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Old March 14, 2013, 12:29 PM   #1
Join Date: May 16, 2000
Location: Washington state
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Hunting Skills

Hi guys,

For reasons of my own, I'd like to make a list of the skills a deer hunter needs & uses on a successful hunt. Obviously, being able to hit where you aim is one part of the skills you guys use, but equally obviously, that's not all there is to it (or every beginning hunter would fill the freezer on the first time out).

Specifically, I'm thinking about things such as:
  • Deer behavior (finding the deer, knowing where to set up your stand, lots more in this category)
  • Deer anatomy (knowing where to aim for clean kills)
  • Tracking skills -- incl both before & after shooting
  • Judging the distance / angle of the shot, knowing which shots to pass up
  • Field cleaning
  • How to drag the carcass out of the woods
  • How to cut up the carcass & store the meat for use

Etc, etc, etc. I'm sure there are many more I haven't thought of, since I haven't hunted since high school (and it was someone else's hunt then).

Can you help me out? What knowledge and skills help make your hunts successful?

Kathy Jackson
My personal website: Cornered Cat
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Old March 14, 2013, 12:53 PM   #2
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I think some things are often overlooked:

1. Persistence. Giving up after a day or two doesn't lend itself to success. For example, in AZ most hunts are 1 week long and they start on Friday. The vast majority of hunters only hunt Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning, then head home Sunday afternoon. You can't kill one if you aren't hunting! Guys who are successful hunt as much of the season as they possibly can.

2. Maximize your hunting time. Hunt while you are hunting. Goes along with persistence but is different. A lot of guys, especially new guys I take out, get bored easily and start screwing around and/or stop paying attention to the hunt. Guys who are successful spend their time looking for game the whole day, not just a few hours during "peak times." They don't spend all day napping* or checking Facebook on their cell phones.

3. Scouting. It helps a whole lot to know how/where to hunt.

4. Be ready. Try to mimimize the time it takes you from spot to shot. Anything you have to do to get ready to shoot takes time that the deer or game animal may not offer you. I try to carry my rifle as opposed to slinging it when possible. Have accessories like rangefinders or shooting sticks handy- you may not have time to fumble around for them. I try to stay as ready-to-shoot as possible. I've learned over time that the more ready I am, the more animals I shoot. I've seen several get away due to the hunter not being ready.

*Napping is an important part of hunting. But, there is a balance
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Last edited by huntinaz; March 14, 2013 at 01:09 PM.
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Old March 14, 2013, 12:53 PM   #3
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1) How to use the wind.
2) How to not smell like a human.
(But in case you do smell like a human, go back to number 1)

I am a climbing stand hunter so I need to know how to self-rescue if there is a fall, or even falling onto a safety sling.

You need to know how to get into your spot before daylight, the woods do not look the same in the dark.
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Old March 14, 2013, 01:02 PM   #4
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I think what skills are important depends on where and how you hunt. For folks that hunt on small parcels with limited or no access to the surrounding areas, the amount of skills needed for relative success is much lower than someone hunting large areas of public land with varying terrain and natural food sources. This is especially true if the small parcels are in Ag type land or bait/feeders and food plots are used. In the larger areas of varied terrain, basic outdoor/woodsmanship skills are the most important, as not losing your way, and reading the woods itself are utmost. Knowing how to read impending weather is as important as reading animal sign. Small areas of 200 acres or less, where you can always see a road, a house or a fence, losing your way, even in the dark is impossible and dragging a deer out generally means gettin' the truck or ATV. If a nasty storm rolls in, one is safely home or in their vehicle in a matter of a few minutes. Small parcels, stand placement is generally not near as important, because you can generally cover the entire acreage with one or two hunters, or at least see where on the land the animals are moving from even a poorly placed stand. This is not the case on areas that are measured in square miles or sections. Again, in these scenarios, basic outdoor/woodsmanship skills will show you if and where the animals are and how they move from one area to another. This does not take deer specific skills. Same goes for tracking/blood trailing. If you can see where a squirrel has run thru freshly fallen leaves, tracking a deer thru snow is pretty easy. On small parcels, deer movements and travel lanes change little from one season to another. If they do, there ain't much you can do about it cause most times you have to hunt there anyway. On large parcels, where the animals are, can change in miles from one year to the next...again, basic woodsmanship skills will tell you this. Folks have been makin' money, sellin' books and magazines for years tellin' us that they have a new secret for being a successful deer hunter. Most times it's the same ol basic knowledge that's been around since man hunted them with stick and string only.
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Old March 14, 2013, 02:28 PM   #5
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May I suggest having a thorough knowlege of the regs and case law associated with the regs?

