How do I hunt deer?

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Sep 9, 2020
This is probably the stupidest question ever, but hear me out.

I grew up in a really rural community where everybody hunted. However, nobody in my family ever did. Deer was the biggest and most popular wild game that people would hunt, and it seemed like everyone had a dad or uncle that was willing to show them.

I ironically hunt all year round and eat way more wild game than most of the people in my old community (groundhogs in the summer, squirrel, snipe, pheasant, rabbit, whatever), but everything I learned about hunting I originally I picked up from friends (this was pre-youtube). They showed me how to hunt small game, birds, fish, gut, and everything else. But nobody ever passed on the torch of deer hunting. It seems like a father son thing that I just missed out on :(

I've become a very accomplished hunter (in my opinion) but never actually bagged a deer. I really would like to do it this year, but how do you actually hunt them? I've only gone a few times and here's how I normally do it:

1. Get out the first day of rifle season before the sun gets up
2. Go to a place where I saw deer earlier during small game season / during the summer
3. Find an elevated spot where I can look down at them
4. Wait and not make any noise
5. Be downwind.

I usually just do that for a series of hours, never see anything, and then just start walking through the woods on trails. I sometimes end up seeing a deer every year this way, but they're never legal to shoot. By the time doe comes in later in the year, everything is so damn spooked I never see anything.

This year they're allowing doe and buck season to run concurrently in my county. I have a doe license. Do you think I should just do what I normally have and hope I see something? Is there a better method to doing this? I'd really like to kill one this year.

Bonus question:

What do you do with it after you gut it? Do you take it to a butcher? I've seen ads for deer processing places but, with CWD, I'm afraid someoen will just throw my deer in with all the others and I'll just junk.

Maybe this is silly but this is how I've learned to hunt everything else.
I think it really depends on where you are hunting them. In the last few years I have hunted a river bottom during muzzleloader season and the foothills during rifle. In both cases, it really helps to figure out what the movement patterns of the animals is and position yourself accordingly. In the river bottom the deer bail out of the cornfields bordering the river in the hour or so after dawn and head into the thick stuff that grows by the river. You can be in the path and what them, or you can try to bump them in the thick stuff after they bed down. In the foothills the scarce resource is water, so I position myself on the obvious feeding routes that lead to the water sources.

Once you gut them and get them home, deer are a prime candidate for DIY. Skin them, quarter, and stash the resulting pieces in the fridge for a few days to a week. Then start cutting. Youtube is your friend, but it is pretty easy. You will need a meat grinder and either a vaccuum sealer or a good quality roll of plastic wrap and butcher paper.
Go to the library and read. Go to U-tube and watch. U are already half way there with your hunting skills. Find where they might hide. They come from somewhere until you see them, find out where. Look for feeding and sleeping locations. They love apples and corn. You gut them like a squirrel and you dee-bone the meat, wrap and freeze it with butcher paper. Again go to the library, or check with the NRA, or look up videos on hunting, cleaning, wrapping, freezing and cooking.
Alot of it is going to depend on where and what type of deer you're hunting. Back east in thick brush and rolling hills the techniques we used for whitetail won't work in the southwest in the plains and desert.
"That's for sure and for certain." (Quigley);)
In well over a half-century of successfully hunting deer, the only kind of deer I've hunted are mule deer, and the only place I've hunted them in is Idaho. But since the invention of the internet, which eventually led to my participation on THR, I've figured out that hunting mule deer in the mountains and deserts of Idaho bears little resemblance to hunting whitetails in the thick trees and brush of the forests back east.
For example, as I stated in another post, I've never even seen a tree-stand, much less a deer-blind for real. I've seen pictures of them, but both would be less than useless for hunting deer in Idaho - even though there's getting to be a few whitetails here.
Nevertheless, to answer a couple of the OP questions: I use to like getting up very early, and after breakfast climbing to saddle before daybreak, sitting down, being quiet, and waiting. If I don't get a deer that morning, I might very well go back to camp, get a little rest, and be back up on the side of that saddle, or another saddle at dusk.
Unfortunately, age and infirmities have caught up to my wife and me, so most of our deer hunting was done from the road this year, And we didn't wander very far from the truck either. We still did okay - I shot a small buck.
That's about normal - between us, we usually only kill one deer per year. Which BTW, is a lot different than what I've read about whitetail hunting back east where there's a lot of deer. In Idaho, only 1 in 3 deer hunters kill a deer - even in a good year.
As far as butchering deer goes, we do our own. We don't have a meat saw though, so we bone out most of the meat and make a lot of burger. We have a meat grinder attachment for our old Kitchen Aid mixer, and we mix ground venison 50/50 with the cheapest ground beef we can find. Either that, or we mix ground venison 50/50 with ground pork and throw in some seasonings for venison/pork sausage patties, which we pre-cook and freeze.
22 seconds in the microwave gives you one delicious, piping hot, pre-cooked and frozen, venison/pork sausage patty. Tomorrow is Sunday, so my wife will be fixing me French Toast and a venison/pork sausage patty for breakfast.:D
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Find sign. A tree stand helps. Sit in the stand and dont move until a deer walks by.

