Start hunting next season’s deer now
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, December 26, 2009.)
Now is the time to begin hunting next year’s deer.
Deer hunting never comes with a guarantee,
but you have the power to make
next season better than last season.
After the season, with the busyness of the Christmas season and the advent of frigid temperatures and deep snows, many deer hunters begin to relax, hunker down for a long winter, and enjoy the fruits of the just-ended season.
But that’s not the path to success next season. To raise the odds of success next year, it’s wise to begin that hunt now. How do you do that? Several ways.
First, for those who use trail cameras (or who got that first one for Christmas), get them out in the woods as soon as possible. We tend to think of using them in the late summer and fall to begin patterning the bucks we’re after. That doesn’t hurt, but it’s only one use of a trail camera.
Just as retailers take inventory in January in order to assess last year’s sales and take stock of what’s on hand at the start of a year, deer hunters should take inventory at the same time in order to see what made it through the season.
And, the sooner the better. You want to capture images of bucks before they’ve lost their antlers. Some have dropped antlers already, so you have no time to lose.
Get the cameras into places where deer are feeding or traveling. Their movements are more limited in cold weather in order to conserve energy. If you don’t get any images of deer by the first break in the weather, relocate your cameras until you do.
Another post-season strategy is to get into the snowy woods and pick up a track. Look for a good-sized single track -- one that’s likely to be an adult buck or a mature doe. Follow it wherever it goes.
And again, do it now -- the sooner the better. Why? Because the longer you wait the more likely you won’t do it, and the more likely the snows will build up and make the effort difficult.
Reserve an entire day for this exercise -- more if you have the time. Yes, many demands and obligations make this difficult, but even if you can find room in your schedule for just one day in the woods this January, it will pay off. You’ll learn lessons you can use next season, and you’ll get the exercise we all need during the winter months.
All the better if the track you follow is a buck. It will take you places where you wouldn’t have guessed a deer will go. It will give you insight into deer behavior that you won’t get any other way. It will teach you what deer do when a man is on his track. And it will give you confidence that you can successfully follow a deer’s track.
When he’s traveling in a straight line, move right along. If he begins meandering and nipping on the tips of brush, slow down because he’s probably close. Carry a good pair of binoculars and scan the landscape ahead.
Both activities -- trail camera photography and tracking deer -- will give you some good ideas on where to look for shed antlers when the snow melts. That’s another way to take inventory on the bucks that have survived.
After dark is a great time to study whitetail behavior – not in the woods but in the comfort of your favorite reading chair. Turn off the television and pick up one of the many excellent books on deer behavior. Strategies for Whitetails by Charles J. Alsheimer is a great one. The next one I’m going to digest is Whitetail Advantage by Dr. David Samuel.
Now is a great time to pick up the Whitetail Calendar from Krause Publications. Not only does it have some of the best whitetail photography you’ll see anywhere, it also gives you a guide to the phases of the whitetail rut.
By the time fall comes, you’ll have built a databank of information. The main task left will be to find preferred food sources.
Deer hunting never comes with a guarantee, but you have the power to make next season better than last season.