The hunt isn't successful if DOW seizes your truck, ATV, rifle and future earnings.

(After taking Colorado Hunter Safety I realized that there were more regs/conditions and exceptions to deal with than I could possibly keep straight to stay out of trouble. )
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Old March 14, 2013, 04:18 PM   #6
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Mmmm, hadn't even thought about the regs.

Keep the tips coming, please!

How do you find your hunting areas? Do you just randomly knock on farmhouse doors, or what?

Kathy Jackson
My personal website: Cornered Cat
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Old March 14, 2013, 04:19 PM   #7
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Knowing how to dress for the weather is essential to persistance as mentioned above.

You're desire to stay in the stand/blind/trail will diminish as the level of physical discomfort increases.

Dressing to fight the cold, or to stay cool, is just as intregal to a successful hunt as the right camo pattern, accurate rifle, and doe in heat urine, if not more so.

Also, I feel a minimum of wilderness survival skills should be mandated in state hunter safety coures, something akin to the Boy Scout first class rank.
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Old March 14, 2013, 05:59 PM   #8
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Everything you need to know about animal behavior and tactics can be learned from books and film......What most hunters fail to learn is how to sit still for long periods of time, minimize movement, emit no smells or noises, scan surroundings for wildlife. Learn to go without food and liquids for minimal bathroom stops. Endure all weather scenarios and stay focused on the hunt. Patience, patience, and patience........
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Old March 14, 2013, 06:10 PM   #9
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One thing that is overlooked by newbies - in a "tight cover" area you hunt as much by sound as you do by sight. That means minimizing your sound and learning to listen to the sounds of nature. For instance, that squirrel that just started barking a 100 yds away - is he barking at his shadow, a deer, a predator, another human?
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Old March 14, 2013, 06:37 PM   #10
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Land navigation:

Easy to track critters in circles only to find out when you've downed your quarry, you have no idea where you are or how to get back where you started.

Not just GPS. Map and compass. Batteries die when you need them most.
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Old March 14, 2013, 07:26 PM   #11
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In addition to plain map and compass, a little bit of dead reckoning navigation is helpful, such as being able to determine cardinal directions without the aid of a compass, how to use a few stars depending on your latitude, that sorta thing.
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Old March 14, 2013, 07:45 PM   #12
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That's where I'm at also, as the good Captain stated, Topo maps of area to be hunted, also contact Fish and Game, DNR, etc. in state of hunt and ask them where the best prospects are for your desired game.
Now we're all set we have a map and an understanding of where the densest herd of game is in the state (where you want to hunt), Scouting the area should be a main focus not only a week or two before the hunt but literally months, I'm looking for Escape Routes, usually its a low place in an adjoining property or different terrain that funnels animals a certain way... Then scout those at all times of the day to find the sweet spot in the day.

Mostly the funnest part is the adrenalin rush from actually seeing the game your hunting, try focusing on that point in the back of your mind for a while.
Shooting technique should be sharp whereas you will be able to ( at any position) hit within MOA of your desired target, be it a shoulder blade or just behind the shoulder for a vital hit on game. My #2 son says keep your knife razor sharp, cause if you hunt like we do you'll need it.
Thanks for coming!
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Old March 14, 2013, 08:13 PM   #13
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1)Obviously, scout your proposed hunting area to insure deer are in the area your going to hunt.

2)Learn your hardwood (nut) trees and know what the deer are eating on in your area.

