Editor’s Note: Dr. Grant Woods of Reeds Spring, Missouri, a leading white-tailed deer researcher, uses the latest scientific technology to track deer movements and learn why deer do what they do. You can use Dr. Wood’s tactics to see and take deer this season.
by Dr. Grant Woods with John E. Phillips
USA -(AmmoLand.com)- Recognize How Sensitive Deer Are to Hunter Pressure
I’ve been totally amazed since I’ve been using radio telemetry to study deer movement at how sensitive deer are to hunting pressure, and how quickly they adapt to and are able to dodge hunters in the woods. From what I’ve learned, I now know that I prefer to hunt an area with fewer deer and fewer hunters than hunt a region with lots of deer and hunters.
For instance, I’d rather hunt an area in northern Michigan where only 10 deer live per square mile that has very little if any hunter pressure than a place in Alabama with 100 deer per square mile and a deer hunter on every 40 acres. I’ve found that taking a buck that’s experienced very little hunter contact is much easier than attempting to bag a buck where the deer have lots of hunting pressure. So, hunt the places with less deer density and less hunting pressure, instead of hunting areas with higher deer density and more hunting pressure. You can pinpoint these spots studying maps and aerial photos – even on public lands.
Realize Deer Understand Hunter Patterns
My company has some property in Georgia that we manage where we’ve kept very thorough data for 7 years to try to learn where the big bucks live on that land. We’ve hunted this property intensively and spread our hunting out over the entire region.
We thought we knew where the deer were, and what they were doing. On a map of our hunting property, we divided the land up into 1/8-mile sections (220 yards). We made a grid on the map and gave each of those sections a number and a letter. Everyone who hunted that property recorded exactly where they hunted on that land, and the number of hours they spent hunting in those 1/8-mile blocks. Each 1/8-mile block that had been hunted for at least 10 hours was then highlighted on the aerial map.
The more the area was hunted, the darker the highlighter we used. For instance, the 1/8-mile squares hunted the most were colored black. The 1/8-mile blocks of land not hunted at all were clear. At the end of 7 years, I was amazed at the numbers of sections of land we’d never even hunted. We learned that as hunters we’d directed those deer on that land to use the travel corridors we never hunted.
From this information, we’ve learned that if you hunt the places no one else hunts, even on lands with a lot of hunting pressure, you still can see and take big bucks that no one else on the property ever sees. I suggest on a hunting lease that you get a map of the land you hunt, set up 1/8-mile grids on that map and get everyone to mark where they hunt, and how much time they spend hunting there. Each season the club will learn more about where everyone hunts, see where they’re not hunting and recognize where the deer must be holding. Those blocks not being hunted probably contain the bigger and better bucks. My company has used this system on several properties we manage. The hunters and the landowners have been totally amazed to learn the amount of land they’re not hunting each year.
If the hunters on your lease or in your club don’t want everyone to know where they’re hunting, I recommend that each hunter keep a log every season of which blocks he’s hunted, and the number of hours he’s hunted in each. At the end of the season, the hunters can turn in their logs, and someone in the club who volunteers can map and chart all the hunting locations for the members to learn where the hunters are, and the deer aren’t.
Another property where my crew is paid to harvest deer we’ve kept very extensive, precise records noting exactly where we’ve hunted, how long we’ve hunted each place, and how many deer were taken there for the past 6 years. There’s still as many squares on that property that haven’t been hunted as there are 1/8-mile squares that have been hunted.
We average over 1,000 hours of tree stand time a season on that land. Since our scientists are very disciplined and try to scout hard and hunt deep woods where no one else hunts, we’ve learned that most of the white squares (the less-hunted places) on this property are along road edges and access areas that we use to get deeper into the property. I’m totally convinced that the more daytime hunting pressure a property receives, the better deer pattern hunters, and the less daytime activity in which the deer will participate.
Know Hunter Patterns Still Impact Deer after the Season
I’m totally convinced that most hunters don’t see deer on the properties they hunt, because deer understand and react to hunter pressure. I was really made aware of this fact about a decade ago when I was doing a browse survey on an 80-acre high-fence property in . Since snow was on the ground, the best way for me to get around that property was on cross-country skis.
I told myself, “I should have a great opportunity to see numbers of deer, because I know lots of deer live on this 800 acres. There’s snow on the ground, the deer are hungry, they’ll be moving, and I’ll be very quiet on these skis. I should be able to slip up on them and spot them before they see me.”
Too, a cold front was moving in that day that created perfect conditions for seeing deer. However, I stayed on those skis all day long, and I only spotted one deer. Later I learned that more than 200 deer were inside that fence. But I was doing my survey right after the land had been intensively hunted. Those deer had become so accustomed to dodging hunters that they could hear, see, smell and get out of my way before I ever could see them. Hunter numbers are decreasing slightly. But the amount of land available to hunt is dramatically decreasing too. So, more hunters are on each acre now than ever before.
Yet another factor is that hunters are much more educated about where, when and how to find deer than in years past. The deer must be much smarter and more elusive to survive now. Deer have learned that their best defense against hunters is to fill their bellies with food at night and spend their daylight hours in thick cover, chewing their cuds. Deer are so adaptable that they
quickly learn when danger is present, and when it’s not.
For instance at Cades Cove in Tennessee, you’ll often see deer moving there during daylight hours. No one hunts these deer. They have little or no fear of humans. However, because bears and other predators move at night, they spend most of the time bedded-down at night.
Another phenomenon I’ve seen in Texas is that on the Mexican border, the deer, and especially the bucks, move a lot during daylight hours. For a long time, I couldn’t decide why. However, some places along the Mexican border have so many illegal aliens coming across the border at night, and so many Border Patrol officers are looking for illegal aliens at night that the land is crawling with people at night. But in the daylight hours, hardly anyone is moving where the deer are. The deer there move during daylight hours because they’re less likely to run into people due to the heat. I’ve never seen daytime deer movement as much anywhere in the country as I have along the Mexican border in south .
John’s newest deer-hunting book, “Whitetail Deer and the Hunters Who Take Big Bucks” is available at http://amzn.to/2bySF4T.
About the Author:
For the past 40+ years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a fulltime outdoor writer, traveling the world interviewing hunters, guides, outfitters and other outdoorsmen about how they hunt and fish. An award-winning author, John has been hunting and fishing since his kindergarten days.