Itll take a while to learn to see deer in the woods. You should be looking for the flicker of an ear, glint of antler etc. Its kind of like squirrel hunting. If you look for a whole deer you’ll never see one.
In the East, a good beginner technique is find a game trail and sit about 30 yds away from it. Ideally, you should also be able to see a ways up and down that trail. Make sure the wind is in your face. You should see animals at least but they may not be bucks of any size.

Sort of a joke but also kind of true: make sure you can take a shot behind you where you don’t expect them to be because that is where they will go. Haha.
In the East, a good beginner technique is find a game trail and sit about 30 yds away from it. Ideally, you should also be able to see a ways up and down that trail. Make sure the wind is in your face. You should see animals at least but they may not be bucks of any size.

Sort of a joke but also kind of true: make sure you can take a shot behind you where you don’t expect them to be because that is where they will go. Haha.

Another sort of joke: always keep your rifle in with you, even when you are leaving a little part of yourself in the woods, so to speak. Have had the herd walk up on me literally with my pants down.
Figure out the food sources and water sources. Be in between food and water early morning and right at dark. Somewhere with cedars or some other smelly natural scent to help cover your scent is helpful. If you put all of that together with a natural funnel of some sort your chances jump dramatically. Look for something like a fallen tree that provides cover while crossing a narrow field, or a spot where a fence is down making for an easy spot to cross. Stay 40 or 50 yards out of it but overlooking that spot and just see what comes trotting along.
I usually just do that for a series of hours, never see anything, and then just start walking through the woods on trails. I sometimes end up seeing a deer every year this way, but they're never legal to shoot. By the time doe comes in later in the year, everything is so damn spooked I never see anything. This year they're allowing doe and buck season to run concurrently in my county. I have a doe license. Do you think I should just do what I normally have and hope I see something? Is there a better method to doing this? I'd really like to kill one this year.

Well it's a bit late to start to have you really "up to speed" this year but, I think some things will help.

GET THIS BOOK; READ IT....The Still Hunter by Theodore Van Dyke. He was Teddy Roosevelt's guide, and Teddy wasn't a slouch as a hunter so if this guy was good enough to guide for The President, then he knew a few things.


This is what my copy looks like but there are a bunch of different covers as it's been reprinted a lot.

See I had all the problems that you describe. Then I got the book, which was written at a time when the Winchester '73 in .44-40 was a very popular cartridge, and that's what Van Dyke uses often in the book. Well ignore his cartridge choice, and concentrate on his lessons on what the deer are doing to avoid you and how YOU can spot them, and get a shot. The book was written also before store-bought cover scents, or lures, or even before camouflage clothing, but getting close was possible then, and possible now.

BEWARE on using YouTube..., any expert can post there..., and so can any clod-hopper, and I've seen a lot of folks who aren't going to help you if you follow their advice, and a lot of myths.

Spend as many hours in the field as possible during the rut.

YES Spend a lot of time in the woods for about a year applying the lessons that you learn from the book. Don't just limit yourself to The Rut.

The rut is a good time, but the problem with the rut is the bucks get super stupid so it's not the same as other times of the year..., or you're going later in the year for doe..., then learning how to get near them and how to see them before they see you is what you need to do. Part of that is movement, and part of that is knowing wind direction. You can learn to do both.

After reading the book and trying stuff out, I found I could get much closer to deer, I saw a whole lot more ( and found I had been strolling by a lot of them as I moved in the woods; I was surprised I hadn't heard them snickering at me...) and I started to harvest deer.

Give it a try.

This is another good book (actually a series of books) on whitetail habits and habitats.

