8 Deer Hunting Tactics for Rifle Season
When gun season is open, the hunt is on. Guys have shot a bunch of bucks in your hunting area. The surviving deer hole up in cover and don’t move much during daylight hours. Heck, many days it’s tough to see the hair of doe, much less a rack! But hang in there. Here are ways to hunt the mid-season lull.
Pile Into Cover
From October through the peak of the rut, I hunt the fringes of overgrown fields, cutovers, woodland thickets and similar security areas. But late in the season I play the wind, sneak into a remote thicket and hang a treestand there. Human scent, gunshots, ATVs and the other elements of pressure blow deer patterns to smithereens, but there’s a constant — cover. Does and bucks come from near and far to hang out in secluded thickets, if only for a day or two. If some deer leave cover, others may move in overnight to bed and browse. The animals keep coming and going into January. You never know how many whitetails you might see from a perch deep in the brush.
In the middle of the season, when deer are off their patterns, I often climb out of a stand and do a little “slip hunting.” I like to sneak along ridges (don’t skyline) and glass down into brushy creek bottoms and draws. It’s a good way to make something happen and spot deer, especially when there’s light snow on the ground.
Shooting from a Treetop
Some climbing treestands have sliding fabric or web seats. You can adjust the seat to hunt either with your back to a tree, or you can turn around, slide the seat out and hunt facing a tree. The latter works great in many gun-hunting scenarios. Screw a couple of spare steps into either side of a tree. When you spot a buck, lean forward, rest your rifle over a step and against the tree. From that rock-solid rest you’ll get that deer.
Hunt the Middle of the Day
Let me belabor a point you’ve probably heard a lot-hunt for a buck from 10:00 a.m. until noon. Go back and sit in a treestand in a remote thicket. Around lunchtime, a buck that traveled all night and holed up at first light might get up to stretch, browse or nose a doe coming into late estrous.
Key on Strip Cover
Hang a stand or still-hunt near the last strips of brush not flattened by frost or snow. Skittish deer use every ounce of remaining cover when sneaking between feeding and bedding sites. Thick strips in wind-sheltered draws and ravines are prime funnels to watch.
Use the Prone Position
When I spot a buck on the open plains, I don’t fool around. I hit the ground fast, commando style, and rest my .280 or .30-06 over my daypack. Then I glass the deer. If he’s a shooter, I wiggle around and get comfortable, bore my elbows into the ground, cheek the stock tightly, pin the scope’s crosshairs behind his shoulder, press the trigger and punch my tag from the steadiest shooting position of all. When setting up a long-range shot in wide-open cover, don’t rush things. You should have plenty of time to crank up the magnification of your riflescope.
Use the Rattling Horns
Unless you hunt on tightly controlled private ground, the opening week of gun season is not the best time to crack the horns. Deer might still be rutting, but pressure on surrounding lands as well as on the tract you’re hunting knocks them off their normal travel patterns. Still, you might rattle up a buck if you keep three things in mind:
1. Set up in secluded thickets. That’s where you’re most apt to strike a buck prowling around and looking for a good fight over turf and hot does
2. Bag the aggressive blind rattling that you did back in bow season. Pressured deer might not want to hear that racket, and you might push a buck away from your stand or blind.
Rattle lightly when you see a buck cruising out of gun range, or cresting a ridge where he’ll be out of sight in seconds. Just try to get his attention and stop or turn him for a shot.
3. A good (if not great) time to rattle is three weeks into gun season. There are fewer hunters in the woods, and the surviving bucks have settled down a little bit. It’s the post rut and mature bucks still prowl for the last hot does. You can do a little blind rattling, but tone it down. Hit the horns if you spot a buck far away. If he stops or turns your way, shoot if you can.
Late Can Be Great
Late in gun season, things come full circle. A buck that shifted his core areas closer to does during the rut may return to a habitat he used earlier in the fall. Many bucks that were pushed out of their preferred core areas by hunting pressure come back home. To score, hunt like you did back in the pre-rut. Hang stands in funnels and try to ambush deer as they travel between their beds and hot food sources.
• Never carry a loaded rifle or shotgun, or a loaded and capped muzzleloader, in a truck or ATV scabbard.
• Leave your gun unloaded when you walk into a treestand in the predawn. At the tree, tie your firearm — parrallel and muzzle away from you — to a pull rope so that it hangs off the ground.
• Attach your safety harness, inchworm up your tree, get comfortable and rope up your weapon. Then load up.
• Unload your rifle or shotgun (and uncap a muzzleloader) before roping it down from a stand.
• Know what houses, roads, barns, vehicles and livestock lie beyond your stand in various directions. Shoot at a deer only when you feel the background is safe. This is especially important when you’re rifle hunting in flat country.
• Never point a gun at deer sounds in a thicket. Don’t use your scope to glass for bucks. Aim only when you are positive of your target. A good buck most of the time or a mature doe during an antlerless season.
• Once a buck is on the ground and gutted, unload your firearm for the drag out.
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Editor’s Note: This was originally published on September 28, 2009.