Whitetails 365: Top Reasons Your Season Could End Unsuccessfully

By Tom Peplinski

Not Recognizing Changing Food Sources
Last year was the epitome of misjudging food sources. For many years now, I have gone through seasons with the ability to predict pretty successfully the deer’s transition from one food source to another. A successful soybean plot for as long as I can remember had always pulled a huge number of deer each and every year by the time mid to late November came around. In 2015, the shift I had observed year after year didn’t happen…at least not until very late in the year. 2015 brought a bumper crop of acorns like I had never seen. My farm is host to hundreds of mature red and white oaks and the acorn crop they produced last year was something I don’t know will ever be repeated again in my lifetime. The result was a deer herd with all the high protein food they could handle…without ever leaving the timber. The only other food sources that consistently saw pressure were green food plots and a lush alfalfa field on the neighbor’s farm.

Last year simply points to how important it is to be able to identify preferred food sources as the season progresses. Most years for example and the acorn draw will diminish by mid to late November as every last one is consumed by deer, turkeys, and all the other critters. Observation told me that acorns were still present but I still wasted crucial time pursuing the “switch” to beans that didn’t occur until later.

For most hunters, we have only a few long weekends…maybe a week or two of vacation in which to capitalize on. Making sure we know the preferred food sources is real important in making these limited days count. Let the evidence and your observations determine what those food sources are, not your emotions. And, don’t talk yourself into hunting food sources that aren’t being hit.

Hunting Too Hard
It’s easy enough to do. We wait all year long for the opener, then we flood the timber and draws and fields of our hunting grounds and start the hunt. So often hunters start doing damage to their hunting season right out of the gates, with each mistake chances of success get harder. Impatience gets hunters to educate and put pressure on deer making it harder as the season progresses.

Today, almost everyone is running a trail camera, or two, or three… Too often, hunters are putting trail cameras in hard to reach areas and checking them almost daily. Each and every time you do this, you are putting pressure on the local deer herd. Locate your trail cameras where they can be reached more easily without intruding and bumping deer. In those areas that are hard to reach, only check those cameras on windy or rainy days limiting the chances of spooking deer or leaving signs of your intrusion behind.

Maybe you are limited through acreage or budget to the amount of stands you have…pounding these stands over and over will hurt your chances in the long run. Mix it up a bit…on the seasonably hot days, take a break from active hunting and sit a stand you can use as a lookout for long distance scouting; or drive around the neighborhood with binoculars or spotting scope in hand to get the latest information on preferred food sources. And, make sure you are not bumping deer when entering or leaving your sets…if you are put together a plan to remedy the situation or quit hunting there until you do.

Resist mid-season “walk abouts” as I call them. You know the scenario; you are sitting in camp or at home and it’s just burning you not knowing if a certain area is starting to show rut sign like scraping and rubbing. Or on the way out or in from hunting you notice a giant trail leading back into the timber and you can’t overcome the urge to walk it back. So, on a boring fall day you decide to just sneak around a bit to do some prudent scouting and the next thing you know you are bumping deer out of their beds, or worse yet you bump a really good buck only to see his rack disappear over the ridge and into the neighbor’s property. Resist the urge to bumble around during the season any more than you have too. (When I was very young I would hunt grouse all day on my grandpa’s 120 acre farm and then grab my archery equipment for the evening hunt…I never saw any deer and couldn’t figure out why?)

Not Hunting Hard Enough
So, don’t hunt too hard…and now I’m telling you to make sure and hunt hard enough? Well, there is some truth to being too cautious. I once hunted a farm for several years that was bordered by a co-worker of mine. He had a few hundred acres of what I believed to be prime real estate for hunting. On our farm, we had four guys hunting fairly hard all fall on only 200 acres. I say only 200 acres because by comparison, the hunting pressure on our farm should have been triple the amount he experienced on his farm each fall. But it never failed that most years we would harvest several mature bucks to his…none. Eventually he got upset at the situation and began asking questions about the size and type of deer we were killing…surely we were shooting adolescent bucks thus the reason for his failures. Upon seeing the type and age class of the deer we harvested each fall, he started asking questions. Where were we hunting…did we hunt mornings…were we sitting all day…how much were we calling? He admitted to us that he seldom if ever hunted mornings for fear of bumping deer. His evening hunts near food sources were limited to a couple stands. By his own admission, he was sacrificing hunting any harder for fear of bumping deer to us. He was trying to protect his deer, and in the process ruined his hunt and didn’t get to enjoy his property all that much.

