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By John Sloan
Each year deer hunters, all of us, make mistakes. Sometimes they are minor mistakes, sometimes major. Not always do even the major mistakes turn out badly in terms of killing a deer or getting a shot. But sometimes they do. Over the 60 years I have hunted whitetail deer, I have determined what I feel to be the five biggest mistakes a hunter makes. Here they are in the order I rank them.

Keep these items in mind for hunting now, for scouting after this season, and for scouting next summer and fall for next year’s season.

Mistake #1: Failure to understand the animal you are hunting.

I have been a student of whitetail deer for more than six decades. I am still learning. I am still constantly reminded of how little I know. I have always wondered how a hunter can expect regular success on bucks over age 3-1/2 if they don’t work to learn all they can, and then test what they have learned.

Just reading and asking questions are not enough. You must get out in the woods and read sign, see what the deer has done. Then ask yourself why. Why did that deer do that? What caused that reaction? Will it happen every time?

If you ask any deer hunter what the deer’s preferred food source is right now, and they don’t know, they have not learned enough about the animal they hunt. Does the hunter know what will be the next preferred food source? Does he or she know why the deer are crossing a road in a particular place?

The questions and the answers are endless. It takes much more than just spending time in a stand. The more you ask and the more you learn, the better prepared hunter you will be, and it is a serious mistake not to be prepared.

A successful deer hunter will always have more questions than he or she has answers.
Persimmon is a preferred food source when dropping. Did you know there are two types of persimmons, early and late, and deer don’t always eat them?
Deer cross obstacles such as roads and fences in the same place, most of the time. Learn to recognize these crossings.

Mistake #2: Improper Scouting

Nothing prepares you for success more than proper scouting. Nothing costs you more than improper scouting.

Far too many hunters wait until the week or maybe the month before the season to begin scouting. However, proper scouting never stops. By far the most informative scouting is done in the weeks just after the season closes. That sets the stage for the rest of the scouting. It is then you learn what the bucks were doing when you were hunting them. It is then you find their hiding spots and secure travel trails. It is then you formulate your game plan for the next season.
Summer means long distance, non-invasive scouting with good optics. It is a prime way to spot where a buck enters and leaves a field without spooking him and may be a clue to finding autumn food sources. Hang a stand in the right place and stay away until you plan to kill him.
In the summer, your scouting is non-invasive. You glass open fields just at sundown. There is little to be learned other than there are some deer here. That’s all you need to know at that point. There is little reason to be in the woods. That starts when the mast begins to form on trees. You are now looking for food sources. You couldn’t care less if you see deer. In fact, you hope you don’t. You are looking for where the deer are going to be, not where they are.

In early fall, you combine your hunting with your scouting, you are looking for new rubs, early scrapes, previously unknown creek or road crossings. You adjust as the deer do, as new travel patterns emerge.

In late season, you adjust again. The stand that was so hot in November may be useless now. Look for the trails in deep cover and secure food sources. Look for the trails that lead to agricultural crops and, in doing so, pass through the really thick stuff.

To scout for only a day or so in September or October is a serious mistake. It will cost you deer.
Do plenty of post-season scouting and make notes. This often can be the key to next year’s success.

Mistake #3: Over-Dependence on Equipment and Gadgets

As technology developed new and improved products, deer hunters got lazy. Magic potions in bottles or in spray cans replaced knowledge and work and study. We began to depend on our equipment to compensate for inaccurate shooting, good yardage judging, clean clothes and proper stand placement. We began to believe the advertisements and all the new theories. The latest call couldn’t fail. The hottest new camo couldn’t fail. The most popular new scent couldn’t fail. The new scent eliminators couldn’t fail. But they did... and do.

There are no magic potions or gimmicks. They are all aids and, yes, they are an aid. Properly used, under the right conditions they do work sometimes. None of them work all the time and some of them are counterproductive. Unless you understand what the product is; know how it works; know how to use it properly and understand the limitations of the product, you are making a mistake. If you depend on a spray or clothing to prevent deer from smelling you and do not take advantage of the wind, you are making a mistake.

These products and others can be invaluable for the unforeseen vagaries of hunting. But to depend on them alone is a mistake and it will cost you.
Consistently successful callers (deer, elk, turkey, etc.) always anticipate success and prepare for a response.  This anticipation is what I call the confidence factor, and it usually comes from experience and a working knowledge of the language of the game you’re hunting.  You don’t have to learn the hard way.  Learn the language, and when you make a deer call expect a deer to show up.

Mistake #4: We get patterned doing the patterning.

Can we pattern a mature buck? I don’t think so. If we could, the odds are that we’d get patterned long before we could pattern the buck. We spend too much time at the wrong time walking, exploring, hanging stands and generally polluting the woods with our scent when we should have been prepared and just biding our time, waiting for the perfect day.

The very best chance we have to kill a mature buck is the very first time we hunt him. Yet we continue to walk around our stands, looking for fresh sign, freshening scrapes and generally messing things up. We repeatedly walk to our stands on the same trail. We think our scent spray will keep him from smelling us, or our rubber boots will keep him from smelling where we walked.

But we push limbs out of the way with our hands and we wear the same hat every day. Deer smell where we place our hands far more than they smell where we walk. Rubber boots are of no advantage, I believe, and our hats stink (our hair holds odors for a long time). To think otherwise is a mistake, a big one.
Proper stand placement is crucial to success. Good scouting will give you the necessary info.

Mistake #5: Despite knowledge to the contrary, hunting the wrong times.

When do deer move? The plain fact is they move whenever they want. Except for truly hot weather, as a general rule deer are no more active at daylight than they are at 10:30. In fact, more mature deer are killed between 10 a.m. and two p.m. than at any other time. The hunter who can effectively hunt all day has a huge advantage, but very few can. The operative word is effective. After three or four hours, most of us are just occupying space, not effectively hunting. By limiting our hunts to three or four hours in the morning and afternoon, we often miss the prime hunting time for mature whitetails.

During the rut, I routinely hunt four stands in one day, spending two or three hours in each. My final stand is usually on an approach trail or edge of a field. Often it is a ground blind, because a deer in a field is twice as likely to spot you in a tree stand as when you are in a properly placed ground blind. The other stands are in the timber.

I have killed as many bucks from 10:30-11:30 a.m. as at any other time. Think about it. Often, I am the only hunter in the woods at that time. And the deer know it. To skip midday hunting is a mistake.

Obviously, there are other mistakes we make and, just as obviously, we can make these five mistakes and still get lucky. But luck is when preparation meets opportunity. If you are making these mistakes, you are not prepared.