Welcome to the host site for outdoor writer Steve Sorensen’s “Everyday Hunter” columns. For a complete index of all columns, go to EverydayHunter.com.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

You Can Beat a Deer's Senses

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., November 26, 2005.)
What about their ears? Recent research has shown
that deer do not have vastly superior hearing. In fact,
they probably can hear only slightly better than we can.
What last minute advice would I give deer hunters? What reminders will help hunters see more deer? Can I boil my advice down to a few things that are easy to remember and to implement?

I had always thought deer had senses of smell, sight and hearing way beyond those of humans. Their noses are definitely much better than the biggest human schnozzle. I don't know why the scent of a human is so frightening to deer, why they don't trust it. Maybe the smell we give off signals to deer that we are predatory in nature. Or maybe we just stink to them, and they leave the room.

How do you overcome a deer's sense of smell? Lots of products are advertised that are supposed to cover, contain, absorb, "adsorb," and even eliminate human scent at the source. But the serious hunter knows that it is impossible to eliminate 100% of human scent, so he will keep the wind in his face.

Contrary to what many people think, deer do not have the eagle's visual acuity. The chief defense a deer's eyes offer is wide-angle vision because, like the eyes of most prey animals, the eyes of deer are located on the sides of their heads. That means they can see a lot more than we can without turning their heads.

The difference doesn't stop there. A deer's eyes are good, but built for a different environment. Like our eyes, theirs contain photoreceptor nerve endings called rods and cones. Cones sense color. Rods do not. Deer and humans have both, but the concentration and location of cones in our eyes equip us for daytime and color vision. Rods equip the deer's eyes for low light and nighttime vision, and are more numerous in all nocturnal animals. That's why deer see better in the dark.

The predominance of rods in the deer's eyes limits their ability to see color in the daytime -- which is why fluorescent orange is less obvious to deer. Hunters need not worry about whether deer see safety orange. Of course they see it, but it appears to them as a bright gray. It is not an alarming color to deer, and against snow, deer hardly notice it at all.

On several occasions I have walked up to deer in open, snowy woods, getting within 20 yards. A white background can effectively conceal the hunter wearing fluorescent orange -- as long as he moves slowly and silently, and the air currents are moving from the deer toward the hunter.

The hunter's biggest secret to avoiding visual detection is slow movement, so be as still as possible even when you are moving. Make no sudden movements because deer can pick up motion more easily than they can identify objects. As much as possible, keep your movements vertical, aligning them with the most common objects in the woods -- trees. Avoid sideways movements as much as you can. Don't reach out and grab nearby trees.

What about their ears? Recent research has shown that deer do not have vastly superior hearing. In fact, they probably can hear only slightly better than we can. However, they do have much better directional hearing, thanks to ears that are 3 to 4 times bigger even than Ross Perot's.

Although some of us humans can wiggle our ears slightly, we can't point them or rotate them independently like a deer can. Their ears are like big dish antennas, swiveling to point in any direction. That gives them the ability to determine with accuracy the direction of a sound, and reliably judge how far away it is. When a sound signals potential danger, and it is verified by either sight or scent, the deer flees.

It's easier to defeat a deer's eyesight and hearing than you might think, and it's possible under the right conditions to get an advantage over the deer's sense of smell. If you're tired of sitting in a treestand and waiting for deer to come to you, I suggest you hunt on the ground and learn to defeat their sensory advantages.

Don't be afraid to walk. The stick you break may not necessarily spook deer. They may not hear it more than 100 yards away. Stay clean, use cover scent, keep the wind in your face, move slowly and quietly, and commit to hunting on the ground.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Homage to a Real Hunter

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., November 12, 2005.)
The dedicated stand hunter is long on patience,
but takes fewer risks and neglects the ancient skills
that served hunters of bygone days —
the skills that made Grandpa a real hunter.
Early in my hunting career I heard about deer hunters who scored for 20 years straight. These hunters were passive, staying put on their old faithful stands, waiting patiently — maybe for 2 or 3 hours — for a buck to come by. Other hunters were more active, skulking around the edges of clearcuts or old abandoned homesteads, or prowling the benches where deer bedded. Moving hunters usually didn't have the long success streaks, but they had more and better hunting skills — and more than their share of antlers.

Then marketing and media got involved. Hunters who had two things embedded in their DNA — a love for hunting and an entrepreneurial spirit — began to apply good old American ingenuity to the problem of how to make a living at what they enjoy most. The result was countless inventions to be sold to new hunters entering the ranks and older hunters who wanted to be more successful. Dozens of glossy magazines made monster bucks seem accessible to the average hunter. TV shows and videos brought the how-to's of outdoor success to the comfort of an easy chair.

Hunting has changed from the days of Grandpa's Woolrich plaid, when he picked up his lever action and poked through the oak flats and clearcuts looking for venison for the winter and a rack to hang on the barn wall.

Few hunters are learning from Grandpa today. Thanks to TV shows and videos, they're being tutored in tree stand hunting as the way to harvest whitetails. TV cameras can't record much quality footage while following a silent whitetail hunter barely moving through a deer bedding area. Cameras are better suited to roomy, elevated box stands and oversized fixed position tree stands. So, the hunter trained on made-for-TV hunting shows may not read the directions as he's putting together his climbing stand, but he's already committed to following the hunting instructions he has seen on the Outdoor Channel.

And tree stand hunting is a good way to do it. It works, or at least, it works when deer are moving. But deer may not move much without hunters doing it like Grandpa did, with boots on the ground. The problem is that Grandpa's Woolrich has gone to the second hand store, and his lever action is either in the hands of a collector or retired in favor of a flatter shooting modern caliber.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against tree stands. I think they're great. Like many hunters, I have more than one, and sometimes I use them. Classic calibers are great, too, but I prefer modern cartridges, and I'd rather tote my 7-08 than my old ought-six. And I have my own Grandpa's Woolrich hanging in my closet, though I haven't worn it in years.

Nor am I against entrepreneur hunters hawking their latest must-have equipment. I'll tip my orange cap to anyone who is creative enough to make a living at hunting or fishing. I buy some of the stuff they've invented. But the ingenuity of marketers sometimes replaces the ingenuity of hunters. As an everyday hunter, what I want is Grandpa's ingenuity, the skills that he used to take deer on their turf.

Hunting on the ground is a greater gamble in many ways than hunting from a tree stand. The hunter on foot always has more to consider. He is always moving, and movement is what deer are most likely to see. He creates more scent-laden perspiration. He must be more conscious of wind direction, and make constant adjustments to it. He should know when to speed up through unlikely areas, and slow down when he hits prime ground. He is always at risk of stepping on a stick or swishing a branch across his pantleg. When he sees a deer, it is likely to be close, and alert. His response time is more critical but is slowed by muscle stiffness. At the moment of truth, he may not have a good, solid rest.

These are the challenges that our Grandpas faced in a low-tech age, taking their chances on the ground. In contrast, the dedicated stand hunter is long on patience, but takes fewer risks and neglects the ancient skills that served hunters of bygone days — the skills that made Grandpa a real hunter. Opening day is different now that Grandpa is gone, and we miss him.