Deer Hunting Basics by Randy Rowley


When we humans go into the woods for deer we are at a considerable disadvantage.  Deer have incredible senses of sight, hearing, and smell.  However, we can nullify these advantages through full camo, making as little movement as possible, noise control, scent control, and using the wind to our favor.

Deer are color blind, so it really doesn’t matter if you chose an “Early Fall” or “Late Fall” camo pattern.  Just pick one that matches the foliage where you hunt.  If you’re hunting an area that is filled with mesquite trees and cactus then don’t choose Real Tree Treebark or Advantage Wetlands.  The biggest things that are neglected when choosing camo are the hands and face.  It always amazes me to see hunters in full camo except those two areas.  I’ll spot them a mile away – their faces and hands glowing white like the moon.

You can have on the best camo in the world, but if you make a lot of movement you’ll still be spotted.  Just as we spot deer from their movements they also can spot us from our movements.  Make slow and deliberate movements.  Use your binoculars for spotting game instead of your riflescope, but don’t jerk them around.  If you hear a deer behind you, turn around very slowly.  When a deer is looking straight at you is not the time to bring up your rifle or draw your bow – unless you like seeing them run away from you!

Regarding noise, make as few unnatural noises as possible.  If you have to cough, do so into your arm or your grunt call.  Put carpet on the bottom of your blinds so that if you drop your binoculars, rangefinder, etc. the sound will be muffled.  It will also keep your feet warmer.  Turn your cell phone on vibrate and don’t listen to music or a football game.  We can hear sounds a long way away and deer have at least four times better hearing than we can do.

Regarding scent control, having no scent at all is best.  Before I hunt I shower with a no-scent soap and shampoo (Scent Killer liquid soap is available at Academy and sometimes Wal-mart).  I use unscented deodorant (Scent Killer makes an expensive one; various companies such as Speed Stick make cheaper ones) and spray my outer clothing with Scent Killer odor eliminator (available at Academy and Wal-mart).  I also wash my hunting clothes in Scent Killer clothing wash or unscented soap (HEB sells a version of Tide that is unscented).

Cover scents (cedar, pine, apple, etc.) don’t work that great, especially the ones that are not native to the area you’re hunting.  For example, using a pine cover scent in West Texas is almost as bad as playing heavy metal music on a loud boom box!  The deer know it’s not native to the area and won’t go anywhere near it.  I’d also avoid cover scents like fox urine or skunk musk for obvious reasons. Instead of using a commercial cover scent I’ll take a cedar branch and rub it on my clothes and boots or step on a wet cow patty, as each step will say “cow” and not “human.”

Avoid bringing smelly foods like bacon or peppery jerky into the stand with you.  In addition, don’t eat them right before you hunt as it’s easy to drip bacon grease and food crumbs onto your clothes.  Instead, eat apples, carrots, or muffins before you hunt and/or bring them to your stand.  Also avoid smelly drinks like orange or strawberry sodas, Gatorade, tea, or coffee.  Instead bring water.  Don’t ever pee near your blind.  Rather than walk 100 yards away and then pea, bring something that you can pea in and then carry out when you leave.  Don’t smoke before or while hunting.  If you smoke after your morning hunt, you’ll need to change clothes before your evening hunt or the next day’s hunt.  The same applies to campfires!

If you’re hunting a stand where the wind is blowing your scent away from the feeders, then being scent free is not that big of a deal, but you just never know when the wind will chose to shift, especially in Texas.

If you choose to use a rifle, bolt actions are king due to their accuracy.  However, there are several very accurate semi-autos, pumps, and lever actions on the market.  Use at least a .243 but don’t use a caliber bigger than a .30-06, as it will destroy lots of meat.  Calibers smaller than .243 do take deer but you have to be more precise with your aim as they are known for wounding more often than they kill.  If you have a .22-250 and a 7mm Remington Magnum in your gun cabinet, take the latter.  I would rather have too much gun than not enough.

