The Beginner’s Guide to Deer Hunting
Even the most skilled hunter continually learns new techniques and searches for tips that can increase their chances of making a successful kill. If you’ve never hunted before at all, taking up hunting can seem especially daunting at first. You need to familiarize yourself with local hunting laws, know when the upcoming hunting and trapping seasons are, decide what weapon you will use, stock up on all the essential gear, and know what to wear to stay, safe, comfortable, and concealed.
Whether you’re looking to start deer hunting for sport or to stock your freezer with nutritious and delicious fresh venison, there is a lot you need to know before you start heading out into the field. To help better your chances for a safe and successful deer hunt, we have created a quick guide to deer hunting for beginners.
These helpful tips will hopefully allow you to enjoy a memorable first-time deer hunting experience whether you’re planning on hunting whitetails and mule deer in North America or red and roe deer in Europe.
Choosing Your Weapon and Essential Gear You’ll Need
You won’t have much luck bagging a deer without a weapon and essential gear. There are three main weapons most deer hunters use, rifles, muzzleloaders, and bows. You should familiarize yourself with which weapon you think you would be most comfortable with. Whichever weapon you ultimately settle on, you of course will most likely need to be licensed to use it and feel confident in your hunting skills long before you actually start using your weapon to hunt. This ensures you won’t become a danger to others or yourself and will reduce the chances of you wounding a deer and making it suffer instead of killing it.
Recent stats show that roughly two-thirds of deer in America are killed by hunters using rifles and shotguns and nearly every hunter will carry a good pair of hunting binoculars. You will want to go online to research different rifle types and read reviews before you settle on a gun. You should also check out a guide to the best hunting binoculars before committing to pair since they are an equally important investment. Each different rifle type, much like different binoculars, have their pros and cons which you will need to compare in order to make the best purchase for your own personal needs.
Plan to practice at a shooting range well ahead of hunting season. This will allow you to get familiar with your gun and other equipment such as your spotting scope. You’ll get a feel for squeezing the trigger and remaining steady, while also improving your aim the more you practice.
Hunter with binoculars: photo by FieldsportsChannel.tv / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)
Other essential items you should have in your hunting pack include a deer call, wind-checker powder, zip ties to tag your game, rubber gloves for when it comes to field dressing, and scent blockers. Knives in your pack should include a standard pocket knife, skinning knife, field dressing knife to remove the internal organs of your deer, and a bone saw for quartering the animal and possibly removing the antlers.
You may also want to purchase a hunting blind or a tree stand, but make sure if you’re thinking about using a tree stand that it is an approved model that is safe and that you know how to safely set it up before you head out in the field. Don’t forget to pack plenty of snacks and water to keep up your energy which you’ll definitely need if your hunt is successful.
Best Clothing for Hunting
Wearing the proper clothing can mean the difference between a failed hunt and a successful one. Most hunters prefer wearing camouflaged clothing in order to avoid being spotted by the deer they are hunting. However, it may be a more wise decision to opt for blaze orange colored clothing since it is the most effective color to be worn in the field to prevent hunting accidents. Wearing blaze orange is especially important if you plan on hunting in a location that most likely will have other hunters and it may even be a legal requirement. Many states have made it mandatory to wear a certain percentage of clothing that is blaze orange depending on the type of game and location you are hunting.
It’s important to know that deer don’t see blaze orange like humans do and many scientists believe they see orange as a shade of brown or gray. More important than the color of your clothing is how you disguise your silhouette and movement.
Weather is often unpredictable when hunting, especially when you consider you may be hiding in a tree stand all day. Because the weather can change quickly, you should be prepared for any type of weather you think is a possibility. You may want to start off wearing light clothing when you are hiking to your desired hunting location or tree stand, as you don’t want to sweat before you get set up. Sweating will only lead to feeling colder when you become stationary. Sitting in a tree stand or hide can get really cold especially when you consider deer hunting season takes place during the fall months, so having a heavy duty jacket that is ideally waterproof is highly recommended
It’s always better to pack clothing items and not need them than to find yourself without something. Most hikers opt for a three-layer dressing system that consists of a base layer, mid layer, and outer layer. Dressing in layers allows you to easily add or remove clothing to keep your body temperature in control depending on your level of exertion and the outside temperature. Don’t forget to mask your scent, as clothing that smells like laundry detergent will give your location away to deer with their sharp senses. You can purchase sprays with special scent killers or opt for deer urine to mask your scent.
Don’t forget to wear boots that are warm, durable, and comfortable. Keeping your feet dry and blister-free is crucial to a long day in the field.
Hunter in tree stand: photo by Steve Maslowski, USFWS cc wikimedia commons
Helpful Hunting Tips
There are countless tricks and tips that can improve your deer hunting success, but we thought we’d at least highlight a few of the basics. The first tip is knowing where to hunt. You can of course inquire from locals or online sources where good hunting spots are, but once you actually get out in the field you have to do a bit of investigating yourself. You want to seek out game trails that look to be used by deer quite frequently which can be located by looking for deer tracks and scat. Signs that bucks are in the area include “rubbed trees”, where male deer have rubbed their antlers and foreheads on the trunks of tress, and scrapes in the ground where they have cleared leaves and vegetation in a small area.
You don’t only want to be concerned with deer tracks and signs but also look out for signs of human traffic. Hunting in areas that are prone to dog walkers, hikers, joggers, and even other hunters may mean that you have less chances of seeing a deer let alone shooting one. You also want to be aware if other people may be more likely to be present so as to not mistake someone or their pet for a deer.
When setting yourself up in a hide or tree stand, you want to make sure to select a location that will not only conceal you but one which will also give you a clear shot and good visibility of any potential targets. Setting yourself up near a forest edge is a great choice since deer generally prefer sticking close to edge habitats that they can quickly retreat to for safety if they need to. Don’t forget to set yourself up so that the wind is in your face. You don’t want your scent to be blown in the direction you are shooting as it can give away your location to your target.
Keeping it Legal
Lastly, there laws you need to be aware of before you can start hunting deer. In the U.S., gun laws vary between the states and help to regulate the sale, possession, and use of firearms. Depending on which state you live in, you may be required to obtain a license or permit in order to purchase or possess a firearm. You may also need to register your gun with the police or other law enforcement agency.
Different game have different hunting seasons and these can also vary between states, so you will need to make sure you are planning your deer hunting adventure during the legal dates. Different weapons also often have different seasons assigned to them.
You need to be aware that there are limits placed on the number of deer you are legally allowed to shoot. There may be regulations on the type of ammunition you can use on deer and you will need to make sure to obtain the proper hunting license from your state’s wildlife agency. Hunting during the breeding season is usually if not always considered a closed hunting season. The use of decoy deer, feeding stations, pitfall traps, and snares are often prohibited. Shooting deer from a moving vehicle or aircraft or lighting them with a spotlight at night is also almost always prohibited.
Always carry your hunting licenses and hunting tags with you when you’re hunting. You will need to be sure to have a way to attach your tags to any deer you end up shooting.
We hope these tips help you achieve success on your first deer hunting trip. Even for expert hunters, deer hunting is never easy. Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t successful your first time out. Through practice and preparation your time will eventually come.