Ken Nordberg has been helping me put venison in the freezer since I was 16. That's over 40 years. OK, I haven't got one every year, and some years more than one. But I always have venison, and reading his books, learning deer anatomy, and maintaining a high level of accuracy in shooting are what puts it there.
If you are successful at hunting squirrels, the same techniques will take deer. Finding a good stand is a trick. Learning to spot deer in the woods before they spot you is a trick. Learn the trails and the routes deer take for escape. In many pressured areas, after gun season starts, these are much better than trails to food and water because the deer go nocturnal unless they are pushed. As for whether to butcher your own or pay to have it done, it comes down to if you have the time and space to do it yourself. Many processors will guarantee your own deer.
Make sure that they do guarantee it, if you decide to have it processed. I brought my first deer to a butcher shop in St. Paul that was famous for doing venison, and got some of my venison back, mixed with other deer. I have not brought one of my deer to a commercial concern since. My oldest son's first buck went to a shop I had come to trust for good work (they did my father-in-law's steers) and we did get back his deer, and only his deer. His first deer, a small doe he got with his bow, we did in the pole barn at the farm. I wanted to be sure he knew how to do it, but he wanted the buck done at a shop. My son now works in a meat processor plant on the farm he's employed by, so I know where to go if I need a deer done and don't want to do it myself. Matter of fact, as I write this he's on his way over here with some hamburger and venison.
I’m not a experienced hunter either more self taught however I really enjoy tracking animals, I bring good Binoculars and move slowly. Every step will provide a new prospective of view. Sometimes it’s a tree with a hump on the side that turns out to be a “rump” or a dark skinny stump with ears!
I had one of them “ smart deer” yesterday that doubled back on me. Pictured below are just a few from this week
I’m having a blast tracking critters


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I would really encourage everyone to butcher at least one deer. They simply aren't that hard to do and you have the satisfaction of knowing it is done the way you want it and that you are getting your deer. I generally give it 3 to 7 days in the fridge, then I do the ribcage/back one day. A quarter or two the next day. The remainder the day after that. When it is all done, I package up the stew meat in 2 pound bits and run the grind pile through the meat grinder. No biggie and I do it on the kitchen table.
I have never paid someone to cut up a deer; I am not a butcher, but it isn't hard to cut the backstraps, out, cut up meat for stew, use a grinder adding some pork butt to make pan sausage, etc.
We really need to know what state and terrain you're hunting, as there are different tactics.

You are on the right general track. Deer require lots of time sitting and being patient. You do need to sit in the right place though, and seasonal patterns, weather changes, food sources, baiting if legal (or done illegally by others) and especially hunting pressure will radically change these patterns. The basic goal is to attempt to take an educated guess how these factors will move deer in your woods, then use the terrain to your advantage to find "funnels," that is areas of concentrated deer movement, to increase your odds. This is really the trick, putting yourself within range of a legal deer, then shooting it cleanly without spooking it away. More on that later.

Know deer natural habits. They are Crepuscular, meaning most active at sunrise and sunset. You're on track targeting these timeframes. They tend to hole up in heavy cover during the day. In more open terrain, they may act more like antelope or elk and do the opposite, bedding in open expanses of grassland with a commanding view downwind. You'll have little luck stalking them in bedrooms. It can be done, but is extra difficult. Best bet is to ambush them between bedding and feeding areas. Bedding to feeding in PM, Feeding to Bedding in AM. Moonlight will affect this. They'll actively feed all night in good moonlight, will tend to move more in feeding mode in daylight with little or no moon. Use this to advantage. Hunting pressure will tend to minimize their daylight movement, but will also push bedded deer to new areas of heavy cover. Moving in daylight, they tend to stay in forested cover as much as possible. On public land, my favorite hunts are in openings such as swaths of large mature trees, powerlines, pipelines, or clearcuts that cross between areas of heavy cover. The goal here is to catch deer that are pressured into moving by other hunters or hormones (rut behavior is another wildcard). I hunt a lot of tree stumps and folding chairs. I do not like to anchor myself to a "spot." Public land deer especially require constant adaptation based on observation.

Now to the "later" part. You finally have a legal deer in range. DONT snap your rifle to shoulder to look through the scope. Be patient, calm, deliberate. Painfully slow movements are key. If the deer is temporarily obscured by cover, here is your chance to shuffle quietly for your shot. Deer see movement especially well, even when apparently looking away (their peripheral vision is amazing). Wait for the deer to be partially screened. If you hear them coming, you should already be positioned with rifle on the ready. If the deer snaps to attention and looks at you, you're in a staring contest. Be calm, patient, and most importantly still, any movement will spook them. If you have the shot, take it NOW. They have a short memory, and will usually go back to what they were doing but with a heightened awareness if they don't wind you. If they appear downwind, you will not win the staring contest. Your best bet is to quickly shoulder the rifle, aim, and fire. There is usually enough hesitation in a deer to allow this if you are a good snap shooter.

Don't be afraid to butcher your own deer. Watch some videos, print a pamphlet to have a hard copy on hand while cutting meat. Trim and grind your mistakes and learn from them, venison chilly, tacos, and spaghetti are awesome.

Welcome to your new lifelong addiction, hobby, frustration. Be sure to mentor some other new deer hunters once you become an old hand.
I have never paid someone to cut up a deer; I am not a butcher, but it isn't hard to cut the backstraps, out, cut up meat for stew, use a grinder adding some pork butt to make pan sausage, etc.

