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The very first morning I hunted whitetails (at age ten), my father said (like many fathers yet advise their kids today), “Walk like a deer. Take a few steps, stop for a few seconds, take a few steps, stop for a few seconds (and so forth). Nearby deer will then think you are a feeding deer and your chances of seeing one up close (an easy shot) will be much better.”
Some years later after beginning my scientifically-based, hunting–related studies of wild whitetails, I learned this wasn’t true, at least when it came to mature, much-experienced whitetails—proven many times by various mature deer in my first whitetail study area over a period of twenty years. After certain deer and I finally became well acquainted with one another during periods they weren’t being hunted, I discovered I could approach within 25 yards of them from the opposite sides of downwind ridges without alarming them. After crossing the crest of the ridge (not moving directly toward them), they calmly continued whatever they were doing, feeding or chewing their cuds while bedded. When any of my sons who rarely accompanied me except while scouting and hunting tried this, those deer always disappeared before they reached the crest of those ridges, proving mature whitetails can distinguish different humans via sounds characteristic of their individual footsteps alone.
Having booted, insensitive feet about ten times larger than sensitive whitetail feet (hooves), human footsteps are necessaily much noisier and different than whitetail footsteps, crushing greater numbers of dried leaves beneath each step, greater expanses of crunchy snow and many more twigs and branches that snap much more often and much more loudly underfoot than whitetails. Humans also characteristically drag their boots (heels) through dried leaves and across coarse surfaces (gravel, for example). Having ears that can hear footsteps of average hunters more than 100 yards away on a quiet morning, it is therefore difficult to imagine experienced whitetails cannot also easily distinguish nuances of footsteps that are characteristic of footsteps made by approaching hunters.
On many occasions I have observed feeding whitetails growing increasingly alarmed while an unseen, downwind hunter was stalking toward them. Ordinarily, if mature whitetails (not 100% true of fawns and yearlings) cannot identify whatever is approaching via its footsteps, and it is not hunting or stalking (sneaking and often halting), they will not abandon the area. Instead, if not in the path of whatever is approaching, they’ll simply freeze where they are or move to nearby cover and freeze there until they can determine via additional sounds, sights and airborne odors whether to remain in the vicinity or abandon it, noisy and quickly or cautiously with stealth.
Obviously realizing whitetails do this, while cruising in search of vulnerable prey, singly or as a pack, the grey wolves of my study area typically march nonstop past selected prey (unless very near) without turning their heads until out of sight and hearing and downwind or crosswind. Mature whitetails hearing or seeing wolves marching past in this manner—seeming to be not hunting and therefore currently harmless—simply watch the wolves pass, thereafter resuming whatever they were doing before the wolves were discovered. This wolf ruse thus ensures their unsuspecting chosen prey will be close to where it was initially detected when the the wolves begin their actual hunt.
Following this discovery, My sons and I began regularly using this wolf ruse while hiking to and from stand sites and while hiking along our human “cruise trails (long series of selected connecting deer trails)” in search of fresh tracks and other signs made by mature bucks (next stand sites) during hunting seasons—contributing greatly to taking the 98 mature bucks my three sons and I have tagged since 1990. After discovering the wolf ruse and its benefits, I’ve long encouraged hunters to use it. Yet almost daily I still receive at least one message from a deer hunter determined to continue “walking like a deer,” Old deer hunting traditions, productive or not, are hard to change. See the complete details for using this ruse in my new Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition, easily ordered by going to my website, http://www.drnordbergondeerhunting.com and clicking on “store.”
The public land in which my three sons and I hunt mature bucks only is no buck hunting paradise. Most of it is a rugged 1-3 mile hike on foot from the nearest road. Since they were declared “endangered” nearly fifty years ago, one of America’s largest population of gray wolves has been eating venison (and moose) there year around (3 of 4 fawns annually). American Natives have also been hunting deer there 24/7 four months annually without limit for many years. Long and severe winters with deep snows have greatly reduced deer numbers there several times. Since 1999. dee numbers there have never exceeded 6–11 per square mile in November. As might be imagined, mature whitetails that survive there are very difficult to hunt. We do not take antlerless deer (and rarely yearling bucks) to help maintain and restore overall deer numbers. We thus only hunt the most elusive of whitetails anywhere, bucks 3-1/2 to 6-1/2 (0ne rare 7-1/2) years of age (we do take some 2-1/2 year-olds late in hunting seasons). My long highly regarded 55 years of year-round, scientific, hunting-related research with wild deer over much of America and my subsequent development of six new fair chase, mature-buck-effective hunting methods enabled my three sons and I to take 98 mature bucks in this area (four bucks being our annual, self-limited quota) since 1990. That’s great buck hunting under the most challenging of circumstances. My latest Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition explains in detail exactly how we do it. Check out this revolutionary new book about whitetails and whitetail hunting and how to receive an autographed copy of your own along with a valuable free bonus on my website: www.drnordbergondeerhunting.com. You will be forever glad you did.
