Your Next Favorite Deer Hunting Method: Opportunistic Stand Hunting 

 Let’s imagine you and I have decided to do some bass fishing. How are we going to do it? Should we put minnows on our hooks, cast them next to a weed bed and sit in our boat at the same spot all day long watching our bobbers? Let’s imagine we caught one. Should we then return to the same weed bed and fish the same way, anchored at that same spot, every day for a week or two and do the same year after year? Of course not. Every experienced bass angler knows a much better way to catch bass. Yet, this is exactly how a majority of American deer hunters have been hunting whitetails since the 1980s. What’s wrong with it? After millions of us have been doing this all these years, annually culling deer vulnerable to such hunting, almost all North American whitetails today that have survived two or more hunting seasons know exactly how to identify and avoid tree stand hunters. Sure, tree stand hunters still take deer (whether using bait or not), but most deer taken by them are inexperienced fawns and yearlings.

Opportunistic stand hunting, evolved from my 55 years of hunting-related research with wild deer, is a new, fair chase (no bait) hunting method akin to fishing for bass the most productive way, moving often. Not as often as bass fishermen, but changing stand sites every day or half day. Moves are not aimless. The word “opportunistic” refers to taking quick advantage of very fresh deer signs that reveal trails or sites being used by one or more specific, unalarmed whitetails right now. If things are done right, that or those deer will very likely use the same trail or visit the same site (a feeding area, for example) again later today or tomorrow morning. The fresh signs keyed on are discovered daily while hiking along a limited number of specific trails (minimizing the spread of lasting ruinous human trail scents) via a method of mid-hunt scouting that does not alarm whitetails (inspired by gray wolves). This puts the hunter close to a desirable quarry once or twice every day or half-day. Stand sites (elevated and/or ground level) used the first few days of a hunting season are selected and prepared 2-3 weeks before the opener. During the rest of the hunting season, additional stand sites are used right away or later the day they are selected or the following morning. Unless the fresh deer signs happen to be close to a stand site selected and prepared before the hunting seson began, most are simple but well hidden ground-level stand sites (for use with a backpacked stool) that have certain mature-buck-effective characteristics and require very litle or no preparation. They are always located within sight of those fresh deer signs and are always downwind or crosswind.

Though not as simple a hunting method as still-hunting or making drives, opportunistic stand hunting is by far the most productive for taking mature bucks today (deer most other hunters rarely see). It enabled my three sons and me to take most of the 98 mature bucks we tagged between 1990 and 2017. Most were taken at stand sites never used before during the first two legal shooting hours of the day. Learn all about how to use this new and unusually productive way to hunt mature bucks and other deer in my newly published Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition.


Yes, Much of What I Write About Whitetails is Different

Hunters who have never heard of me are sometimes taken aback by the strange and unheard of things I have to say about white-tailed deer and black bears and how best to hunt them. That’s understandable. Few, if anyone, has done the hunting-related research I’ve been doing during the past 55 years. Many terms I use to descibe behavioral characteristics of whitetails are not commonly found in most books or outdoor magazines. When I first began studying habits, behavior and range utilization of wild whitetails and black bears in the 1960s and 70s, I was taken aback too. The first whitetails I studied were doing crazy things I didn’t expect – dominant breeding bucks abandoning scrapes when breeding began, for example, and breeding on New Years Day, year after year, for another. This prompted me to begin studying whitetails in many other states and in different types of habitat to determine whether or not the first deer I studied were uniquely different as suggested by an editor of Field & Stream Magazine. What I was learning turned out to be characteristic of whitetails everywhere, however. Though I’m sure early Native Americans, mountain men and hunters the likes of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett knew these things, it didn’t end up in books to benefit us deer and bear hunters today.  What I was learning as a modernday hunter and researcher was therefore different but so fascinating that field research and writing about my results eventually became my full time work. Though now 83 years of age, after 73 years of hunting whitetails, mature bucks only since 1970, and more than a half century of field research, I still have no plans to quit.