I separate out the different roasts in the hindquarters and depending on the piece either leave them as whole roasts or slice into steaks. Youtube is your friend. The shanks I leave whole and braise (yum!) and the front quarters I either cut for stew or leave whole and make pot roast.
If you are a novice deer hunter you need to look for and understand deer poop. There's places where deer travel and there's places where deer spend a lot of time. If deer are traveling their poop will be scattered down a trail in salt and pepper fashion because they are pooping as they walk. If you are finding deer poop in clumps and loose piles you are in a place where the deer spend a lot of time and that is the place to hunt. Hunt where you find a lot of poop and you will find the deer. Deer poop in clumps where the individual pieces are flattened and stuck together indicate a large buck. If I was doing a five day hunt in a new area I would rather have three days scouting and two days hunting than to just go out and hunt for five days. The five items you listed are great but you need to locate the deer before you execute your plan. No matter how big or small the property that you hunt there is one place on that property where you can go and see every deer without changing locations. The reason for having several stand locations is to keep the wind in your face and the sun at your back.
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Like others have said, it depends on where you are and the terrain you're in.
I do it a few different ways in Arkansas.

I have a ladder stand in some hardwoods bottoms with a creek and pond close by. It's great when the acorns are falling, no need to feed it up.
I hunt a box blind for those really cold days. The blind looks down a 250-300 yard shooting lane and I take 100 pounds of corn and pour out a pile at every game trail that crosses the lane.
Then, after the first week of season, we run hounds in the middle of the day. That's an experience all of its own.

As far as butchering it, I don't take them to a processor. I refuse to pay $80-$100 for someone to do it. It's not that hard.
I am not a pro by any means but I have been managing to get a deer every year for awhile now and I came from the same camp as you where I decided to start deer hunting as an adult and didn't have any mentors. If you can bag small game you have the skills, you just have to learn how to apply them.

My very first deer hunt I went and hunted an uncles farm and did the family deer drive. I had fun, but I learned absolutely nothing because I stood where I was told, pushed when I was told etc and basically just followed directions the whole weekend. Some of the stuff they did was because that's what worked best on that farm, some of it was how they liked to do things. When I started hunting on my own the terrain was different the deer behaved differently etc. I just had to make my mistakes and persevere.

The number one mistake I see folks make is how they get to their hunting spot. Its great to pay attention to the wind when you are sitting, but you also have to pay attention to the wind when you are walking in. The areas I hunt are all farmland where patches of woods are left because of poor soil, poor drainage etc. You don't have forest, so much as you have 2-5 acre patches of trees scattered out between bean fields. Its natural to put a tree stand in there, or on the edge of one and just park in the same spot and walk in the same way every time. If you aren't approaching from downwind, you are letting the deer know its time to leave before you ever make it to your stand. The same thing applies in actual forest areas, you have to travel in a manner that doesn't alert the deer before they are in range. Think of it like rabbit hunting on a bigger scale. If you're in brush where you can only see 20ft you don't make enough noise to kick the rabbits up 100 yards ahead.

The 2nd thing, at least in my experience is don't get talked into buying a bunch of doe urine, decoys, scent blocker etc. While I am not saying that this stuff doesn't ever work, I think most people use it in a manner that actually lowers their odds. The more you tramp around setting decoys, placing sent etc. the more opportunities you have to give yourself away. The more you spend on scent locking clothes, special soap, scent and UV blocking sprays etc. the more likely you are to think you can just waltz in from whichever way the wind blows. I try to avoid it but I have shot deer wearing carharts that reeked of diesel fuel and grease. I think its better just to play the wind than it is to figure out which air freshener is the deer's favorite :D
Forgot to add. I butcher my own deer. I don't trust a processor to keep them all separate and I don't want to spend the money. It really isn't hard to do and you don't need much more than the knife you used to field dress with to get started.
What works for me out west here is quite a bit different than back east, to that I'm sure. In our rugged units out here if one is not on foot covering ground, with sporadic stops to glass and listen one will have hard time getting on game. It takes learning an area, understanding the habits of the game, and mapping out key spots over years of hunting to be perennially successful out here.
I’m not disagreeing or disparaging any previous comments. Get an experienced trusted mentor who hunts in your area. Do you know anyone who hunts deer? He may not be eager to take you to his special spot, but take him out for steak dinner and pick his brain. Do you know anyone who allows hunting on their property? Offer to do some grunt work in exchange for hunting privileges, and scout it out in the off season.

Strategy? Be quiet, be still. Keep the wind in your face. I’ve taken more deer at sunset than at any other time of the day. Use a tree stand if you can.. Make a “grunt” sound to get the deer to stop walking or running for a better shot. It’s easy to aim too far back because we unconsciously go for the center of the “target.” Hit it above the front leg and you won’t have to track it far. I don’t consider myself to be very skilled, I’m just persistent and keep going into the woods until a deer wanders in front of me. Be patient and persistent. A day without deer just means you get to go again! :)
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