3)It's very easy to get all excited when you shoot at your first deer. You need to remember where you shot from, where the deer was standing, which way it ran and the last point you saw it as it ran out of sight.

4) Unless you drop a deer right in its tracks with a sure killing shot, do not start trailing your deer to early. If I know I made a good shot with a shotgun/bp(not allowed rifle in Ohio) and deer runs out of sight, I usually wait 45mins. to an hour before I start tracking. If I'm not sure of shot, I'll wait as much as two hrs. before trailing and if it happens to be in the evening, I'll wait till morning before trailing.

5) Carry something to mark your blood trail with. I carry toilet paper(TP deteriorates) and tear small pieces to mark each drop. If you make a high shot, your deer may just spot blood for a good distance. Looking back at the string of TP gives you a general idea of the direction the deer is heading in case you loose the trail.

6) Walk beside your blood trail while marking it. Not on the trail.
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Old March 14, 2013, 08:16 PM   #14
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Finding Deer - Going with what I have learned hunting around here and others hunting this area, They like the highest elevation they can find in this stretch of woods. On most days during deer season, one can walk out to this high point, sit in a stand for a couple of hours and see deer. This spot has been a sort of generational breeding ground. Walking around there are game trails. Look for fresh tracks, tree scrapes, patches of scraped up ground and any other deer sign.

I prefer to hunt when the wind is low, when the wind is up they like to go to low points and the gullies through the property to get out of the wind. Usually though, we have pretty mild wind.

Look for large stands of hardwood trees, learn to identify white and red oak trees. Earlier in the season they prefer white oak acorns, and later into the colder months they forage on around the red oaks. On the topic of where to put a stand. A good section of white and red oak trees on the top of a hill is where I would try to put a stand. Would also consider briar patches in this stand of trees to be a positive as the deer actually eat and use it for cover. Has some frustrating experiences approaching a stand amongst a briar patch in the morning and got busted about 4 times approaching the stand in the morning.

Try to know the area you are hunting, the more you can scout the better your situation will be.

One of the most important things is learning to be patient and to sit very very still. If you are hunting in thick woods like we have here in Georgia, hunting with your ears is as important if not more important than hunting with your eyes. Deer are quiet, but I can usually hear them before I see them. As you sit in the woods, close your eyes and just listen. Take in the multitude of sounds, take note of what makes each sounds. It takes a discerning ear to distinguish a brown thrasher tossing dry leaves around apart from a squirrel digging through leaves for acorns or from a deer walking on the leaves. The deer is usually a lot more subtle than the first two mentioned but they all make noise and you will usually hear them all before you will see them.
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Old March 14, 2013, 09:23 PM   #15
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For any kind of stalking hunting, learning how to walk is part of the deal. Critters don't march; they don't walk with regular steps.

I glance out in front on the ground, checking for where I'll put my feet in the next two to four steps. I then go back to looking around, back to hunting as I take the steps. That way, I don't go along looking at my feet, and I don't step on limbs or rolling rocks and make noise.

I work into the wind, move for a minute or three and stand for a few minutes before easing along.

I've done this in the Appalachicola River bottomland jungle below Blountstown, Florida. Deer, hogs...

While that works fairly well for white tail in fairly thick cover, for mule deer down in my desert mountains, it's just the opposite. Move along fairly fast, make a racket, and try to kick Bambi out of bed. Desert mule deer will practically make you step on them before jumping out. Worse than a covey of quail--and a lot bigger!

Bucks generally bed down just below the downwind crest of a ridge, and near a saddle. If something's coming up from below, they can see or hear. If from behind, they have the wind in their favor. When spooked, they'll run uphill and upwind, through the nearest saddle where there is more brush.

But, overall, just getting out in the boonies a bit before daylight or in late afternoon and just sitting and watching for an hour or two will tell a person a lot about what critters do.
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Old March 14, 2013, 09:36 PM   #16
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This has been mentioned several times but is a very broad statement. Regardless of your type of hunting (small plots, big woods, farms, and so on) getting to know your area and the deer you're hunting is in my opinion is the jump off point for new hunters.

