Don’t hunt by trying to make whitetails come to you. Go to them instead
Most of the time, whitetails use the land and terrain in the manner that keeps them safest. Too often, we hunters try to make deer go places and do things that contradict their instincts. Calling, decoys, scents, bait piles and even habitat improvements like food plots and hinge-cutting all have their place and purpose. But at heart, they’re strategies to make deer go where we want them. Don’t start with those. Finish with them.
Here are the five phases of understanding how deer navigate your hunting grounds, and how to act on that understanding for hunting. The hunters who consistently kill big deer are usually the ones who subscribe to some version of this concept.
Phase 1: Plan to Get in His Way
Get in that deer’s way. Learn how deer — even specific target bucks — use the property. Take advantage of how they already travel, rather than randomly selecting spots and hoping to draw them to you.
This tactic obviously takes work. It demands serious dedication and time investment. It requires extensive scouting for deer hunting in general. It also requires advanced patterning when hunting specific target bucks.
Gear Recommendations: An open mind
Phase 2: Scout the Area
Use general scouting methods to learn the property. Find beds, food sources and watering holes. Walk trail networks that connect these key locations. Look for specific buck beds and make special notes of their exact locations. Then plot everything on an aerial map (that also shows topography) to really see how things look. Hunterra makes a good one. This paints a picture and makes it simpler to visualize how the deer herd maneuvers throughout the area.
Consult with land managers, farmers and past hunters who’ve spent time on the property. Scouting efforts, trail cam photos and in-the-field sightings from previous seasons reveal valuable information relevant to the current/upcoming season.
Some of the deer from last season lived to see this year, and they’ll likely follow the same patterns. Even if they didn’t, new bucks often exhibit similar patterns as bucks from previous seasons. Why? Because of the property layout. Mature bucks use the same land advantages around them year after year. Think I’m wrong? My last four Kentucky bucks (2015-2018) were all taken within a 50-yard radius of each other.
Once you understand the general lay of the land, how the bulk of the herd uses it, and have looked at data from previous years, it’s time to drill down on a target buck.
Glass open food sources from afar first, if possible. This is a low-impact scouting method. Make sure you have the best optics you can afford. (Vanguard makes good stuff.) Then hang trail cameras to learn a buck’s core area. Position them in a manner that won’t spook deer. Place them 5 to 6 feet off the ground, angled slightly downward. This gets them out of a deer’s line of sight. Hunt and/or glass from observation stands if you still don’t have enough information to dive deeper into the property.
Now that you’re “in that deer’s way,” it’s time to get back to those favorite tactics of calling, decoys, scents and bait. Deployed incorrectly, these things are virtually ineffective on mature bucks. But if you use them to capitalize on this plan, instead of as a crutch, they can be the final piece that tips the odds further in your favor and gets you a shot.
It’s easier to bring buck to you if he only has to move a few yards to get there.
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.