Are you interested in deer hunting but unsure of where to begin? There is a lot to learn if you’re brand-new to the sport. From scouting to shooting, our guide to deer hunting for beginners will give you an idea of what to expect.
Read on to learn the basics of deer hunting and how to put them into action.
- 1 Deer hunting for beginners: gearing up
- 2 Deer hunting for beginners: planning your trip
- 3 Deer hunting for beginners: getting out there
- 4 Deer hunting for beginners: caring for your trophy
- 5 Enjoy the deer hunting experience
Deer hunting for beginners: gearing up
To be a successful deer hunter, you need the right tools. Most importantly, you need to understand how they work.
Know your weapon
Before you do anything else, select a weapon of choice and get very familiar with it. States do regulate which types of weapons may be used in which seasons. Be sure you check up on this first!
Rifles and crossbows are popular weapon choices. Generally, you’ll want a rifle higher than .243 caliber for deer hunting, or a crossbow with at least a 45 pound pull.
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Talk to other hunters and the salespeople at the gun shop. Educate yourself on the differences between types of guns and bows to decide which is right for you. If you can, find a gun store where you can handle the weapons and take a few practice shots.
Once you’ve procured your weapon, practice using it until you are very confident in your ability to handle and shoot it.
Practice from different positions and angles (laying low, sitting on the roof, leaning on a tree, etc.). You never know which position you’ll be hiding in when a deer comes along.
Regularly hitting targets from 100 yards away is a good standard to reach before you shoot at a live deer with a rifle. 30 yards is a reasonable goal with a bow.
Take care of the legalities
Hunters in the United States must be licensed and carefully follow all of their state’s rules and regulations. Contact your state’s conservation department for the requirements where you live.
A hunter’s safety course will be required as a condition of licensure. These are usually free or very inexpensive.
If you are still unsure of how committed you are to the sport, you may be able to get a hunter’s apprentice permit before taking the course and obtaining your own hunting license.
Dress for success
Your apparel needs to be comfortable (as well as functional) camouflage. Dressing in layers will ensure your ability to stay warm (or cool) enough, no matter what the temperature is outside. If you’ll be hunting in colder weather, bring gloves that don’t impede your movement.
A good pair of boots is essential. You’ll want your feet to be protected from the elements but comfortable enough for a lot of walking and standing. There are some high-end boots on the market that will also help to quiet your footsteps in the woods.
You must wear some hunter’s orange while you’re out. At the very least, an orange hat or vest. Around 1,000 people a year are accidentally shot by other hunters in the U.S. Don’t be one of them! Some states have rules about how much hunter’s orange you must wear.
Hide your scent
The best hunting ensemble in the world won’t matter much if you don’t hide your scent. Deer can pick up on a scent from a half-mile away.
When you are out deer hunting, you’ll want to stay downwind from the area you’re targeting. You also may want to invest in a scent-covering spray.
You can up your odds of going unnoticed by washing your clothing in fragrance-free detergent with baking soda and avoiding contact with strong aromas (such as bacon or gasoline) on the morning of the hunt.
Pack the essentials
You don’t want to over-pack for a deer hunt, as you’ll have to cart it all back with a deer in tow if you’re successful. But you don’t want to get stuck without the essentials.
Here are the items you can’t afford to leave behind:
- Your weapon and ammunition (obviously)
- Your hunter’s orange clothing pieces
- Your hunting permits
- Whatever items you’ll need to tag your deer in accordance with your state’s regulations.
- A sharp knife and big rubber gloves for dressing the deer
- A flashlight and binoculars
- A sturdy and comfortable bag to carry it all in.
Deer hunting for beginners: planning your trip
When to go deer hunting
The weeks when deer are mating, are referred to as “the rut.” If you time your hunting trip right, you can use the rut to your advantage.
In most parts of North America, pre-rut activity lasts from mid-October to mid-November. Not all does will be ready to breed yet, but a few will. This is enough to get the bucks stirred up and moving around the woods more. Deer on the move are much easier to spot.
By the second half of November, the rest of the does will be ready. Once a pair of deer have mated, the buck will lay low with the doe for about 48 hours. Deer are going to be harder to spot once this begins to happen.
Active bucks and cool weather make that mid-October to mid-November timeframe a deer hunting sweet spot. In warmer locations (such as Florida or Alabama) the rut happens later in the season, sometimes as late as January. So do your local research if you live somewhere warm!
Where to go deer hunting
If you are fortunate enough to own a lot of land (or know someone who does) you may have private hunting grounds at your fingertips.
If you don’t have access to private land, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Wildlife Resources Commission in your state. They can direct you to public land you can hunt.
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Deer hunting for beginners: getting out there
Scouting for deer
Before you head out for the hunt, you need to figure out where the deer will actually be.
Once you know where you will be deer hunting, get a topographical map of the area from your local gun shop. Knowing where the rivers, fields, and saddles (corridors between hills) are is essential.
You also need to know how deer behave in each area:
- Deer tend to travel alongside rivers and creeks.
