August 26, 2021
By Bill Winke
I thought it might be fun to jot down a few of the most important lessons I have learned over the past several years that have shaped the way I hunt. Here are four such lessons. I hope they will make the coming months more productive for you, too.
Best Week of the Season
Maybe I can answer the age-old question of when to take your vacation. I do get that question a lot, so I have given it many hours of thought. In the past four or five years we have enjoyed some great hunting in October, but I still say that the period from November 3-10 is the best, on average, for whitetail hunting.
The actual peak of breeding falls around November 15th, plus or minus a day or two, throughout much of the whitetail’s range. It would be tempting to think that mid-November would then be the best time to hunt, but that isn’t the case. As the number of does in estrus increases, the number of mature bucks tied up with does — and therefore not moving — actively drops. So mid-November actually represents a bit of a lull in the rut most years.
Ideally, you want to be in a treestand or ground blind when the first doe in that area comes into estrus. That is a key time for tagging a mature buck that might otherwise be hard to kill. Most years, the first hot doe in my hunting area — or at least the first real focused searching by mature bucks — starts around November 3rd. Then, each day after that for a week, things stay very active as an increasing number of does come into estrus.
If I had to pick my deer hunting vacation dates well in advance — without the benefit of weather forecasts — I would go back to November 3-10 or as close to those dates as possible). Then, I would also try to schedule long weekends during the last two weeks of October.
Trailer Blinds Are Great Options
Hunting from treestands gives the authentic feel of the rut: wind in your face, a wide field of view, and great vantage to see deep into the hardwoods. Yes, it's a can’t-miss experience and what we spend the other 11 months dreaming about. Ass I have gotten older though, I have hunted blinds more and have learned that they are not only safer and more comfortable, but in some situations they are also vastly more effective than stands.
With a well-made ground blind you just keep the windows shut — which holds your odor inside while preventing the deer from seeing in easily — until you get a clear shot. I have taken several deer this way, including some nice bucks. While this may not feel like true bowhunting, it is very effective nonetheless.
I like to put my blinds on trailers now so I can move them around easily. I mount them on a low frame that stands on the trailer bed, so the blind sits about six feet off the ground. That is high enough to shoot over weeds and corn stubble but low enough that the trailer remains stable when I move it.
Once the deer get used to the trailer blind in a certain field, all I have to do is hook up to it with my ATV or truck and I can move it quickly to other areas. The deer pay little (if any) attention to the fact that the blind has moved. They actually seem not to realize.
Focus on the No-Brainers
Most hunting areas have at least a few stand sites that are very easy to hunt without alerting deer. These are the ones that you can sneak into from the downwind side, or the direction opposite from where the deer will travel. With a perfect wind advantage you can hunt them without any fear of being scented. Then at the end of legal shooting time you can sneak back out the same way. They never know you were there.
Look for stands like that every time you are in the woods. Sometimes you can even change the setting to create such spots — possibly by planting a small Poor Man’s food plot to focus deer movement on one side — or by growing or transplanting something to sneak behind when coming and going.
I hate spooking deer. It grinds me when I hear them snort and run off as I head toward my stand. For that reason, I usually hunt these “no-brainers.” We recently sold our farm, and through that process I went out and took all my stands down. When I got to thinking about all the sites I had on the farm, I was amazed how many of them I only hunted a few times during the 18 years we owned the place.
Toward the end of that time, I spent my seasons hunting from about 10 total stands and a few trailer blinds. I gave up on the other stand sites because they were too hard to hunt without the deer knowing I was there.
The bottomline is this: you don’t have to hunt every good spot in your hunting area — just focus on the no-brainers so you can keep the deer moving in a natural and relaxed manner for as long as possible.
Hunt the Small Openings
Another thing I learned in 18 years of hunting the same farm was how good the small openings are for creating close-range shots and easy entry and exit. Look for any kind of natural opening that lies between where the deer bed and where they feed, and you have a great stand location. You can hunt these openings as is — just keep them mowed — or you can make them even better by planting something like clover or turnips in the opening.
I call these spots "staging area plots" because the deer hang out and mill around in these spots before heading to the bigger fields to feed in the evening or before heading deeper in the cover to bed in the morning. These are among the first places that deer are on their feet in the evening and among the last places where they are on their feet in the mornings.
Most of my no-brainer stands are now staging area plots, and most of them are the result of cleaning up natural openings with a chainsaw. Like I said, they are the perfect stand locations. Plus, because they are small, the shots are close and that is ideal for bowhunting.
I'm excited as I write this, thinking about the rut and the action in the hardwoods that will soon be ours to absorb. What an awesome time of year! I hope these tips will help make this fall more productive for you. Good luck!