Hunting Pressured Bucks

By Dan Johnson

It’s early November and a cold front is coming through. The wind is absolutely perfect for you to hunt a stand that you have been daydreaming about all year. The barometric pressure is rising and the moon guide is showing favorable hunting conditions. You have done your scouting and have studied maps to find the best entry and exit access routes to and from your stand that just so happens to be downwind of quite possibly one of the best bedding areas you have ever seen. You have been waiting for these weather conditions all season, and even though it’s a weekday, you have decided to use a vacation day and hunt all day long. You wake up early just so you can get to your stand location before it even starts to get light. Like a true timber Ninja, you make it to your stand almost silent.

You climb up and get settled in. After 30 minutes of sitting both motionless and silent, the sun begins to come up. It’s a cold, crystal clear morning and the woods begin to come alive. You can’t help but think about that Iowa giant stepping out and presenting the perfect shot at 20 yards. As the sun continues rise and the morning frost begins to melt, your excitement changes to confusion. You did everything you were supposed to do and you have yet to see a deer. Minutes turn to hours, and now you’re just plain pissed. The day is already half over and you make the decision to get out of the tree and head back to the truck. On the way back to your parking spot you notice a tree stand that wasn’t there before. You also notice boot prints, another tree stand, a couple trail cameras, and finally one more tree stand. That my friend, is the definition of pressure.

Whether the deer you hunt are on public ground or private property, they all experience some form of pressure. That pressure can be direct or indirect and typically affect a whitetails sight, smell, or hearing. Let me explain. An example of direct pressure would be walking to your tree stand and jumping a deer because they saw, caught your wind, heard you, or a combination of all three. Direct pressure, in my opinion, is the worst kind of pressure that can be administered to the whitetails environment. Multiple senses have been triggered and they can verify the danger is close and in fact a threat. Because of that direct pressure they are more than likely to avoid the area where the threat was detected. The more direct pressure to a piece of property or an individual deer the less of a chance you have of that deer returning to the area.

All hunting property in some way, shape, or form, has indirect pressure. That can be from the farmer working the property, farm animals, or even as you check your trail cameras or hang you tree stands. You may not directly affect the deer and trigger multiple senses at one time, but you are leaving scent and they are aware of a potential threat being in the area if they come through at a later time. The good thing about indirect pressure is that the deer can become used to it, conditioned if you will. However, this takes time.

There are two schools of thought when is come to exposing your hunting property to human pressure. The first and most popular, stay out until you hunt. I have several friends who will not step foot on their hunting properties until the season starts. They don’t run trail cameras, don’t shed hunt, don’t look for mushrooms, nothing. The property is left alone. But let’s be clear, this has both positives and negatives. If you never enter your hunting properties until the season starts the deer are going to feel very comfortable moving around because they have little to no human exposure. This can be an awesome killing tactic of you wait for the right conditions and live by the “First time in, best time in.” motto. However, when the season dose start and your presence starts to be known, I feel you have a bigger impact on that property because the deer are so used to having the timber to themselves that when there is some sort of intrusion they are more effected by it. This also might explain what some call the dreaded “October Lull”. Think of hunting pressure like throwing a rock in to a pond. The bigger the rock, the bigger the ripples, and the more time it takes for the surface to return back to normal.

I know what you’re thinking, what about public land? When it comes to public hunting ground, all bet are off. It seems that on the public ground that I have hunted in the past, pressure is turned on all year. Shed hunting turns to mushroom hunting, mushroom hunting turns to turkey hunting, turkey hunting turns to summer scouting, and then the hunting season… there is no way you can control that, because it’s public ground. But don’t lose hope, there are several ways one can, not necessarily beat the pressure, but use the pressure to your advantage.
Let’s say that you have done your scouting and have found a buck or two that you want to go after. But there’s one problem, other hunters. Whether on private or public ground, this is an obstacle that a majority of hunters face every season. Over the years I not only observed how deer moved through the timber, but how other hunters move through the timber as well. One thing that I have noticed is that 75% of the hunters don’t put in the necessary effort that is needed to be in the right spot, have the right access, have the right wind, or something as simple as just being quiet. You might be able to use some of these flaws to your benefit. Let’s take, for example, the hunter who has had a treestand in the same spot for the last 30 years. He more than likely parks in the same parking spot, takes the same access routes, and hunts that stand several times throughout the season. Over the years the deer have been educated on his position and have more than likely altered how they move through that area. If I had to guess, he also calls way too much and a ton of deer circle downwind of his location and bust him without him even knowing. This is where a smart hunter can be successful. If you can find that specific location where the deer are flanking the other hunters position you may be able to set up your own stand or blind where the deer veer from the main travel route to avoid any interaction with the other hunter. Your access will have to be different, you will have to go in earlier or stay later, and trust me when I say you will have to bust your ass to get in the right position.

There are times when we our own worst enemy. We love hunting so much that we just want to be in the woods as much as possible. This can have negative implications, especially if you are diving in to some of your best stand locations early in the season or if you don’t have many acres to actually hunt. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this puts unnecessary pressure on the deer. We all know that big bucks aren’t running around in daylight the first couple weeks of October, so, from a statistics standpoint your success rate will be lower, unless you have one dead to rights patterned. With that said, I am one of those guys who likes to hunt and be outside enjoying nature from the stand or blind every chance I get. That is why, more often than not, I will set up an observation stand overlooking the area that I want to hunt in the future. From that observation stand, I will be able to watch what deer are coming in and out or working their way through, all without applying pressure to that area. Over the years, this tactic has put me in front of some true giants when I finally made the decision to move in for the kill.

In the end it all circles back to what your goals are as a hunter. If you are in search of a mature buck, then you might want to do a little more planning in regards to access routes and stand/blind locations. And, you might want to lay off your property until the conditions are perfect. On the other hand, if you’re looking to fill the freezer and throw an arrow at the first deer that walks by, then by all means you could probably hunt every day of the season. Remember to have fun, be safe, and enjoy yourself.