Typically in Iowa during the first day of shotgun season for whitetails you will see groups of orange clad hunters chasing deer all over the place. The Iowa landscape is literally dotted with orange from border to border. The most common tactic used is large group or party hunting. This is when hunters will get deer up on their feet and get them moving to hunters blocking the escape routes in hopes of a shot. While there is nothing wrong with this whatsoever, it really isn’t my style at least not anymore. For years I would partake in this ritual style of hunting here in Iowa and I always managed to have some fun, shoot a few nice deer, and made some great memories. However, I never really got into it all that much. To me it always seemed so dang crowded and more like organized chaos, and on some occasions just chaos. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying it is wrong to group/party hunt, but it just isn’t for me anymore. If this style is what you prefer, then more power to you. I will never tell you to change something that you enjoy doing. Nonetheless, if you are looking for a different style of shotgunning for whitetails or simply want to try something new, read on about the way myself and a few hunting buddies hunt the shotgun season.
About seven years ago I traded in the large group and party hunting for a 2-3 man group hunt to escape the craziness. That decision was both a blessing and a mistake. Initially it was a mistake because I still tried to do the same pushing and blocking tactics that a large group would use. The result was a tough and embarrassing first day of the season. To be honest the next few days were not much better, so the entire season was pretty much a failure. The deer would simply just flee the areas we didn’t have covered and we were left pretty disappointed. It was a blessing because it taught us that we either had to switch up our hunting methods while using fewer hunters or go back to the crowd. Not wanting to admit defeat and tuck our tail’s between our legs I sat down and figured out how to shotgun hunt whitetail with 2-3 people.
It didn’t happen overnight, but after a few years of trial and error we came up with a plan. That plan was to organize our day based off of what we thought the deer would be doing during specific times of the day while being harassed by the large hunting groups. Then we would use certain tactics to exploit what we knew the deer were doing. So without further ado below is the plan I came up with and have used every opening day the last five years.
The Plan: Have a Successful Opening Day
Number of Hunters: 2 or 3
Time Zone: Legal Shooting
Light – 9am: Food Source
Instead of pushing timber the first chance we get we opt to sit next to food sources. On opening day of the first shotgun season deer to some extent haven’t been pressured all that much. Sure the bow hunters have had their shot the last two months and put some pressure on the deer, but nothing like what will take place in a few short hours on opening day. So in large part deer will stick to their normal routines and look to hit up food sources before they head back to bed for the day. What we like to do is sit on food sources the first 60 to 90 minutes of the season. Any longer than that and you know what is going to happen eventually, the deer will be running all over the county from the onslaught of hunters pursuing them. So sitting over a food source after about 9am is pointless.
The good thing is deer have no clue as to what is about to happen and they need to feed to pack on the pounds that were lost during the rut and to survive the winter. You have to get in there early though and quietly…basically it is the same tactic you would use for bow hunting. Get to your spot early enough where you can let things calm down and you can get ready. It is very important that you get there undetected, if it is a good food source chances are the deer will be there already so you don’t want to spook them…be quiet and use a route that allows you to get to your spot undetected. As soon as you get to a spot that gives you a good view point and shot stop and set up there. There is no reason to risk getting to 40 yards when you are comfortable at 70 yards.
The last five years our small group has taken three nice bucks from the early morning food plot sits. It is a great tactic to use because like I mentioned deer are still in their normal routines and don’t suspect they will be hunted hard the next three weeks.
After the last deer has left the field we usually reconvene and go over our next stop.
9am-12pm – Sit Near The Densest Cover You can Find
We have touched on it several times already, that deer will be running all over the place by now. Where are they going? They will be headed towards the densest, most secluded cover they can find. So our next stop during the day is another sit, but this time to where deer will be running to. From about 8am to lunch time we will find areas that offer thick nasty cover that is out of the way of the bigger timbers and cover. Sometimes this is a patch of cedar trees out in the middle of nowhere, a clump of cattails nestled in marshland, or CRP fields. Nonetheless you need to find dense secluded cover and sit there. Deer, especially the older more mature deer, will not want to be in the large timber once all hell breaks loose. This isn’t there first rodeo and they will look for refuge where hunters most likely won’t go.
The goal here is to be able to shoot anything that is coming into the cover and possibly anything that might be leaving the cover. Depending on the size of the cover our group will either surround the area (paying attention to the wind, we don’t want to spook them out of their just yet) with all the hunters or if we have smaller patches of cover we will hunt them individually.
