Score permission on a sweet new property, but don’t have much time to hunt? Fill your tag with this 10-step plan
You just got the gate keys to the farm. Perhaps you just bought your dream deer hunting property from Realtree United Country. Or, maybe you discovered a hot new piece of public ground. Now what?
Hunting fresh dirt can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve found the best way to do it is to tackle it a day at a time, with a few specific steps for each day. This is your 10-step, two-week plan to find and tag the biggest buck on the property. I use this plan at home and abroad. It works. And you’re only required to be in the field for six days of it.
Day No. 1
The first day is all about cyber scouting. Make like the NSA and dig. Learn as much as you can via phone calls and internet resources.
Step 1. Talk to Locals, Landowners and Past Hunters
The first step is discussion. On private land, speak with landowners. On public ground, consult with property managers. They’re a wealth of knowledge. If possible, talk to people who’ve hunted the property. They might provide very specific information.
The Benefit: These resources can provide intel on specific properties, and where they usually see deer. They might also relay information on surrounding hunting pressure.
Gear Recommendations: Phone, phone book, computer
Step 2. Scout Digitally
Study every available map type of the property. The most important ones are aerial, topo, hydro and plat maps. These are vital for learning new ground. Soil and records maps are more beneficial prior to choosing a property. Soil maps show where the best soil is (which typically translates to bigger, healthier deer). Records maps indicate where concentrations of top-end bucks historically exist.
The Benefit: Aerial maps show where food, water and cover are located. Hydro maps are more detailed and show all recorded water sources. Topo maps make it easier to learn the terrain. Plat maps show property lines, which keep you out of trouble.
Gear Recommendations: Digital or physical HuntStand aerial, topo, hydro and plat maps
HuntStand Discount Code: PRINT10 (get 10 percent off until January 2020)
Day No. 2
The second day is about gathering as much firsthand information as possible. Learn everything you can and finish all the tasks you need to complete in one day. Then, make like a ghost and get out of there.
Step 3. Conduct Boots-on-the-Ground Scouting
Scouting digitally is important. But nothing compares to in-the-field scouting. It takes your understanding of a property to the next level. Be stealthy, but don’t worry about it if you spook a deer or two. One intrusive scouting mission probably isn’t going to run them off the property. Learn as much about the property in one trip as possible. Pack an aerial map (or use an app service such as HuntStand) and record findings as you go.
The Benefit: It’s better to hunt a few days in a great spot than a few weeks in a mediocre one. But you won’t know where the best spot is unless you scour the place. And even after extensive scouting, it could take a few hunts to determine where you really need to focus your time.
How deer use a property often depends on its topography. Start understanding it by analyzing a topo map. Take it afield during your one-day scouting trip and find changes in elevations.
The Benefit: Deer use various terrain types differently. In hill country, the best bedding is generally along mid-range leeward (downwind side) ridges, ridge endings and points. Prime travel routes are typically located along benches, ridge lines, drainages and saddles. Flat-land bucks pose more of a challenge. In these areas, thick, nasty, difficult-to-access areas with security (wind) advantages are usually best.
You’ve spent the day scouting. Now, hang as many trail cameras as you can on the property. Look back at your marked-up maps and choose the best-looking spots. Focus on pinch points and funnels. Good examples include fence gaps, low spots in fences, creek crossings, fingers of cover and anywhere else deer are forced to travel through tight spots. Hang cameras about head-high and angle them slightly downward looking down the trail (not perpendicular to it). The height helps prevent deer from seeing your cameras, while the direction gives cameras more time to capture crisp, centered images.
The Benefit: This step is about inventory and capturing photos of as many local bucks as possible. This reveals the caliber of bucks in the area.
No action. Just chill. Work a little. Crush some donuts. Slurp a slushy. This three-day window is all trail camera work. Let them do their thing. They’re creating that hit list everyone is talking about these days.
Day No. 6
Take a shower. Dry the pit stains. Head back afield. Keep the wind in your favor as you maneuver the property. Don’t let your scent drift into potential bedding areas. Then, check cameras, pinpoint a target deer, and blitz that buck. Don’t know what that means? Read on.
Step 7. Pinpoint a Target Buck
Take a computer or card reader to the woods with you. Click through all images on each camera. Find the biggest, oldest buck that also seems to be most vulnerable.
The Benefit: Choosing a target buck encourages you to create a game plan specific to that deer. This generally decreases the complacency factor and forces you to think critically and create a higher-odds game plan.
Gear Recommendations: Computer/card reader
Step 8. Blitz That Buck
You’ve reviewed all trail camera images and chosen a target buck. Now, tighten the noose. Do your best not to spook deer, and move all trail cameras that didn’t capture daylight images of your target buck closer to those that did.
The Benefit: The goal is to home in on the buck’s core area. More specifically, you want to learn where that deer is bedding down during daylight hours. This step should help accomplish that.
No action. Just chill. Go back to work. Eat tater chips. Let your trail cameras do their thing once again. They’re rounding out the profile on the buck you chose to target.
Day No. 10
This is all about data analysis. Pondering. Critical thinking. Maybe some meditative exercise for good measure. You do taekwondo, bro?
Step 9. Analyze the Data
Head back to the farm and pull all SD cards. Don’t view the images in the field. Simply swap them with a fresh card and get out. Have as little impact as possible. Go home, look at all of the photos, and piece everything together. Plot all target buck daylight appearances (trail camera and in-the-field sightings) on a digital or physical HuntStand map and learn how the buck maneuvers the property. Note the date, time, direction of travel (toward/from), weather and wind direction at the time of photo capture (Wunderground is the perfect app for this), and any other relevant data.
The Benefit: This paints a picture as to how the deer uses the property. It might help piece together the final clues you need to pinpoint its bedding area(s), preferred food source(s) and watering location(s).
Now it’s time to channel your inner Genghis Khan, stripe on the war paint, saddle the battle horse, and conquer the world. Or, just slip on your camo Crocs, grab your bow and hit the woods. We’ll leave the level of dramatization up to you.
Step 10. Move in for the Kill
You scouted and found your buck. Trail cameras, treestands and expectations are all up. Now, take the knowledge you gathered, choose your stand location, grab your gear, and head to the woods. If that happens to be in a spot where you hung preliminary treestands, great. If not, take a lightweight hang-on and climbing sticks with you for a hang-and-hunt.
The Benefit: All of this has been in an effort to kill the biggest, baddest buck on the farm. You finished the prep work. Now focus, stay sharp and reap the reward.