Always verify your rifle’s zero before heading out on opening day. Things can happen in the off-season that might change your point of impact. A wood stock might shrink or swell, changing the fit, therefore the accuracy of the barreled action. Also, a season’s worth of vibrations from riding in a vehicle can loosen screws.
Always make sure your bedding screws and scope mounts are tightened before you sight-in. Always sight-in with the same brand of ammo and bullet weight you plan to hunt with.
The most important factor for a successful sighting-in session is a steady rest. No one can shoot well enough to really zero a rifle without a rest.
Base your sight adjustments on the center of a group of three or more shots. Adjustments based on single shots can lead your group astray. Don’t assume that your last adjustment puts you on the money. Shoot one last group to be sure.
Things can happen during the season as well. If your rifle is dropped, knocked over or otherwise subjected to a substantial blow, you should reverify its zero.
To take a good buck, you have to know that buck. Scouting is the way you get acquainted.
First, look for the food. Deer must eat, however feeding patterns change as the season progresses. Scout-out not only what the deer are feeding on now, but also the sources of favored foods for later in the season.
Learn the main deer trail system, including the creek and secondary buck trail system, paying particular attention to where the buck trails intersect or closely parallel main trails. During the rut, bucks like to shadow the main trails, waiting for receptive does.
Identify bedding areas. For a buck, that means finding his core or sanctuary area. This will be a hard-to-reach spot. It is usually very difficult to actually hunt in the sanctuary, and you might spook the buck out of the area. Look for the trails leading in and out and lay your ambush at the buck’s bedroom door.
NO SCENTS MAKES SENSE
Containing your own scent while hunting and not contaminating the area are very important precautions. A deer’s nose is its best defense and the deer knows that.
Bathing with the new “no-scent” soaps helps. Wash your hunting clothes in scent-free soap or baking soda and store them in air-tight bags. Wear all-rubber or rubber-bottomed boots in the woods, and try not to walk on the deer trails. Everything you touch will hold your scent for a while.
Take your climbing stand or seat cushion out of the woods with you. These items absorb a lot of human scent, and leaving them in the woods leaves your scent there, too.
No matter how careful you are, any stand site becomes contaminated by your presence if you hunt it day after day. Change your stand routine.
A wary trophy buck gets wise to permanent or heavily-used stand locations and also seems to have an uncanny ability to determine occupancy. Research uncovered by tagging bucks with radio collars showed that they avoid known stand locations. The easily portable hang-on or climbing-type stands make relocation simple. However, don’t just dash about hanging stands willy-nilly. Base your stand site selection on solid deer-sign evidence.
IS THE TRAIL HOT?
It’s easy to find a deer trail. Just take a walk in the woods and the odds favor your walking on one. Natural lines of drift are simply easier to walk than unnatural routes – both for deer and for humans.
However, these easy-to-find deer trails are most often “main streets” used by does and fawns. Bucks make their own trails in heavier cover. To find these lanes, look where the brush is thick and/or the terrain is tough. Buck trails can be very subtle, just a trace here and there. Rub lines indicate buck travel lanes.
HUNTING THE RUT
Watch for the key signs of rutting activity to maximize your chances for a buck. Aggressive rattling and grunting works well in the pre-rut. Bucks will be hostile, aggressive and territorial while waiting for does to come into heat. They are especially sensitive to other bucks’ efforts to muscle in on their territory.
With the peak of rut, all bets are off. Buck signs often go stale as bucks are chasing does, and rattling is less effective. Buck grunts and doe bleats can be useful, but a good estrous scent is best. Hunt cover near known doe concentration areas and hunt all day if possible.
Post-rut is winding down. Bucks respond to grunts and rattling as they compete for the remaining does in heat. Remember, the bucks are regaining their customary caution, so hunt hard and smart.
STAGING AREA BUCKS
Many people place stand sites at the edges of clearcuts, fields or even specially planted food plots. Late in the deer season and after some hunting pressure, bucks, particularly big ones, stick close to cover.
A good food source concentrates on does and during the rutting period bucks will go where the does go. However, a pressured buck will seldom come out into the open until well after dark.
In the hours of shooting light, bucks hang back in the woods adjacent to field edges. Often, you can identify these staging areas by abundant buck signs, such as rubs and scrapes.
LATE SEASON STRATEGIES
At the season’s end, hunters must hunt harder and smarter to take a trophy buck. The food and the doe’s concentrations of early autumn are gone. The primary rut is over, and the bucks are well-educated by hunting pressure.
Bucks will stick close to their core refuge areas as oncoming winter diminishes their cover. Look also at out-of-the-way nooks and crannies. Many a buck has survived the season in a small spot of cover that most hunters have overlooked.
Understand the secondary rut and how to hunt it. Young does come into heat a few weeks after the adult does indulge in the primary rut. Watch for developing winter food sources that concentrate on hungry deer. Winter cover crops are particularly good bets in the late season.