan if the wind isn't right for your stand location and move it accordingly. I strongly recommend that you develop a back-up plan for location of your stand during pre-hunt scouting and preparation activities just in case concerns like wind become an issue while you are in the hunt.
- Scent blocking
A hunter’s scent is one of the most important things he/she needs to make sure has been addressed before going out in the hunt. Deer have an incredible sense of smell and if you haven’t properly masked your scent it becomes likely that your day will be long and uneventful. For starters, don't wash clothes with scented detergent or fabric softener. Instead make sure all your hunting clothes are stored in totes with scent wafers (scent wafers can be purchased at your local sporting goods store). Another option is to hang hunting clothes outside for at least 24 hours prior to hunting to remove any unhelpful scents. Scent blocking is extremely important. I can’t stress this enough.
How we protect our feet is another key element when preparing to enter the woods (undetected). I’m not writing this article to promote this or that brand of shoes/boots. All I’m going to point out is make sure to wear comfortable and appropriate footwear. I know that I do a good amount of walking when I’m in the hunt and can remember one experience when I wasn’t wearing appropriate footwear for the conditions. Not good! These days I prefer to wear rubber boots when I’m in the hunt and as an extra precaution I also spray sent block on my boots. Forgetting to scent block footwear results in leaving a scent trail when walking or hiking. Again, not good! Trust me – deer will steer clear if they detect your scent.
- Dress for success
Select the optimal camouflage pattern of your choice based on time of season and location. Here again, I’m not writing these tips so that I can push one camo pattern over another. For the purposes of sharing an example though I use a camo pattern called “treestand.” Find a camo pattern you like and see how it goes.
Also dress in layers. I usually wear minimal clothing on my hike out into the woods and carry the rest with me. I'll begin to overheat and sweat if I wear all of my layers when hiking to my stand. Take it from me --cold and wet out in the woods isn’t very fun. Been there done that! It usually works out best for me if I leave my outer shell off until I begin to cool a bit in my stand.Remember, a successful hunt will occur when preparation and opportunity meet. Be patient, put in adequate time out in the field for preparation, and respect the hunt. Do these things and you will be successful.