If you’re embarking on the sport of whitetail deer hunting for the first time, you should know that you’re joining quite a club.
For centuries, both Americans and their Native American forebears relied on this graceful creature for sustenance.
When unsustainable hunting practices in the 20th century threatened the very existence of the whitetail deer, strict—and needful—conservation measures have allowed the deer population to rebound—so much so that many states now face what’s been referred to as a “deer infestation.”
The results are frequent car accidents from deer crossings, high occurrences of Lyme disease in humans, and deer starvation.
That’s why it’s so important to separate fact from anthropomorphic sensationalism found in movies like Bambi. Hunters provide a necessary service, not only to mankind, but also to the ecosystems they help balance.
By staying within the boundaries set forth by conscientious conservationists and game wardens, hunters aren’t just filling the freezer: They’re dressing and keeping the woods and fields healthy and safe.
So, with any needless guilt removed, let’s talk about what you need before you go deer hunting for the first time.
Should you just head out to the woods behind the house and hope you get something?
Do you really need all the hunting paraphernalia the big stores say are a must?
Is there anything you need to know to stay out of trouble?
No, no, and yes.
There’s plenty you need to know. In fact, knowledge is the greatest need you have. After all, early pioneers had very little gear, but they were rich in knowledge, and as a result, they were great hunters of necessity.
With a little knowledge, you can be a successful hunter too.
- Safety First.
Before you do anything, you need to take a hunter’s safety course and get registered. There’s nothing so dangerous as a hunter who refuses to take hunting seriously or come under the authority of the powers that be.
In your safety course, you’ll find a wealth of knowledge that you’d be crippled without as a hunter. Sure, your granddaddy may have passed on some valuable advice, but there’s no substitute for taking the classes that are required of every other hunter.
2. Start Small.
If you’re new to hunting in general and not just deer hunting, you may want to start smaller.
Go squirrel or rabbit hunting to get your bearings of how it feels to be out in the woods, stalking your prey, and shooting it.
Those first-time jitters can hinder your success, so it’s a good idea to get them out of the way before you go deer hunting.
3.Keep It Simple.
While you may be tempted by the aisles and aisles of necessary-sounding gadgets and gimmicks, the truth is that not much of it is absolute necessity.
That cool HD Essential Trail Camera? Not necessary. Doe urine? Not really. Safety orange and registration card? Don’t leave home without them.
4.Know the Rules.
One of the most important reasons to complete your hunter’s safety course is to learn the rules in your area.
Are you allowed to sow oats to attract whitetail? What about setting out mineral blocks? Can you use rifles? What about crossbows? How much orange are you required to wear?
All these are vital questions that need answers before you ever start.
5.Choose Your Weapon.
Once you know what’s allowed in your area, you should choose a weapon.
Make sure, especially if you’re new to hunting in general, to get the advice of a veteran hunter before making any large purchases.
That expensive compound bow may make you feel like Robin Hood, but a rifle’s learning curve is much more comfortable.
If you already have a firearm but use it for home defense, there’s a chance it doubles as a hunting rifle. Here’s a list of rifles that function well for both home defense and hunting.
6.Find a Good Spot.
Obviously, the next greatest concern will be where you’re going to hunt. Not only do you need to get permission from the owner of the land, but you also need to thoroughly understand the boundaries of the property.
It also helps to walk the property a few times before hunting season to familiarize yourself with the deer patterns and behavior.
Just walking through the woods early a few different mornings will give you invaluable awareness for when it’s time to hunt—not to mention, a no pressure stroll like that is hard to beat for relaxation.
7.Take the Shot.
Once the big day arrives, make sure you’re outfitted properly with camo, orange, and warm socks. Above all, remember your registration. When you’re set and you’ve spotted the deer, take the shot.
Choosing when to take the shot is not always easy. Of course, you’ll want the way clear of obstruction. What do you do, though, when you’ve got a perfect broadside shot of a doe, but the other day you saw a regal 16-pointer?
While everybody wants a trophy and a story, the truth is that if you’re after meat, you want a deer that will taste good. If you’re in the early season, you might want to seek a young buck since they’re relaxed and well fed.
Does in the early season might be feeding babies, and might not be as tasty. In the late season, does may taste better since the young ones have been weaned, while the bucks have been fighting over females and may be more stressed.
The main thing is to get a clean kill that doesn’t stress the animal. You don’t want to watch the animal suffer through a difficult kill, and the meat will taste bad from the stress hormones.
8.Follow the Trail
Once you’ve hit the animal, chances are it will move from its position before you can go after it. Carefully dismount the tree stand if you have one and look for blood in the brush.
You’ll want to locate your animal before it crosses into other property, or you’ll have to contact the owner for permission to avoid trespassing. Once you’ve shot an animal, it’s your responsibility to do all you can see it’s recovered and removed.
When you find the trail, find something to mark the trail so if you lose it, you can go back to this point. Once you locate the animal, always poke it with your weapon before approaching to make sure it’s dead. Then, tag your animal according to the laws in your state.
9.Lastly, Dress the Harvest.
Dressing out game is where the work starts. Make sure you bring a sharp knife to remove the entrails to make packing out the deer both easier and more pleasant. You’ll also wish you’d brought a friend along at this point.
By following these tips, you can look forward to a great harvest. Happy hunting!