After many decades of keeping track of numbers of unsuspecting (unalarmed) whitetails seen moving about during daylight hours, it became obvious natural phenomena such as precipitation, temperatures, winds and even moonlight greatly influence hours of the day whitetails are most likely to be seen during hunting seasons. For this reason, well before each hunting season begins, I check hours and days we will have moonlight. After checking this year’s moon info on the internet this morning, I immediately emailed the good news to my sons.
“We’ll have a sliver of the moon during our first three nights which may or may not affect deer because of a snowfall,” I wrote. “and no moon at night during the rest of our hunt. We may get some significant snow opening weekend and temperatures will be normal after that—really great hunting conditions for a change.”
Why was this great news, particularly for us stand hunters? When there is bright moonlight beginning well before first light in the morning, mature whitetails generally begin feeding earlier (before 4AM) and typically quit during the first legal shooting hour of the day. When there is moonlight at the end of the day, lasting well into night, whitetails generally wait until sunset or after to being feeding during hunting seaons. When there is moonlight all night, few whitetails will be seen moving about during following daylight hours (unless certain weather conditions trigger a 1–2 hour period of feeding between 11 AM and 3PM). For mature whitetails (older than yearlings), a moonlit sky at night (whether cloudy or clear) is apparently equal to a sunlit sky for spotting potentially dangerous predators safe distances away. It also encourages deer to eat their fill in darkness before human hunters, limited to hunting during daylight hours, become a threat.
No moonlight at night has the opposite affect. Whitetails will then feed and engage in other activities longer during daylight hours, morning and evening, especially while the wind is calm or light. No moonlight before first light in the morning has this affect in the morning only. No moonlight in the evening generally means whitetails may begin feeding 2-3 hours before sunset. In wolf country, however, they typically remain bedded until the last legal shooting hour of the day regardless. Since 1970, my stand hunting partners and I have almost always seen the greatest number of unalarmed deer, including mature bucks, during daylight hours when there was no moonlight all night, all other factors such as wind, precipitation and temperatures being favorable.
For about 30 years I insisted it was best to approach a stand site from downwind and sit downwind of a whitetail feeding area. In the morning it seemed most logical because the deer I expected to see there would already be feeding, generally beginning shortly after 4 AM. They thus wouldn’t be able to smell me approaching or while sitting at my stand site. After years of noting the odds of seeing deer in the evening in a feeding area I had hunted in the morning were much poorer, it finally occurred to me why. Mature whitetails (whitetails that have survived two or more hunting seasons) almost always approach a feeding area (or bedding area) from downwind to avoid walking into a hunter’s ambush.
Most long-used feeding areas are ringed by a deer trail 5-15 yards back in forest cover, used by whitetails using their eyes, ears and noses to search from along the downwind side for predators or hunters hidden in the peripheries before exposing themselves in the feeding area. If you are stand hunting along the downwind side in the evening, it is almost certain approaching whitetails will identify you three ways: 1) by your airborne scents spreading widely downwind from your stand (whether elevated or ground level and whether using odor suppressors of any kind), 2) by your fresh trial scents (detectable by whitetails four days or longer unless it rains or snow meanwhile) and by your dark silhouette framed against the bright open sky over the feeding area.
Especially when stand hunting adjacent to a feeding area you plan to hunt more than once, it is therefore best to sit crosswind, morning and evening. To ensure, your widening, triangular-shaped scent vector does not spread downwind into the feeding area, sit where the wind is blowing at an angle toward your upwind cheek rather side of your head. Whether stand hunting at ground level or up in a tree, also sit 10-20 yards back from the edge of a feeding area where well hidden by forest cover. Because wind directions are changeable, be prepared to use two or more stand sites appropriate for different wind directions most common during your hunting season. Also use approach tails well away from edges of feeding areas so you will be less easily heard or seen by feeding deer while heading to your stand site, morning or afternoon.