Technology such as trail cameras are great but really show the small picture of what's happening in a very small area. I think new hunters need to put their time in the field. Walking property or glassing to see where and when deer are moving and why are so important. Where are the bedding areas? Where are the food sources? Where are the escape routes when the [schtuff] hits the fan?

After you have a general idea of whats going on then pin point areas that have the most predominant deer sign.

As, others have mentioned there is a ton of information that you can get from books, videos, and the internet but, nothing promotes woodsmanship better than being in the woods.
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Deer are amazing please don't burn the sauteed onions and I'll pass on the steak sauce, thank you.

Last edited by Spats McGee; March 17, 2013 at 09:16 PM.
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Old March 15, 2013, 06:21 AM   #17
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Not sure if it was mentioned, but a discussion on clothing is warranted. By clothing I mean boots, socks, how to layer, jackets, head wear, ect.

No one needs the latest camo pattern to get a deer, but, if you aren't warm and can't spend quality time in the woods, that hurts your chances.

Cartridge and basic rifle set up might be worth mentioning as well.
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Old March 15, 2013, 10:45 AM   #18
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And as for type of clothing, some is quiet and some is noisy. Old, nearly-worn-out khakis are quiet. Wool is quiet. Newish jeans are noisy. Any sort of hard cloth is noisy. Camo coveralls come to mind.

You don't want that "Weep, weep" sound when waling through tall grass or when easing through brush.

I hunt in dry country, so I prefer no-tread crepe-soled boots. Russell BirdHunters or RedWing Twenty-Mile. They make sneaky-snaking a lot easier.
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Old March 15, 2013, 03:45 PM   #19
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These two books were very helpful for me. They're available from amazon.


Fire up the grill! Deer hunting IS NOT catch and release.
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Old March 15, 2013, 04:41 PM   #20
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Land navigation:

Easy to track critters in circles only to find out when you've downed your quarry, you have no idea where you are or how to get back where you started.

Not just GPS. Map and compass. Batteries die when you need them most.
Don't get lost. Be prepared. Winter camping taught a bunch of skills used in deer hunting.
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Old March 16, 2013, 01:38 AM   #21
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I'm not a blind/stand hunter. I'm a stalker. I take off into the mountains, and may cover 10+ miles in a day, trying to find my prey. I don't know if that's what you're looking for, but I figured I'd try to add some generalized (and hopefully short) responses here:

Deer behavior (finding the deer, knowing where to set up your stand, lots more in this category)
-Every area is different, and the animals may spontaneously change their travel routes and habits on a weekly basis. Experience and knowledge of the area really come into play. Being able to read a topo map is a great head start, but actually seeing the land that topo map represents can turn all of your preconceived notions upside down, due to unforeseen circumstances.
"Hot Spots" are always a good thing to hone in on: wallows, isolated water holes, "super highway" game trails, bedding areas with massive amounts of use, mineral-rich soil, or anything else that may be important in the area.
Choke points can almost always be used to a hunters advantage, too (this is one of those times where being able to read a topo map can give you a head start in locating such a feature).
Most importantly.... Deer, Elk, Antelope, and most other big game animals are lazy. If they aren't running away from a predator, they're going to take the path of least resistance. Even if they are running away, they may still take the easiest route for maintaining speed.

Deer anatomy (knowing where to aim for clean kills)
-Study anatomical drawings, help field dress and butcher other animals, and understand what you're shooting (capabilities of the rifle, cartridge, and bullet).

Tracking skills -- incl both before & after shooting
-Scrapes and rubs can help you get closer to a buck, but plain old hoof prints can be more useful. Size and shape of tracks are useful in determining animal size and health (and even sex). Orientation, depth, drag marks, stride length, and proximity can determine speed, type of gait (bounding, running, loping, etc), how far the animal was likely to have traveled. And, of course, you always need to be able to read the age of the tracks. If they're 3 days old, they helpful, but not as much as something that's 5 minutes old.
Poop is useful, as well, but most hunters don't enjoy grabbing piles of feces to see how warm it is, or checking to see what the animals have been eating. (I know one hunter that has been know to taste it, if it looks exceptionally fresh. )

Judging the distance / angle of the shot, knowing which shots to pass up
-Practice and experience matter the most. Time spent with your firearm and the load you hunt with is very important. Additional experience with that rifle and load, while pursuing small game, hogs, or varmints is even more helpful.
Knowing when to pass is a very personal thing, relying heavily on the hunter's ethics. I, personally, won't take a shot I don't know I can make. If there's ANY doubt, I pass (or find a way to improve my confidence, before taking the shot).

