It took me nearly four full seasons of bowhunting to kill my first deer. That clueless button buck, a gift of a deer in late December in Minnesota, changed the arc of my hunting career. He represented a lot of things to me, but most importantly, he showed me that it could be done. Until I walked up to him lying in the snow, I didn’t fully believe it.
You might not either if you’re struggling to get your first deer with a bow. It’s not easy, even though there are plenty of folks who make it seem like it is. It’s not. And there’s no shame in struggling. There’s also no shame in calibrating your standards to increase your odds of filling a tag, literally any tag.
Other people’s standards need not apply when you’re trying to arrow your first deer. While it’s a personal journey and up to you to set your standards, I’d argue that you should set the bar so low a turtle can clear it. If any deer—fawn, doe, or buck—is fair game, then your chances of success are as high as they can be.
If you don’t want to shoot a fawn, doe, or young buck, that’s up to you. But know that when you set those high standards, your chances of success go way down. Your learning curve ramps way up, as well. This is because you’ll get fewer chances to try to draw and shoot, so you’ll have fewer chances to get better when it counts the most.
Focus On The Food & Water
There are a lot of strategies for hunting deer that range from sitting destination food sources, to hunting specific buck beds, to camping out on a promising terrain trap for days on end. The newbie looking to bloody his or her knife for the first time would be well served to keep things simple.
Focus on deer food and water sources. This goes for private land hunters, as well as public land hunters. There are constants in a deer’s world, and they revolve around avoiding predation at all costs but also getting enough calories and water to survive.
While this can be considered dumbed-down deer hunting, it also works. Deer eat soybeans, and if you just want to kill a deer with your bow, sitting on the edge of a beanfield is a pretty good idea. Deer also need to drink every day. Setting up a stand or a blind on a pond in the woods or at the top of a wooded draw is another no-brainer. You might not encounter Booner bucks with any level of frequency on these spots, especially if you’re hunting where there’s plenty of pressure, but you should encounter deer, which is the goal.
Forget The Gimmicks
It can be frustrating to struggle to kill your first deer. This leads us to impulse purchases of decoys, scents, calls, and anything that promises success. Forget all of these things and instead focus on setting up downwind of places deer like to walk. Let them come to you, don’t force the issue.
This is the foundation of good hunters everywhere, and it’s a skill that will help you throughout an entire lifetime of whitetail hunting. The get-rich-quick stuff can come later, but for now, consider it your job to scout enough to understand where deer are likely to walk. Then pay attention to your setups and how the deer react to them.
If you constantly get busted, ask yourself why. Is your stand too low, or maybe you’re silhouetted in such a way the deer easily see you moving? Is the wind swirling more than you think, or maybe you’re hunting your setups when the wind is wrong? If you identify where deer like to go, like those food and water sources I mentioned earlier, the next step is to figure out how to hunt them correctly on those spots.
This is an art, but the good news is that if you have lower standards, you can make mistakes and still earn shots. A forky might let you draw on him without bolting, unlike a mature doe or buck. A year-and-a-half-old doe might see you in a natural ground blind and approach for a closer look, which might give you a shot. An older deer probably won’t.
So drop those standards, hunt the easy spots, and forget about the get-rich-quick products. Learn to hunt deer, all deer, first. If you do, a whitetail is bound to pose up at 20 yards for you, and just maybe, everything will go your way.
Then you’ll go from a deer hunter to a deer killer, just like that.
For more deer hunting info, check out these articles: Why I Love To Shoot Young Bucks, To Kill A Doe, and Where To Shoot A Deer.
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