How Accurate Do You Have to Be Part 7
By Dr. Ken Nordberg
The road to accurate shooting while hunting whitetails extends far beyond a shooting range. Great field accuracy also depends on what desirable quarries are doing when spotted – moving rapidly away, bounding or trotting because you alarmed them or walking slowly and often stopping because they have no idea you are near, most common when skillfully stand hunting. The trouble is, stand hunters must travel on foot to get to stand sites (see last month’s article about identifying best stand sites and various classes of whitetails via their tracks and droppings). While on foot, human hunters are particularly easy for whitetails to identify via sight, sound and airborne scents. Once identified, humans are then easily avoided by experienced adult deer, almost routinely without hunters realizing it. Field accuracy, then, also greatly depends on whether or not you are capable of reaching stand sites without alerting or alarming deer along the way.
Unless it is windy or moderate-to-heavy precipitation is falling, the first clues likely to inform mature whitetails (2-1/2 years of age or older) a human hunter is approaching or passing are sounds of the hunter’s footsteps. Human hunters are terribly handicapped by having large feet, causing them to frequently step on dead twigs and branches that snap loudly underfoot. They are also handicapped by being accustomed to walking on clean flat surfaces such as floors and sidewalks, making it difficult to walk in the woods without noisily dragging their boots (heels) across rough surfaces and through fallen leaves, dead grasses, woody vegetation (shin tangle) and snow. These telltale sounds not only enable experienced whitetails to easily identify human hunters, but on quiet mornings these sounds are easily heard and recognized by whitetails 200 yards or more away. To avoid making these sounds, dead twigs and branches should be removed from stand trails 2-3 weeks before hunting begins and while hiking to stand sites hunters should make a conscious effort to bend their knees with each step, thus raising their feet well above the ground, and then place each foot softly down on the ground (like a bear). Though some audible sounds may still be heard, nearby deer will be unlikely to positively identify (via hearing) a hunter walking in this manner. Though initially curious, nonetheless, whitetails unsure of what they are hearing will not abandon the area and the odds of seeing unsuspecting deer near the stand site will therefore be vastly improved. Always keep in mind, one alarmed deer, bounding or trotting and/or snorting, can alarm all other deer within hearing, sight or smell, causing all within the vicinity of a stand site to quickly abandon the area up to four or more days.
The odds of being seen and thus identified by deer while heading to a stand site can be reduced by sticking to dense cover or opposite sides of hills or ridges until very close to the stand site. Where this can’t be done, the stand site is unlikely to be productive. Though curious for awhile, whitetails will not ordinarily flee from the area if they only spot occasional, very brief glimpses of small portions of your silhouette as you move through or beyond intervening cover or terrain. The final 50 yards (or more) of your approach trail should angle left or right toward your stand to ensure masking cover is always between you and deer beyond your stand site.
Many of the 100 or more of identifying odors characteristic of human hunters only cannot be completely hidden long or not at all from noses of whitetails, which are 10,000 times more sensitive than human noses. Even sitting high in a tree cannot keep a hunter’s odors from being identified by downwind whitetails (usually happening without hunters realizing it). Virtually all of these identifying odors can nonetheless be completely hidden from deer only by approaching stand sites from downwind or crosswind (beginning 200 yards away) and then sitting downwind or crosswind of sites where deer are expected to be seen. This precaution costs nothing.
After arriving at your stand site unidentified by nearby deer, it is almost certain your soft footsteps were nonetheless heard by them. As you settle back to watch the area ahead, well hidden by natural, unaltered cover, silent, motionless and therefore impossible for upwind whitetails to identify, those deer will be wondering what you are: another deer, a potentially dangerous predator, a fox, merely a squirrel but not likely a human. After nothing more is heard or seen or heard, within thirty minutes they will conclude whatever you are, or were, you are now resting, not dangerous or no longer near, having moved silently away. They will, therefore, consider it to be safe to move in your direction. Still-hunters who occasionally stop briefly and hunters who make drives never take advantage of this whitetail vulnerability. The half-hour before sunrise being one of the most productive of periods to hunt whitetails, especially older bucks, my hunting partners and I make it a rule to always arrive at our stand sites in the dark one hour before sunrise, thus eliminating that half hour it generally takes for nearby whitetails to decide it is safe to move in our direction before it becomes legal and light enough to fire at them.
When they don't realize you are near, whitetails are generally easy targets.
“Opportunistic Stand Hunting,” is soon to be explained in great detail in Dr. Nordberg’s 10th Edition of Whitetail Hunter’s Almanac (initially an eBook). Dr. Nordberg has written more than 700 articles for outdoor magazines since 1980, 10 bestselling books about whitetails & improved hunting methods & 3 about how to hunt trophy-class black bears – books that changed to way whitetails & black bears are hunted in North America forever. All are based on his unique, hunting-related field studies, still ongoing, of wild deer and black bears since 1970. For complete information and to reach Dr. Nordberg, go to www.drnordbergondeerhunting.com