Separating the myths from the facts about deer hunting

Story by Dennis Anderson
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
November 4, 2011
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Across the nation, fall brings deer seasons. Here’s a look at some assumptions, and mis-assumptions, deer hunters will take with them to their stands.

Myth — A well-placed heart and/or lung shot will drop a deer in its tracks, or shortly thereafter.

Fact — Sometimes yes, oftentimes no. And in cases when a deer shot in the heart or lungs doesn’t drop, it can travel much farther than many hunters believe. Moreover, even seriously wounded deer can appear to tracking hunters to bleed more profusely than they actually are.

In one study using beef blood to simulate a bleeding deer, a pool of blood 12 inches across required only 6 ounces of blood to create.

Yet a loss of about 42 ounces of blood is required for a deer to bleed to death, according to Leonard Lee Rue III, author of the encyclopedic “The Deer of North America.”

Also: Deer shot through the heart in almost all instances will drop sooner than those shot only through the lungs. Either way, seriously wounded deer — those shot through the heart and/or lungs — can travel farther than most hunters think. Distances of up to and exceeding 100 yards are not uncommon.

Myth — The most important factor leading to the harvesting of a buck by a firearms hunter is the timing of the season to coincide with the rut.

Fact — Most important to harvesting a buck is the amount of time spent in the field by the hunter.

James Kroll, aka “Dr. Deer,” the new Wisconsin Deer Czar hired to review whitetail management in the Badger State, and possibly recommend management changes there, advises that hunters who stay in their stands during daytime significantly increase their odds of killing deer, big bucks in particular.

“The best time to kill a mature buck is midday,” Kroll says, adding that deer do a better job of patterning hunter movement than vice versa. “Since most hunters are in their stands the first two hours of daylight and the last two hours of daylight, mature bucks often move at midday. I’m amazed at how anxiously hunters await the deer season, then they only hunt four hours a day,” Kroll said. “Hunt all day and you’ll be surprised how many more deer you will see.”

The role of the rut in Minnesota whitetail hunting success can’t be discounted: Between Nov. 1 and Nov. 15, whitetail bucks here actively seek mates, at times moving when they otherwise wouldn’t in other months of the year, such as during midday.

But an equally important factor affecting deer movement is the mass disruption caused by the influx into woods and fields of between 400,000 and 500,000 hunters. This increases the chance of a kill for the hunter who stays in his or her stand all day.

Myth — All bucks are uniformly affected by the rut.

Fact — While the rut does inspire more-or-less careless roaming by bucks, it’s also true old bucks didn’t reach their tender age by wandering aimlessly in daytime. When confronted by hunter pressure, which they seem to sense intuitively, older bucks often move only at night — a fact made especially evident in recent decades by the use of trail cameras.

Similarly, older bucks seem often more inclined to hide from danger than to flee it. Which is why, for example, pheasant hunters often nearly step on big bucks while tromping the edges of wetlands.

Myth — Weather affects deer movement, just as it affects fishing success.

Fact — Deer are affected by weather, oftentimes significantly, but usually in a way opposite to how weather affects fishing success.

Example: Fish often bite best ahead of a front, or change of weather. Movement of deer, on the other hand, is often more predictable after a front moves through.

This is often most noticeable in Minnesota after a snowstorm. During the storm itself, and leading up to it, deer sightings can be few. But the day after, particularly if clear, sunny weather prevails, deer often resume traditional movements, particularly those related to feed.

Bill Marchel, the Brainerd, Minn.-area outdoor writer, photographer and student of deer, believes dew point often predicts deer movement, even more than barometric pressure. “The lower the dew point, the drier the air, the more deer move,” he said. “This is especially a factor in bow season, in September and October.”

Myth — Dumb luck plays a role in firearms deer hunting success.

Fact — Actually this is true — in some instances. Given the large number of hunters a state such as Minnesota, some are bound to stumble into big bucks, sometimes blindly.

But over time, deer hunting success, like success in any other venture, is enjoyed most often by those who prepare best. Hunters who scout, erect stands in strategic locations or otherwise pick hunting spots with knowledge of how deer move, and refine their skills with grunt calls, rattling antlers and scents (masking and/or attracting, depending on your beliefs/gullibility), among other gear, will lead to the most deer encounters.

Of course shooting straight is crucial, too.

Dennis Anderson

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