Use a quality bullet designed for deer, such as a Federal or Hornady Boat Tail Soft Point (BTSP) or one of the new “bonded” bullets like the Federal Fusion.

As for scopes, ones with large objective lenses are preferred.  50mm lenses gather light better than their 40mm lens cousins and allow you to see more deer at first and last light (during legal shooting hours).  However, there is a major tradeoff with the 50mm.  Because the front bell is so large they have to be mounted higher than 40mm lens scopes.  That causes the shooter to have to raise his head higher on the stock, which takes some getting used to and often affects accuracy and target acquisition.  Leupold solved this problem with their “Light Optimization Profile” that enables their 50mm and 56mm VX-L models to be mounted as low to the bore as 36mm scopes.  Their major drawback is price – they start at $700.

Shotguns are often better choices for stalking; however, they are limited due to their range.  Shooting slugs beyond 100 yards is iffy unless you have a specialized slug gun that includes a fully rifled barrel, a shotgun scope, and sabot slugs.  The maximum range for shooting slugs out of a smooth bore shotgun with a regular bead is about 50 yards; as such guns are made for shooting fast moving targets and not for precise aim.  The maximum range for buckshot is also about 50 yards.  If you decide to shoot slugs out of a regular barrel the best choke to use is cylinder, followed by skeet, and then improved cylinder.  Do not shoot slugs out of a choke tighter than improved cylinder!

If you plan to use a shotgun for stalking then I recommend a fast shooting (semi-automatic, pump, or double barrel) 12 gauge with 3″ shells filled with 000, 00, or 0 Buckshot.  Fifteen 00 Buck pellets per shot at a running hog means a much better chance of a hit than one rifle bullet.  Most manufacturers recommend using a full choke for buckshot, followed by modified, improved cylinder, skeet, and cylinder.  Do not shoot buckshot out of turkey chokes!  In fact, don’t shoot anything bigger than steel shot BBB or lead 4 shot out of a turkey choke.  To do so can destroy the choke, barrel, and maybe you too.

Some guys alternate rifled slugs and buckshot and in their magazines.  The idea is the first shot will be at a standing still deer.  For such a case a slug would be the better choice due to its knock down power.  If you don’t kill it, you’ll probably have to make quick follow-up shots at a running deer.  This would best be accomplished by putting lots of buckshot pellets in the air.  The best choke to use if you put both slugs and buckshot in your gun (at the same time) is improved cylinder, followed by skeet, and then cylinder.

The 16 gauge option is 1 Buck (.30 inches) but they are only made in 2 3/4″ shells.  This shell contains only 12 pellets.

A 3″ 20 gauge filled with buckshot is iffy in my opinion.  The largest buckshot available for a 20 gauge (Federal Vital-Shok and Power-Shok) is 2 Buck (.27 inches).  Compare that to 000 Buck (.36 inches), 00 Buck (.33 inches), or 0 Buck (.32 inches) which are all available in 12 gauge.  I shot an eight pointer with 3 Buck (.25 inches) at 40 yards with a solid rest but did not recover it.

If you have no other choice than to use a 16 or 20 gauge, then go with a rifled slug.  Federal even makes slugs for the .410 (1/4 ounce, 109 grain), which should kill a deer at close range (if you hit it in the kill zone).  As I previously indicated, I would rather have too much gun than not enough.  There is no reason to pull a .410 out of your gun cabinet to chase after deer, when you have a 12 gauge leaning right beside it.

My present deer/hog rifle is a Remington Model 700 BDL bolt action in .25-06.  It is topped with a Hawke Endurance 3.5-10X50 scope.  It has Leupold see-through scope mounts.  For stalks, I use my Browning Gold 12 gauge stuffed with 3″ 00 buckshot.

As with all big game hunting, patience is paramount.  You need to be prepared to stay in your stand a long time.  Bring food, drinks, a comfy chair, and something to pee in (as was previously mentioned).  Good things often come to those who wait.

As I don’t believe in luck, I wish you “Good Hunting!”

P.S. Let me know if you need a “consultant” to go on your deer hunt!

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