7 Worst Pre-Season Deer Hunting Mistakes

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

If you want to bag a buck this fall, avoid these summertime blunders

Hunting season might still be months away, but serious deer hunters everywhere are starting to prep for fall. Summertime is a good time to scout and get ready — but a few missteps now can have consequences later. Here are seven mistakes to avoid at all costs.

As antlers begin to take shape, many hunters are simultaneously scrambling to prepare for deer season. (Russell Graves photo)

1. Hanging Treestands Too Late

It was the summer of 2013. I hung trail cameras the beginning of June, and checked them in late July. One card pull revealed the widest deer I’d ever seen, and it frequented that trail during daylight. I prayed it’d hold to that pattern until early September, when archery season opened.

I didn’t already have a stand there, so I decided to place one right away. Still more than a month from opening day, I didn’t expect it would negatively impact deer. I was wrong. I never received another photo of the wide buck after hanging that stand. I’m sure noise from hanging it, cutting shooting lanes and tromping in and out didn’t help. Perhaps I hung it too close to the buck’s bedding area, too.

Lesson learned? When possible, hang primary treestand locations several months before deer season. Exercise caution when posting stands just prior to deer season, and during in-season, hang-and-hunt missions.

2. Planting Plots Too Early

I plant mostly fall food plots, and I like to get them in the ground in early August to increase growth time before first frost. But that can be problematic during years with minimal rainfall. There’s always temptation to plant early, but food plotters must time planting accordingly. Don’t sow it if there isn’t any rainfall in the forecast. Hold off, even if that means planting later in the season. Put that seed to soil just prior to a good rain, and that’ll give it the advantage it needs.

3. Checking Cameras Too Often

Cameras can do more harm than good if checked too often. Moderation is the solution. In the early days of the camera revolution, I’d visit them once per week, no matter what. Predictable and punctual. Mr. Rogers didn’t have anything on me.

Then, an older, wiser deer hunter pointed out my flaws, and I started checking them less and less. It hurt at first, as if I was having withdrawals. Still, it was necessary pain. Today, I sprinkle out my 40-plus cams in early June. I check them the middle of August, and then again just before the September archery opener. I spook fewer deer — and likely kill more — because of it.

4. Scouting Hunting Grounds Improperly

Quality scouting is all about hitting the sweet spot between not enough and too much. Unless you’ve never seen the property before, now isn’t the time to tromp through the timber. You know the ground already, and the hours spent post-season scouting and shed hunting should be sufficient.

But it’s different if you’ve never seen the property before. It’s better to scour it once, thoroughly learn the land, and create a game plan than to not know what it looks like or how deer use it.

5. Not Watching the Regs

Things change from season to season. Don’t assume anything. Read the regulations every pre-season. Chances are good something is different. If nothing else, season dates likely will be.

Most DNRs and wildlife agencies summarize major changes in the front of the annual hunting regulations book. Still, read it cover to cover, or at least the pages pertaining to the type of hunting you plan to do.

6. Procrastinating on Tags

There are several reasons why hunters, resident or non-resident, shouldn’t procrastinate on license purchases. In some states everyone, even residents, must apply for tags, especially for certain limited and quota hunts. There are designated application periods. Some states have leftover tags that sell out quickly. And thanks to COVID-19, over-the-counter tags may even be difficult to purchase this fall, same as we saw in several states back during turkey season. It’s always better to buy early.

7. Being Too Confident

This biggest pre-season mistake people make is being too confident in one game plan. All kinds of things can go wrong. Instead, prepare, and then prepare some more. I like to create a couple action plans for each phase of deer season, from early season, through the rut and into the late season. Within each phase, I formulate a game plan for at least a couple bucks that I think will return and be in play during that timeframe. Some bucks won’t return. Others might get shot. But by creating those 10 to 15 plans, you’ll be more prepared to fill that buck tag because odds are, one of those plans will work.