By Tom Peplinski
Back in the day I would read any article I could get my hands on that talked about whitetail hunting tactics. I would rent any hunting video that I hadn’t seen before and act out the strategies I saw on the videos with high expectations these tactics would work for me as well. 30 years ago, hunting videos were all about the “how to” with hunting industry personalities or self-proclaimed experts telling us all how to get things done. For me, there was entertainment value that went along with watching and reading but my goal was to inform myself with the latest information on whitetail hunting. Very little of what I took in during my first decade of hunting do I consider relevant today…although learning from my own mistakes and experiences have gotten me to this point I guess!
With the industrializing of whitetail hunting has also come a massive amount of information available to us hunters that was never available in decades past. More in depth research about how deer use their senses, how they react to hunting pressure, the biology of what deer eat, and how and why they do what they do is getting better all the time. Looking at today’s research and it becomes obvious to me why it was so hard “back in the day” to even see a deer yet alone a great buck. All the mistakes I made and belief system I used to help guide my hunting decisions and I wonder how I ever filled a tag.
With all the new information available today, it is confusing to me why hunters still keep making the same mistakes and same flawed assumptions as we have for decades. Actually I’m not confused at all! The mistakes we make are in large part due to our human nature to convince ourselves of what we already believe regardless of reality. Hence…we create our own hunting reality.
New scientific research into how good a deer smells as well as field tests of cover scents, scent elimination sprays, and all the other products out there to beat a deer’s sense of smell should tell us that the best method to beat a deer’s sense of smell is to never let a deer get down wind of us. Yet there are hunters out there that refuse to abide by this science. How many of you reading this have your gun hunting spots already picked out for December and it’s only August…you must have much better weather data than I have to know the wind direction on a day four months from now. 30 years ago I swore by cover scents…skunk, coon, and fox urines were used to effectively cover up my scent; or so I thought. Or maybe that strong dose of my mom’s vanilla extract on my hunting clothes would do the trick. When it worked, or seemed to work, I would convince myself I had the perfect solution and kept using the cover up scent. Every deer from then on that I would shoot would come in conjunction with my use of cover scents. I could without hesitation say “every deer I shoot I’m wearing a cover scent”. True, but it had no bearing at all with reality on why I was killing those deer. Could it have been that on the days that I was successful the deer were simply upwind of my location?
Or, take for example the science around how a deer’s vision works. New research out there can confirm that deer don’t see colors near the red area of the color spectrum but can see blues very well. This new research makes sense on why wearing blaze orange or black and red plaid doesn’t matter all that much. It also makes sense as to why wearing blue jeans isn’t all that smart either. But it pains me to see hunters spending an enormous amount of time and energy picking out the perfect camo pattern when research says it probably doesn’t matter all that much. Try picking the hunting clothes that are the quietest, have the pockets in the right spots, fits your budget, and is not blue and my bet is you’ll do just fine.
Some new research is getting me to question my whole thought process around deer movement too! I have convinced myself through my own experiences that deer move the best during certain times. Take for example my belief that big buck movement is best during times of changing weather patterns…especially during the onset of a cold front after days of lingering low pressure and warmer weather. Am I right? Radio collar research suggests that deer move about the same each and every day (taking into account seasonal behavior like the rut). What about my observations that deer seem to move best on evening hunts when you have a rising full moon…again research would say the moon makes no difference? Can it be coincidence? To stir a debate in your head, think of it this way…if you always save your best stands for days when the weather is the best (cold front, high pressure, etc.) wouldn’t it stand to reason that you are ultimately setting up your hunting to confirm a reality you’ve created. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if you only hunt your best spots during the best times, that of course you will kill most of your deer during those best times regardless of whether or not those times are better. Let me put it this way, if you only hunt when the temperature is cold you can only kill a deer when the temperature is cold…might not have anything to do with it being cold but the fact that it’s the only time you’re hunting. What if you hunted your best spots during the “worst” weather and vice versa? What if we just haven’t figured out how to hunt the warm days and adjusted our tactics…would our hunting reality change?
During the 2016 late muzzleloader hunt, my son and I were able to accurately predict deer movement each and every day based on the weather forecast. When the weather was coldest, we saw the best deer movement. When it was warm and balmy, not so much. In fact, on the second to the last day of the hunt we were convinced based on the weather that if he didn’t get one that night, his chance would be over. But again…was it really the weather? The stand where we saw the best deer movement was a tripod enclosed blind that overlooked a corn field to our north and standing beans to our southwest. Because of the lay of the land and placement of the tripod, the only wind we could hunt this “best” spot was a westerly or northerly wind. Any wind out of the south or east wouldn’t work. Turns out, that with the exception of only one evening, we were only able to sit at this great spot during the colder days because that’s the only days the wind would cooperate. On days that we saw south or east winds we had to pick other stand locations and on those days it was warm or raining. So…was it the cold days as we predicted or the fact that what seemed like the best spot could only be hunted on those cold days? I suppose we’ll never truly know for sure. My gut says it was the weather…science research says maybe not?
The point in all this rambling and example giving is that our experiences, or gut feelings, or what we hear from non-science experts cannot always be relied upon as gospel as recent whitetail research has shown. And because we have a very keen ability to talk ourselves into things that aren’t true, our own experiences are not always reliable unless we are honest with the results. Which brings me to my final thoughts…
Sorting Through the Information
When you go out this fall and are putting a game plan together for your hunt, remember that with any given subject there are four groups of people out there that can help you along the way…give you advice. The first are the hunters that don’t have a clue what they are doing, but in all honesty admit they don’t have a clue. These are the hunters you can share ideas with and learn together or maybe you can help. These are the young or first time hunters that might need guidance. Don’t give them bad advice or pump them full of hype! Every hunter started out with little knowledge of the sport, the good hunters admitted to themselves early on that they didn’t have all the answers.
The second group of hunters are successful year in and year out and can do it in a humbling way. You can tell they know what they are talking about because they’ll admit when they don’t know. Their success speaks for itself. In this group you can include wildlife biologists who study deer behavior and draw conclusions from their studies. Take as much information from these people as they’ll give. Read every article you can get your hands on written by a wildlife biologist/hunter. If research was done that says deer prefer oats over wheat…you can probably take it to the bank regardless of whether or not you’ve taken a couple deer over wheat. Listen to what they say and apply it to your hunt.
The third group of hunters are responsible for the bulk of misinformation out there in the whitetail hunting world. These are the guys that know very little about whitetail behavior and hunting methods but unfortunately they don’t know what they don’t know. These are the guys that never had a food plot fail…or they all fail but it’s never their fault. These are also the hunters that blame everything and everyone else for their unsuccessful seasons. They seem to have many opinions but are short on results. They will give advice on how to kill giant bucks yet don’t seem to have much success at it themselves. I’m not trying to be harsh, but don’t take advice from them. Steer clear…run for the hills!
One final group of hunters are the professional personalities who get paid to hunt and produce shows by their sponsors. Many of them I believe are excellent hunters and I would love to have their knowledge and farms to hunt (some maybe not). But always remember they make their living by promoting products and ideas for you to buy. If you ask someone sponsored by “Big Ed’s Wildlife Seed” what the best seed blend is to plant on a small food plot near the edge of timber…my guess is it will be one of “Big Ed’s” blends. As long as you keep this in mind, watch their shows for the entertainment and informational value it provides.
Keeping up with the latest and greatest whitetail research will help all hunters be more successful each fall. Learning how to separate fact from hype will help you even more. And being able to honestly dissect your own experiences will help you from falling into the dilemma of creating your own reality!