Field cleaning
-I took a Hunters' Ed class when I was about 13 years old. I know we watched a few videos on field-dressing Elk, Deer, and fowl. But... All I really remember was a stupid "burning snowball" stunt the instructor pulled, and all the bullet holes in the ceiling of the classroom.
When it was time for me to field dress my first animal (Antelope), I actually had 2 of them to take care of, and it was going to be 45 to 90 minutes in the hot sun before an experienced hunter could lend a hand. I dove in with my crappy knife, doing my best to remove what I thought I should, while trying not to taint the meat and attempting to keep the liver and heart clean. The experienced hunters arrived in time to guide me through proper removal of the anus, genitalia, and colon (a critical task). -I made some mistakes, but none were serious; and I learned A LOT from that experience.
Reading books and watching videos can offer insight and valuable warnings, but there's nothing as useful as diving right in.
Having a good knife helps a lot. Buying a more appropriate knife (or set of knives) after you realize the first one was a mistake, is something that comes from experience.

How to drag the carcass out of the woods
-Plan ahead. When that plan falls apart for whatever reason the Gods chose that day.... Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

How to cut up the carcass & store the meat for use
-Books are very helpful in this case. However... it doesn't hurt to just cut a quarter off the animal, and start de-boning by following the muscle groups. With a little experience, you learn what types of muscles are best for which uses, and how picky you have to be about trimming sinew from each cut (fat is bad - get rid of all of it).
Storage seems to be a personal decision. My family prefers wrapping everything in freezer paper, but most hunters we know tend to prefer vacuum-packaging methods (and a few still use canning/smoking/preservation methods). Each method has its pros and cons that have to be weighed by the end-user.

(Those were 'short' responses... )
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Old March 16, 2013, 06:04 AM   #22
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Just learning how to be comfortable in the outdoors. In addition to hunting I'm also outside camping,hiking and backpacking much of the year. I know lots of good hunters who freak out if out of site of a road. Many don't know how to stay warm and dry, or own the equipment, to be able to stay out when weather conditions go bad.

If you are not at ease with being outdoors, don't have the skills to get miles into the woods and back safely, you won't concentrate on hunting while you are there. Or, you'll stay within 200 yards of the road with all the rest of the hunters.
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Old March 16, 2013, 08:36 AM   #23
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Just to add to Frankenmauser.... Beyond field dressing, just the proper care of the game meat in general.

I've seen guys bring in a deer for processing that had clearly "gone over." I believe the deer was shot at least two days prior.

One warm day, 80 degrees or more, I watched a guy shoot a doe and then allow her to lay for over an hour before he even got out of his stand to look at her. From there, he started dragging her out of the woods without cleaning her.

A coworker's family does game processing a during deer season and I was amazed at how often they get hunters bringing in deer without field dressing them.

To me, not immediately dressing the game is asking for some funky meat.
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Old March 16, 2013, 10:49 AM   #24
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probably the biggest skills in my mind is using topo maps and onsite scouting as well as taking into account how the wind goes thru the area as to successful deer hunting. I try and find multiple good spots that work with all the different scenarios......ex.i have one spot i can only approach from the south and the hunting area lays to the north and east, so i only hunt it when i have a southwest, eastern, or northeast wind, anything else is a waste of time. Ive got one that i come in from the east, so a westerly wind is perfect, etc. Once you find good spots, only hunt them when they are under optimal conditions...i feel like you burn out your stands the more you use them.
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Old March 16, 2013, 11:02 AM   #25
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patience is a virtue would be the #1 tip i would give to any new deer hunter.
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