The time of year has come when most big seasons are behind us for the time being and we’re enjoying summer days at the beach, on the water fishing or taking vacations with the family. Many of us, however, are also staring down deer season coming in the next couple of months. For us here in South Carolina opening day is August 15th which is less than two months away! So with that said, I though I would include a list of things that I’m currently doing or planning to do in preparation for the upcoming deer season.
Those of us that hunt whitetails know that deer season truly never ends. As soon as you climb out of your stand on that last cold hunt of the season most of us are already thinking about shed hunting, getting food plots prepped and maintaining properties throughout the spring and summer months. At this point of the season we have already treated major food plots for weeds and put Roundup ready seed in for various food sources. These food sources will provide whitetails with areas to feed during the later summer months and into the fall before we plant winter protein sources. I won’t get into detail about the types of food to plant but I recommend doing some research to determine the best options for your deer herd. If you aren’t dealing with large food plots (and we’re not using exclusively food pots on our property) this time of year is also a good time to make sure your mineral blocks are fresh and still available to the deer. This is also an ideal time to look at areas to plant micro-plots (very small food plots, typically near a hunting stand) near those stands that might be deep in the woods where heavy equipment just isn’t an option. At this point of the year deer have started to grow their antlers so the nutrients and minerals provided by the food sources we put out as well as mineral licks are extremely important to the health of buck antler development but also the development of growing fawns. You can also determine what types of food sources or mineral supplements your herd could benefit from by looking pictures from your trail cameras, which we’ll discuss next.
Chances are, if you’re a whitetail hunter you’ve already got cameras in the woods. If not, now is the time to get them out so that you can start collecting information on the numbers and health of the deer herd in your area. We like to place cameras along known game trails and travel corridors that deer follow as well as food sources and mineral sites. Cameras can not only give you insight into the health of the deer herd, success of the fawn growth and antler development but can also identify potential predators in the area and even catch the occasional trespasser. With this information you can, as mentioned above, better tailor your approach to providing food and mineral sources for the herd. There are a few things I like to make sure I do when putting cameras out. First, is that I like to make sure my camera is facing north or south so that I don’t get direct sun in the morning or evening that can cause glares on your camera. Additionally, I always like to make sure that bushes, branches and wees are trimmed so that they don’t get in the way of the picture or cause unnecessary bank pictures. Last, and most importantly, make sure you’ve got fresh batteries and a memory card. There’s nothing worse than getting out to set up cameras and realizing you have a dead camera or no SD card. Actually, I take that back, setting up the camera and coming back weeks later only to realize you never turned it on is far worse. So, remember to turn your cameras on!
Stands & Shooting Lanes
Whether you’re placing ground blinds, hanging tree stands or building box blinds it’s time to get it done now if it isn’t already. Regardless of what you plan to hunt out of, make sure you’re taking into consideration the wind direction. You don’t want to be upwind from the food source, pinch point or travel corridor you’re hunting. All that will happen is your scent will be blown in the deer’s direction and they’ll smell you before you have get an ethical shot. Obviously, if you’re hunting from a box blind or a ground blind you can take some more chances with the wind. In addition to paying close attention to average wind directions when placing stands I also like to place the stand in a place where I will have the sun to my back during hunting hours. For example, if I know I will primarily hunt a stand in the evening I will try to position the stand so that I have clear shots where I want with my back facing west. This will eliminate having to deal with harsh sun while hunting but also puts the sun in the deer’s eyes when they are looking up and in your direction. As with anything related to your gear, you need to ensure that your tree stands are safe each year. Ensure straps and ladders are secure and free from dangerous wear and tear. Additionally, this is the perfect time to replace materials you may use for camouflage such as mesh cloth that goes around shooting rails. One thing we always try to do is spray for wasps and other unwanted critters throughout the summer so that once the season arrives you aren’t presented with a ruined first day hunt due to a big wasp’s nest. The last thing is to make sure you have good shooting lanes that provide clear, unobstructed views to areas where deer will pass. This will ensure you have multiple shot options and clear ethical opportunities to kill deer. When heading out to hang stands or move stands always bring a pole saw, chainsaw and limb cutters to ensure you have the tools you’ll need to do the job.
Property Roads & Trails
You can have the perfect stand set hung, the best possible weather and wind conditions and a Booner on camera in the daylight and it’s all completely worthless if you can’t get to your stand quietly and without leaving your scent everywhere. This is where taking the extra time during the pre-season preparations to ensure that your roads around your property are in good condition as well as the trails and paths you’ll be utilizing to get to and from your stand. Depending on the movement of deer for a particular stand, you may need to enter the area and access your stand from one direction and leave after sundown using a different path. Either way it’s good to identify those paths and clear them of fallen trees and branches as well as raking or using a leave blower to remove leaves and other vegetation that can make for a noisy entrance or risk holding on to any scent you may carry into the woods. Once finished you’ll be left with roads and trails that are easy to navigate in a vehicle or ATV/UTV and walking trails that are silent and safe to navigate by foot, especially in the dark. Speaking of safe navigation, you’ll need to ensure your gear is all ready to go for the season and we’ll talk about that next.
If you’ve done any kind of outdoor activity (be it hunting, fishing camping, hiking…you name it) for any significant length of time then you’ve undoubtedly been let down by an old or faulty piece of equipment. Sometimes it's the result of a favorite piece of equipment we’ve neglected to replace because “it’s fine” or we decided to be cheap and got exactly what we paid for. Either way now is the time to ensure your equipment is in good working condition before the season starts. First and foremost this is the time to double check your weapons (be it a rifle, shotgun or bow) to ensure they are functioning properly, scopes are dialed in and they are safe to shoot. You’ll also want to ensure that your climbing harness and associated gear are still in good shape, fit properly and have not been compromised while exposed to elements. This should probably be done before hanging or working on any tree stands. This list could go on and on but the last thing we’ll mention will be some easily overlooked items such as your knives, flashlights and comfort items such as propane heaters and Thermacells for us in the south! Taking the time now to ensure all of your equipment is good to go could make or break a hunt once the season starts.
I’d consider myself to be irresponsible if I did not touch on hunting safety in this article. We’ve already mentioned a few things with regard to safety, particularly the weapons and safety harness check but they most certainly can be repeated. This is the time of year to make sure your weapons are functioning properly and safe to fire. Additionally, if you’re a member of a hunt club like I am, this is the time to double check that your shooting ranges are clear and safe. Ensuring that backstops and archery bags are in good condition will help prevent complete pass throughs and reduce the possibility of hitting an unwanted object by accident. Also ensuring members and/or family and friends are all up to speed on range and firearms safety is never a bad idea. As briefly mentioned earlier climbing harnesses, life lines, tree stand ladders and shooting houses should all be checked to ensure their integrity is still in tact. Each year we hear of hunters falling and being seriously injured or dying. With today’s technology and available products there is absolutely no excuse for this. Be smart, use common sense do whatever you have to do to have a successful and safe hunt so you can go home to those who care about you.
For many of us there is plenty to do before now and the start of the season. Between jobs, summer activities with the family and general life related obligations, the time is going to fly by. Make list if you haven’t and take care of a couple of items a week. Some will require regular attention so take that into consideration. Deer season is never over, it’s a reality those of us who hunt whitetails know all too well. But, by taking the right steps now and ensure you’re prepared for the coming season you can make all the off-season work and effort worth every second.
Until next time!