Are you ready to come face to face with whitetail this deer season? The heat and humidity of summer’s dog days hold the land in their stifling grip, and as a result onset of the rites of fall as they involve the quest for a big buck may seem little more than an all too distant dream. Yet the time of planning and preparation is at hand, never mind the temptation to play couch potato in air-conditioned comfort.
There’s work to be done in the deer woods, and the hunter who does his late summer homework gives himself a distinct advantage when it comes to the likelihood of venison in the freezer and maybe meaningful work for his favorite taxidermist once the season opens.
With those gladdening thoughts in mind, let’s take a peek at some of the things which should figure into the pre-season equation for the committed deer hunter.
Placing and repairing stands
For permanent or semi-permanent stands, late summer should be a time of getting it done. New stands, whether lock-ons, ladder stands or tripods, need to be put in place after plenty of careful consideration involving matters such as prevailing winds, sun location in the early morning and late evening, opportunities for shots, concealment, the whereabouts of bedding areas and standard travel lanes, thoughts on food plots and the like. The same holds true for ground blinds, whether of the home-made variety or comfortable, highly effective commercial ones.
Similarly, this is the time to check the safety and stability of stands that are already in place. That means things such as being sure wooden parts show no signs of rot and that bolts, tether ropes, platforms, shooting rails and other parts are functional. You might want to consider some protective paint work where metal is involved, replacement of questionable steps, oiling of squeaky joints and indeed anything that will lengthen the life of a stand and ensure it is fully operative come opening day. Also, doing this work a couple of months in advance means resident deer have plenty of time to adjust to the stands being there.
Tree stand maintenance is an important safety factor and also increases your chances during whitetail season. Don’t forget, while busy with stands, to cut some shooting lanes. The temptation is often to overdo things, but whether you are considering a bow stand or a ladder stand overlooking a power line clearance or maybe a long stretch of logging road, judicious pruning and removal of vegetation that could be in the way of a shot is definitely in order.
Scouting and trail camera work
Effective scouting can take many forms. It might mean watching from a distance with the help of good optics in open country or taking a walk through your hunting club or property with a keen eye out for travel corridors, obvious bedding areas, likely food sources (pay special attention to things such as acorn-laden oaks or persimmon trees loaded with fruit), pinch points or natural funnels and sign. Remember not to be overly intrusive—one or two scouting jaunts should be the order of business, not repeated walks which will have the unwelcome result of “putting off” deer.
Or, thanks to modern technology, let some trail cameras do much of the work. Of course placement of the cameras means some attention to woodsmanship and common sense deer know-how, but these permanent eyes can be an invaluable aide in everything from getting a sense of the patterns of the local whitetail herd to identifying a golly whomper of an old buck using the ground.
Food plot factors
Food plots come in many forms—seasonal, permanent, ones consisting of bushes rather than grassy browse. Yet there’s no denying the appeal of a few patches of fall forage items (brassicas, turnips, oats, winter wheat, and the like) as part of an overall food plot program. This is the time of year to get ‘em in and get ‘em growing. Similarly, a bit of fertilization may well be in order for plots holding clover or other perennials. It will give them a real kick-start, not to mention drawing deer like nobody’s business, as temperatures start to cool.
Getting your gear ready
Whether you are a gear nut or a minimalist who keeps his equipment list as small as possible, late summer is the time to get ready. Guns need to be cleaned, scopes mounted (or if they are already mounted, checked to be certain they are secure) and clothing readied. Everything from a safety harness to grunt calls, from wind checkers to scent blockers, should be stored in your backpack or fanny pack. In other words, go through your accessories, check and evaluate them and make any necessary replacements or additions.
One of the most efficient ways to do this is through making a checklist and keeping it handy. You can enter it in your computer or paste it on the wall of your gun room or hunting gear closet. Whatever your preference, just have it ready. As part of this effort, you will probably want to make a trip to your local sporting goods store. It’s a sure way to discover there is some “must have” accessory you need to acquire, and it whets the hunter’s appetite for the upcoming rites of autumn.
Speaking of readiness, there are few worse sins for the deer hunter than entering the woods with a gun that hasn’t been sighted in. Never mind that Ol’ Betsy was dead on when you cleaned the rifle and stored it at the end of last season, spend some time at a range. You may want to try some new ammo, adjust the trigger a tad or simply get the boost in confidence provided by a pattern group shot at 100 yards which can be covered with a silver dollar. Should a scope be a bit off, you’ll discover it at the appropriate time as opposed to a moment of truth which turns into the disaster of a miss.
Fitness—An overlooked consideration
Finally, give more than passing attention to fitness. While walking to a stand, even a rather distant one, may not involve a great deal of effort, the fit hunter is a smart hunter. He will be ready for the considerable work which can be involved in field dressing a deer then dragging it from the woods. Likewise, peak fitness means alertness in the stand and readiness for that moment of rushing adrenalin when a dream buck makes his stage entrance.
My Grandpa Joe used to be fond of saying: “The hunting is only part of it.” In his view there was a world of fun to be found in background planning and preparation, or as he put it in his pithy fashion, “doing some dreamin’ and scheming.’” The resultant sense of anticipation, along with realization that you have readied yourself in the best way possible, will provide pleasure and, hopefully, hunting success.
Jim Casada is a widely published freelance writer who has written or edited dozens of books. To learn more about these works or to sign up to receive his free monthly e-newsletter, visit www.JimCasadaOutdoors.com.