- Deer sleep and hide in thickets, where they are comfortable and hard to spot.
- Fields are often home to plants that deer like to eat.
- Saddles make good travel paths for deer. They also can serve as channels for wind, allowing deer to pick up on scents.
Clues that deer are (or have been) nearby
- Trails: Look for tracks. The tracks may show the deer’s path between thickets and feeding areas.
- Droppings: Obviously, the fresher these are, the closer to a deer you likely are. Large, fresh droppings may be a sign of a buck nearby, as they defecate shortly after they head out from their thicket.
- Rubs and scrapes: Keep an eye out for marks left behind from deer scraping the ground with their feet (after urinating, similar to a dog) and the soft fur left behind from a young buck rubbing his new antlers on a tree. Most of the time, rubs and scrapes will be found on or near travel passages.
Using trail cameras
If you have access to the land you will be hunting prior to the big day, consider setting up a trail camera or two. Trail cameras will snap pictures (or take video) when their motion sensor is activated.
Near scrapes or food sources are good spots to set up trail cameras. You can also set up a trail camera to take pictures at intervals (such as once per hour) facing a field or other spot where you expect to see deer. This tactic is useful when you don’t expect deer to be close enough to trigger your camera.
Field cameras should be set up around human waist height and at around 7 yards out from the deer path. This should be sufficient to give you an image of a passing deer’s whole body.
After you’ve identified an area where you’re likely to find deer, you can start planning your setup. Get an idea of how you plan to hide while hunting deer.
Treestands are a very effective way to keep out of the sight of deer. Treestands are essentially platforms mounted in trees as a hideout spot for hunters. They can typically be assembled quickly and quietly.
Setting up a ground blind (a type of tent that provides camouflage and a degree of shelter) is another popular option. If you are able to leave yours set up prior to hunting day, this is best. The deer will have time enough to get used to it being there.
More tricks to attract deer
- Rattling antlers together can make deer think a scuffle over a doe in heat is taking place. Other bucks may venture over to try their own luck.
- Deer calls can effectively lure deer into your area and/or get them to stand still a moment and listen. You can choose a call that sounds like a doe in heat, a buck challenging another, or a simple grunt that deer use in general communication.
- A doe decoy can sometimes draw bucks, too.
When you finally get a deer in your sights, take that shot carefully! If you aren’t confident that you can hit your target, let this one go.
You should always aim for the deer’s chest cavity. Once the heart or lungs are damaged, the deer is sure to die quickly.
While you are still new to deer hunting, always make your shots when the deer is perpendicular to your weapon. It is possible to shoot a deer effectively from different angles, but it requires precision.
Retrieving your deer
When you hit a deer it is your responsibility to find the deer and make sure it is dead.
If the deer goes down immediately after being shot, reload your weapon and be ready when you approach it, in case another shot is needed to finish it off.
If you hit a deer and it bolts, don’t chase it right away. Being chased will cause the deer to release extra adrenaline and it will run away farther and faster. This can adversely affect the flavor of the meat, making it more “gamey.”
Wait at least 15 minutes and then head for the spot where your shot landed. Follow the trail the deer left behind. Look for blood and prints heading in the direction it ran.
Many hunters will lay a marker down in the spot where they observe the first sign of the trail. Doing this lets you come back to the same spot if you lose the trail and need to start over.
Deer hunting for beginners: caring for your trophy
The first thing you need to do when you find your deer is tag it. Follow your state’s regulations exactly.
The key to amazing-tasting venison is all in how you handle the dressing process. Don’t move your deer, dress it right where it landed. This will help the meat to cool quickly and avoid that “gamey” flavor.
There are varied ways to dress a deer. Hunters tend to pick a favorite method and stick with it. We recommend checking with your state conservation agency for step-by-step literature on how to go through the process. Of course, if you are hunting with others who have their own methods down, you can get some training “in the field.”
Do be sure to avoid skin contact with the tarsal glands. These are located on the inside of a buck’s legs. They will feel oily and the offensive odor they leave behind is very difficult to get rid of.
Do not discard the deer’s head. Keep it in case a warden needs to see “proof of sex.”
Transporting your trophy
Deer are heavy! A buck can get up to 400 pounds. Unless your kill was very close to your home or vehicle and you are also very strong, enlist a friend or two to help you move the deer.
If you are transporting the deer through the woods, cover its head with something in blaze orange. This is to eliminate the chance of a hunter seeing antlers on the move and taking a shot in your direction.
Transport the deer in the back of your truck or wrapped in a tarp inside, and don’t strap it on top of the car. The less exposure to the elements, the better.
If your state requires it, head immediately over to the designated place to register your deer. Then you’ll be ready to bring your deer to the meat processor, and you’ll be enjoying some delicious venison in no time!
Enjoy the deer hunting experience
As with anything, the more experience you gain deer hunting, the more confident and proficient you will be.
From perfecting your scouting strategy to the thrill of bagging a trophy buck, deer hunting is a fun and exciting sport. Learning from experience is an important part of the process. Enjoy the journey – and all the venison you gather along the way.
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