One key to a successful deer hunt: Preparation

Photo by Jesse White: Abby White poses with a trophy 8 point buck she harvested on opening morning of the 2021 Firearms Deer Season.

One of my favorite things about deer hunting isn’t the hunt itself but the preparation, scouting, and pre-season work that goes into (hopefully) creating a successful season and memories that will last forever.

It’s an important part of the overall tradition that some hunters to prioritize.

Too many people hit the woods on opening day of the firearms season, plop themselves in a deer stand they haven’t seen for a year and hope something walks by.

And when nothing happens — when the season produces no memories and no venison — too many lay the blame on the usual suspects like The Department of Natural Resources or wolves or some combination of both.

The truth is, at the end of the day it is the preparation that pays the dividends.

Like most things in life, if you want something bad enough — if you want to succeed — you have to earn it.

Sure, there’s some luck involved. Just like with anything else in life, sometimes being in the right place at the right time is all it takes to get by.

It’s also true that sometimes the best laid plans lead to nothing.

But if you want to succeed at something more than you fail, then you have to put in the work, and trust that it will pay off more than it doesn’t.

It’s like pot odds in poker. It’s not about the big splash, but the long game.

Deer hunting is no different. Spending as much time outdoors where you hunt is one very important key to consistent success in November.

Lucky for me, I love that part of it and for the better part of 25 years I’ve basically been paid to report and write about it.

I try to spend every free moment I have studying the woods where my family and I hunt.

Watching the landscape change from spring, to summer, to fall, to winter, is fascinating to me, particularly the way the routes traveled by whitetails changes (sometimes) with the seasons.

I study this stuff meticulously, walking the trails as much as possible and keying in on the little hints deer leave behind so I can learn where and when and why they travel the ways they do.

I make it my business to know their business so when the firearms season opens, my family and I are prepared to see some action and if we do see some action, and someone gets a shot at a deer, I have a pretty good idea where to look for the fallen animal.

It doesn’t always work out as planned.

Over the years I’ve had seasons where I’ve seen no deer. Other seasons I’ve harvested big bucks that appeared out of nowhere in the last place I would have expected.

Most times, however, the season ends in some sort of success.

This year the work paid off for my daughter Abby, who bagged a trophy buck of a lifetime within a couple hours of the season opening Nov. 6.

There’s no real exciting story to share, nothing happened out of the ordinary. But things did work out as planned.

We knew there was a big, mature buck roaming the property since the end of last season. He showed up on one of my field cameras at 3 a.m. on Christmas morning last December, the beautiful antlers on his head held up by a thick neck.

The alpha of the area, no doubt, and sire to many of the other bucks caught on camera since that morning. Their shared features are undeniable.

He had made several appearances on camera over the winter, spring and summer, but had disappeared sometime before September.

But it was obvious he had been roaming the area. His calling cards as we neared the start of the season were some serious rubs and scrapes that, based on previous scouting and planning, quickly became a fuzzy roadmap of his travels.

Still, while it was clear there was a decent sized buck roaming the area, his trail wasn’t pronounced.

Interestingly enough, one final clue was found the day before the opener as I did one final scouting mission in search of a last minute sign. I found that sign less than 50 yards from a stand no one has spent much time in or really planned to use on day one.

When I let my daughter know what I had discovered, a fresh rub on a small tree, she made the decision to set up camp there the next day.

That rub also helped the rest of us decide how we would approach the opener, each heading into the dark woods towards stands that weren’t located in areas that we felt wouldn’t disturb the buck (based on sign) but could be a location he might appear at should he decide to visit.

Three hours into the hunt the familiar pop of my daughter’s Savage .243 let us know someone had chosen wisely. Her text less than a minute later, “Big one,” once the first indication that the preseason work had maybe paid off.

When we found the deer — a thick antlered, eight-point buck, that is now the unofficial official biggest deer anyone in my family hunting party has ever harvested — it was proof positive.

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