12pm-3:30pm – One Man Deer Drives
After the better half of the day sitting and waiting it is now time to bring the hunt to the deer. Next we move on to actually performing a few drives, I know this may seem like a foolish tactic with only three hunters but it actually can and does work if you do it right. Instead of making a lot of noise and getting the deer moving quickly we do what we call silent deer drives. The goal of this tactic is to get the deer in a reasonable shooting distance of the blocker/s all while moving at a reasonable speed.
The reason this is a silent drive is because we want the scent of the pusher to move the deer and not loud noises or a bunch of footsteps. This type of drive really works for us because a lot of the times we are hunting smaller tracts of land or dividing up larger tracts into smaller sections. This type of drive also works on hunting those same secluded areas that we were just hunting over. The best for this type of drive is creek beds. If you can find a long stretch of land that has a creek running through it…hunt it! Deer love finding refuge in the cover around creek bed bottoms!
I would suggest breaking it up into smaller portions though. Too long of a creek bed and the deer will eventually slip out the sides well out of range of any shooter. If you have to hunt bigger timber break it into sections and hunt one area at a time. Or better yet place a shooter in a funnel where the deer are mostly likely to push through. These are absolute dynamite ambush spots!
How To Perform a Silent Drive:
• Have The Blocker/Shooter Placed DownWind
Have the person/s that is going to be taking the shot (most likely) enter the area first at the end of the stretch downwind of the area being hunted. Make sure they walk out and around of the area. If you can find some higher elevation that keeps you in shooting range sit there. This will allow a great view of what is happening and give you time to move a bit for a shot if need be. By having the shooter enter first with the wind in his face you will allow his scent to stay out of the area and not spook any deer prematurely. It is imperative that the shooter remain motionless and silent the entire hunt, except if they need to reposition for a shot.
• Start The Drive
Once the shooter is in position the driver can start. The wind will be at his back and pushing his scent towards the deer, which should get them up on their feet and looking for an escape route. The key to a successful silent one man drive is to let the scent do the work. Stay as quiet as possible and move slowly making sure to cover every inch of cover. The deer will know you are in the area but shouldn’t bolt out of the cover, rather trying to sneak away.
• Stop and Go
When pushing the area make sure and stop every now and again. This will deter any sneaky bucks trying to escape behind you. Walk 20 yards and then stop this will get the deer nervous and get them moving ahead of you.
• Cover The Escape
Deer like to travel on routes and the same is true when they are being pressured. Instead of just bolting out of the area they will leave most of the time on trails in the area. Make sure your blocker is positioned on one of these routes. Again if the blocker is in a higher elevation looking down this will give them a great view point of any deer moving and where they might be headed, allowing them to move and get in position for a shot.
• Start Over
Once the drive is over you can start the next section. If you are on a big piece of property or a long creek bed all you have to do is leave one person behind, where the previous drive ended. This person becomes the pusher. Then send the other hunter/s out and around and have them get into position to be the blockers. You can repeat this process as many times as it takes to hunt the property.
This should go without saying but we will cover it. At all times practice safety and what you have learned throughout your years of hunting. Make sure your safety is on, barrel pointed in the correct direction, know where your hunting partners are at and could move to, know your background, and know your target. It has been said many times before, but I will say it again: NO DEER IS WORTH LOSING YOUR LIFE OVER! Sorry for the capital letters but that is probably the most important sentence of this entire article.
3:30pm-Legal Shooting Light –
Remote Food Source
The last stop of the day is back to food sources. By now the deer are in a frenzy and most likely tucked away somewhere in cover. However they still have to eat and are probably starving from the constant running they have been doing so they may slip out in to a food source for a snack. What we like to do is go back to sitting for the rest of the day. We like to find a remote food source and set up shop there. If you have food plots tucked back in the woods or some untouched crop fields on the far end of the property these are great at catching deer coming out for an early snack.
Call It A Day
That is all there is to our plan for opening day. Actually we will use this plan every day we hunt no matter if it is opening day or the final day of the season. While my hunting partners and I don’t tag huge bucks every year we do manage to shoot a deer most years and have found this plan to be very successful for us. What it really allows for is each hunter to pick and choose what deer they would like to harvest. In a large group where the deer are moving Mach 10 you basically shoot at a deer without realizing any of its characteristics no matter if it be a doe or buck. The plan that I use actually gives you some time to decide if that is the deer you would like to place a tag on.
If you want to get away from the crowds this year and hunt with a few of your buddies or family members give the plan I wrote about above a try.