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The Basics of Deer Hunting

So, you've been thinking about getting into deer hunting. Maybe it's because you're interested in harvesting your own meat or maybe it's because you see it as a way to put your shooting skills to practical use. Either way, deer hunting can be a very enjoyable and productive way to spend your time. With Tennessee deer season and RECOIL's Hunter Games both right around the corner, I've had deer on the brain almost nonstop, so this was the perfect occasion to talk about how to get started deer hunting.

GETTING LEGAL

The first order of business is getting your hands on a copy of your state's hunting laws. Depending on where you live and whether you are hunting on public or private lands, the rules will vary as will the type of license you will need to hunt legally. Additionally, your state may require different types of licenses based on your weapon of choice, so it's helpful to make this decision early on. Barrett's Fieldcraft website is an excellent resource for laws, licenses, permits, classes, and places to hunt.

GEARING UP

Gear selection is one area where people have many different opinions or tastes. The advice below is my stance on gear, and it's certainly not the only stance out there. My approach to gear is to keep it minimal but high-quality. I don't like to carry a lot of crap, so depending on how far I have to walk or how long I plan to hunt, sometimes you won't even catch me with a backpack. Let's break this down:

Clothing

Specific choices depend on the climate where you will be hunting. The early season where I live is sweltering hot and humid, so I wear the lightest weight clothing I can find. I would recommend wearing a lightweight long-sleeved shirt. If hunting from a tree stand or the ground I wear camo, if hunting from a ground blind I wear a black long-sleeved shirt. I almost always apply just a little paint to my face to break up that silhouette as well. For summer, a lightweight boot is great. I like a lightweight rubber boot, as it rains a lot in the South in the warmer months.

In the colder months, layering is my go-to, with more emphasis placed on my feet, hands, and face. Nothing makes it harder to go for the long haul in a tree stand in winter than having fingers and toes so cold that they hurt. Additionally, this can affect your ability not only to operate your bow or rifle effectively but also makes getting into and out of your tree stand more difficult. Having a sturdy, insulated, waterproof boot is critical in the cold months. Keeping your feet dry should always be a priority.

Game cameras are a great way to see if deer are moving through an area during shooting hours or at night.

Weapon

Terrain and capability are the two most important factors when choosing a weapon to hunt with (outside of the law of course). Whether hunting with a bow, rifle, shotgun, or muzzleloader you should know both the limits of your weapon and yourself, with regard to distance and the difficulty of the shots. If you have not practiced shooting past 30 yards with your bow or do not have your bow sighted in for anything past that distance, you should not be taking 45-yard shots at an animal. This is true and relative to any weapon you choose to use.  Take the time to ensure that your weapon is sighted in or zeroed and that you know any necessary holdovers you might need on your hunt.

Other Gear

The following is a short list of other gear I always take with me when I go hunting:

  • Safety harness if hunting from a tree stand
  • Stool if hunting from a blind
  • Light source (either a headlamp or a flashlight)
  • Knife (one that includes a gut hook)
  • Thermacell (a great investment if you live somewhere with lots of mosquitos)
  • Rangefinder
  • Binoculars
  • Any supplemental gear that you need to shoot your weapon (ammo, mags, wrist release for bow, etc.)

When choosing a spot to hunt, look for signs that deer have been in the area.

FINDING THE DEER

Not only finding, but figuring out the movement patterns of the deer where you will be hunting is vital to a successful season–but it can be tricky. Just because the deer are frequenting an area in summer does not mean they will be doing the same in fall or winter. There are many factors to consider when scouting for deer, and rather than try to lay them out here, I'm contracting that job out to QDMA. The Quality Deer Management Association uses research to educate hunters about all aspects of whitetail biology in an effort to produce better deer and better hunters. This article does an great job of laying out methods for finding an area to hunt deer. Additionally, QDMA is an excellent source of information for all things related to deer hunting.

If hunting from a ground blind, take a little extra time to brush it in, so that it blends into the environment as much as possible. Can you spot the ground blind in this picture?

KILLING A DEER

Let's talk about shot placement. Poor shot placement increases the chances that you will wound and not kill the deer or find yourself on an hours-long tracking trek that may or may not end in success. I'm not too proud to admit that I know this from experience and believe me it's a frustration you want to avoid. Knowing the anatomy of a deer is the crucial factor in knowing where to place your shot. Again, I'm referring you to QDMA's website because this article explains shot placement perfectly.

There are a variety of scent control products on the market.

SCENT CONTROL

Deer have a keen sense of smell, so covering your human scent is the biggest obstacle to getting close to deer. There are various products designed to help cover your scent, such as body soap, shampoo, laundry detergent, and sprays that you can apply for extra cover while in the field. I recommend using all of these, but that is not typically enough. One of the best ways to keep deer from picking up your scent is to make sure that the direction of the wind is not causing it to blow your scent towards the deer. There have been many times when, despite making every effort to cover my scent, deer have gotten downwind of me and then proceeded to tell all of their friends I was there. Hunt over.

AFTER THE KILL

Congratulations on a successful deer hunt! If you are processing your own deer, now is when the work really starts. This video details an effective, quick, and simple method for skinning and processing deer. Note that not all states will require you to remove the head of the deer, so you should familiarize yourself with the applicable laws in your state.

If you do not feel comfortable processing your own deer, or if you're like me and are just too lazy, taking it to a meat processor is a great option. Often meat processors can give you options as to what cuts of meat you would like, and in my experience, they do a much better job processing the meat because– well, that is their job.

If for some reason you do not want to keep the meat from your deer hunt, please don't trash it. Organizations like Hunters For The Hungry have been put in place to reduce the waste of wild game while also providing for those in need. You can go to this website to find the closest HFH chapter in your area.

Here's what the NRA has to say:

“Hunters for the Hungry is an initiative created by the National Rifle Association to give back to communities by supplying thousands of meals to the needy throughout the country. The NRA works closely with state agencies to put interested individuals in touch with programs in their area and foster public awareness through education, fundraising and publicity. Since the program's inception, Hunters for the Hungry has brought hundreds of thousands of pounds of venison to homeless shelters, soup kitchens and food banks across the United States.”

Venison Taco Salad

LET'S EAT

Now that you have all of this delicious meat, what do you do with it? In my experience, people seem to think that venison has to be cooked in some really special way to taste good, and this is not true. I would say if there is one thing to know about cooking venison, it's that it is very lean so you must take care not to overcook it and I always add a little fat to my venison no matter how I cook it. To keep it simple, any way that I would use beef in a recipe or dish, I use venison: ground meat for tacos or bolognese sauce, burgers, steaks, or roasts, etc. Here are a few places where you can find wild game recipes:

Good luck this season!


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