Actually, I began preparing to do this unique kind of research in 1953, earning three college degrees at the University of Minnesota during following eight years: a Bachelor of Arts degree  with a major in Experimental Animal Psychology, a Bachelor of Science with a major in Natural Sciences and a Doctor of Dental Surgery. While there, I worked in the Department of Physiology as a Senior Laboratory Technician taking part in kidney research. After returning home after serving aboard a ship in the U.S. Navy during the Viet Nam War, I became a part time Clinical Instructor in Pediatric Dentistry, also overseeing research dealing with rampant caries in children. All this prepared me well to begin my formal independent hunting-related research with wild Minnesota deer and black bears in 1970. Some preliminary studies began in the early 1960s. My initial studies made me an early pioneer and advocate of previously unknown tree stand hunting and first to accurately describe the whitetail rut.

Always anxious to share what I was learning with other hunters, I began submitting articles to many outdoor magazines in 1980. Since then I have written nearly 900 articles about whitetails and whitetail hunting. During the past three decades I have been a feature writer (Dr. Nordberg on Deer Hunting) for Midwest Outdoors Magazine. For many years, I was also a feature Writer for Bear Hunting Magazine and a bowhunting magazine. In 1988 I began writing my popular 10-book series entitled, Whitetail Hunters Almanac (the title now copied by others). Shortly, I will publish my 5th Edition of Do-It-Yourself Black Bear Baiting & Hunting, an upgraded guide to hunting trophy class bruins. This book has long been considered the “Black Bear Hunter’s Bible,” guaranteeing hunting success. It changed the way black bears are hunted all over North America. I have also created several popular videos including a 12-hour series entitled Whitetail Hunters World (no longer available) and videos with my son John’s help from my Buck and Bear Hunting Schools in the wilds of northern Minnesota – attended by hundreds of hunters from all over America for 15 years. I have presented countless deer hunting seminars at sports shows and sportsmen clubs in the eastern half of the U.S.. Today, I also provide hunting instructions on the internet, including website articles, blogs, Twitter and YouTube preentations.

My newly published 10th Edition of Whitetail Hunters Almanac, a 518-page, 8” x 10” encyclopedia of modern whitetail hunting with 400 illustrations introduces six new, mature-buck-effective, fair chase, hunting methods. Though designed specifically to provide easy shots at unsuspecting (standing or slowly moving) older bucks short distances away, they also provide frequent opportunities to observe or take other deer. These hunting methods, including my favorite, opportunistic stand hunting, enabled my three sons and me to take 98 mature bucks between 1990 and 2017, many now on our den walls. When properly used, these new hunting methods are far superior to all other hunting methods for taking the most elusive and wasted of whitetails, bucks 3-1/2 to 6-1/2 years of age. I am anxious to teach as many deer hunters like you as I can to use these impressive new hunting methods.

American whitetail hunters have been misled by many myths and misguided claims that have actually been limiting deer hunting success for 100 years or more. In my new book I disprove commonly believed myths and misguided claims. Everything I teach about whitetails is based only on what 80-90% of each of the five behavioral classes of wild whitetails do under similar circumstances over periods of ten or more years. Limiting my conclusions to this methodology is the only way I know to establish truths about whitetails (and bears and wolves) and develop superior hunting methods. Sure, whitetails are taken lots of different ways, but something that works once or even twice, or a stand site that enables you to take a big buck isn’t likely to make you a regularly successful buck hunter. A tactic like making drives that enables you to take lots of young deer isn’t going to make you regularly successful at taking mature bucks either. Making you a regularly successful whitetail hunter, or better, regularly successful at taking mature bucks only is my goal. Properly done, what I teach works. Rather than doubt it, give it try, sure to be an exciting and rewarding way to prove it.

So, my hunting friends, you now know me, what I’ve been doing for you during the past 55 years and why what I teach is often quite different.