There comes a time when caution is one thing, not hunting to the point you are limiting your opportunities is another. If you hunt smarter, instead of hunting harder, you can hedge your bets that you can still hunt often enough to maximize your limited opportunities, while not burning out the areas you hunt. Move around and mix it up so that you maximize the time you have. Putting too much pressure on the deer herd lessens your odds over time…but it’s impossible to be successful if you are sitting it out altogether.

Expecting Too Much From Your Gear
Today’s modern archery hunter is bombarded with marketing getting us to believe we can cut corners in our hunting skills. The art of woodsmenship is disappearing to high tech equipment and scouting tools. Gone are the days of hunting using the sign method, or patterning whitetails through labor intensive winter and spring scouting or hours of glassing. For every possible problem an archery hunter has come across in the past decade a company is out there with a solution. But, forgetting about basic hunting skills like using the wind to your advantage, staying quiet, not moving while on stand, are skills that should never be forgotten or overlooked. All the fancy gear available to modern hunters can hurt us if we let this stuff take over our hunts.

Decoying is fun, and it can be exciting when it works. But, using a decoy over and over again will eventually burn it out. Forgetting about the wind and relying on all the latest technologies is still, in my opinion, a disaster. A range finder is a great tool, but doesn’t and shouldn’t take the place of practicing at home and getting good at judging distances in the field. I don’t care what the camouflage manufacturer says, if you’re moving around on stand it’s over. Some broadheads are expensive these days and promise huge gaping wounds and short blood trails, but they can’t take the place of taking good shots and proper arrow placement. And the calls available these days; if I had some of the calls available today no doubt I could have called in every mature buck in a ten mile radius back in the day. All this gear (stuff) gets us to become sloppy and complacent if we don’t realize their limitations in the deer woods.

Giving Up Too Early
Anxiety over the hunt and the hunting season is a killer for archers. It goes something like this…You’ve busted your butt all off season getting all your work done. Stands are in place, food plots look great, and your bow is shooting straight. You’re more prepared this year than ever before. As the season has progressed, you begin to ramp up your efforts as November comes around. The trail cameras are showing some good bucks but you still haven’t seen one on stand. The best part of the season is approaching and you feel lost. You don’t quite know which stand to pick. You’ve gone several sits now with limited deer movement and just today, you hear the neighbor shot a great buck. One less deer available for you to hunt! You check the forecast to see what the next 5 days hold and you’re looking at above average temperatures all week. A few more sits and still nothing. It’s now November 10th and you are sure the bucks are locked up with hot does. Panic starts to set in.

I’ve seen this scenario or something similar to it play out almost every year I’ve been chasing whitetail. In camp, we used to call it “singing the blues”. Season panic gets archers off their game. The game plan they had going into the season is now bust. Can you adapt to the neighbor shooting the deer you were chasing? The soybean plot you planned on hunting over has been depleted of beans and is no longer drawing deer. Can you find another food source? The warm weather has deer movement suppressed. Your back is starting to hurt from endless hours on stand…and now you are starting to get a cold. All the gloom and doom makes it that much easier to sleep in for a morning hunt or watch a football game late on a Sunday afternoon when you should be on stand. Negativity will crush an archer…get us to take short cuts, get lazy, or make mistakes.

I hope as you’re reading this, season panic is not setting in for you. We look forward to archery season literally all year. Look at long seasons as a blessing and never give up until it’s over. Some truly big bucks are shot each year at the end of the archery season.
Success is defined by each individual hunter. Modern archers don’t always define success the way I did when I was a 12 year old kid taking to the woods for the first time. It seems like no matter how big a buck you can shoot someone has “a buddy” that saw or shot one bigger. Having a good hunt or season doesn’t have to be based on what you tag. Don’t let the definition of success be determined by hunting shows or what you see posted on social media. Hunt hard, smart, and safe…learn to define success as enjoying the outdoors with friends and family. If you do that, you’ll be successful every season!