Can Our Whitetails be Saved From CWD?

Maybe you don’t realize how serious this new threat to our white-tailed deer really is. It began in the late 1960s when a strange new disease was discovered killing captive mule deer in Colorado. It was given the name Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) because affected deer eventually lost considerable weight, making their ribs show. Initially, this fatal disease was spread by shipping infected captive deer yet without symptoms (it can take years for symptoms to appear) from privately owned deer farms to different states and countries. Inadequate means of keeping infected captive deer from coming in contact with wild deer then opened the door to passing CWD to free-ranging white-tailed deer, mule deer, black-tailed deer, elk, moose, caribou and reindeer in 24 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces and two foreign countries, including of all places, South Korea. Though stringent new federal and state regulations and diagnostic testing now make it unlikely animals with undiagnosed CWD can be shipped anywhere, this fatal disease has thus far defied all attempts to eliminate or halt its spread among our unfenced wild whitetails.

No American citizens have thus far contracted this disease after handling or eating venison from deer infected with CWD and many researchers believe humans and our livestock are safe from it, but a theoretical risk of humans contracting this disease nonetheless exists. The misshapen prions that cause this diseases can mutate and have. CWD belongs to a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) that include scrapie (fatal to sheep), mad cow disease (fatal to bovines) and relatively rare Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (unrelated to a disease of animals but fatal to a small number of Americans annually). Scrapie has never affected humans, being unable to jump the usual barrier between different species of mammals. From mad cow disease, however, came a new variant of “Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease” which did jump the species barrier from cattle to humans, killing 177 people that ate beef from infected cattle in the United Kingdom between 1986 and 2012. This might not be the end of it. New studies in the UK reveal persons with certain genetics may develop symptoms of this variant of CJD many years after being infected.

Most researchers and organization involved with seeking to stem CWD in North American recommend taking certain precautions when hunting and taking deer in areas where CWD in deer is known to exist. The following precautions include a few additions of my own:

 •  Do not harvest a deer that appears sick, emaciated (ribs showing) or acting abnormally.

•  Whether a deer you harvested had any symptoms of CWD or not, wear latex/rubber gloves (arm-length) when field dressing it.

• Have your deer carcass tested for CWD as directed by your state Department of Natural Resources, thus providing information vital to halting the future spread of CWD.

•  When butchering, bone the meat (cut meat away from bone), sawing through no bones, especially the skull or spine (do not split the backbone).

  Avoid handling brain, spinal cord or lymph glands.

•  Thoroughly clean your hands and sanitize your tools after field dressing or butchering by boiling them in water for 20 minutes.

•  Instruct your meat processor (if you take your deer to one) to bone your meat and package it separately from other deer.

•  Consume none of the meat until you have received results of your test for CWD. If positive, destroy your venison as directed by your state DNR.

 Personally, I believe our whitetails will be saved, but it may be a lengthy and heartbreaking ordeal for deer, state deer managers and deer hunters. Almost everything imaginable has already been tried to arrest the spread of CWD among wild deer in America, but unfortunately without significant success. Hopefully, some new research will soon find a new way to stop this disease. Success may have to come from whitetails themselves, deer vulnerable to CWD dying and deer not vulnerable to CWD surviving to recreate a whole new population of whitetails resistant to CWD. As mature whitetails have been proving to human hunters for thousands of years, they are amazingly adaptable and persevering animals. I can’t believe some misshapen prions that cause CWD can actually wipe them out.

Meanwhile, unaffected whitetails need to be hunted. Without hunting, healthy whitetails can double in numbers in one year. Nowhere in America can remaining habitat suitable for whitetails support twice as many deer. If allowed to become overabundant, they will suffer from malnutrition and starvation due to a lack of adequate food, especially in winter, making them vulnerable to disease. Our obligations as American deer hunters do not end with the purchase of a hunting license or the threat of CWD. During the coming days and years, we must give those who work to stop CWD our greatest support. They are going to need it.