Deer hunting in the USA is governed by various laws and in many states you need to have a Hunter Safety or Hunter Education certificate before you can hunt legally. This certificate is what will be asked of you when you buy a hunting license, which is also needed before you can begin hunting.
Hunter Safety Education
Depending on which state you are located, you would probably need to attend a physical class. While there are online classes offered, but this is just the first step. In many states located near the coast, an in-person course will be required; while states in the middle of the country are much more gun and hunting friendly, with the notable exception of Illinois.
So, What Do You Get From Getting Hunter Education Certificate?
With a certification, you can easily hunt in all 50 states, provided that the certification you got is valid for all states.
With a hunter education certificate, you will be taught a lot of things like basic woodsmanship and gun safety to name a few—which is quite beneficial if you did not grow up around guns, or do not have an idea on hunting.
What to Expect?
Most of these hunting certification classes are attended by youths, Middle School-Aged children. This is because you only need to take this class once in your life and commonly parents send their kids to these classes so that their kids can accompany them to hunting trips. Kids these ages are your usual classmates in these in-person classes.
There are also several adults in the class too. Usually, adult immigrants also take up these lessons because even though they may be hunters in their home country, but they also need to undergo this certification class or have to learn about hunting in the US which can be an entirely different scenario from what they are used to.
And lastly, there will be a few native adults who end up pursuing hunting in the later part of their life. All these people will become your good friends for the day. You may even find yourself joining forces with them to one of your hunting expeditions in the future.
A lot of people who contemplate deer hunting or hunting as a whole, is primarily because they want to buy or own a gun, but in reality buying a gun is expensive. Before buying a gun, you need to do some target shooting first.
As a matter of fact, before you get your hunter’s education, practicing your shooting skills is highly recommended. We recommend practicing before buying because you have to ensure that you really want to hunt or else you may have just wasted precious money on a gun you will never even use.
Now, I know the question running around your mind, “how do I practice target shooting if I don’t have a gun?” That’s easy. There are actually two ways to go about this problem.
The first option is asking a friend who owns a shotgun or rifle to help you practice. The second option is to call your local shooting range. Tell them that you do not own a gun yet and you want to learn to shoot. Many of these shooting ranges offer courses which will be just right for your needs.
Once you have access to guns, practice target shooting. Ask your friend or instructor to help you. Further, never ever forget to always apply gun safety. If you are a newbie with guns, it is highly suggested that you get a course from the shooting range because they are going to teach you all you need to know about gun safety, its moving parts, loading, shooting, and a whole lot more.
Before you go on your deer hunting trip, it is best to get some shooting practice at least once a week; but if you do not have much time to spare, at least have several shooting practice—it will do your aim and skill some good with just a few practice.
Permits and Licenses
Permits and licenses are two entirely different things. In most cases, licenses can be bought from sellers in various locations. These licenses are valid for one year. The cost of a license would vary and may depend on the following: what type of game you are going to hunt, your state of residency, if you are disabled or not, and your age.
On the other hand is a permit, others refer to this as a tag. You need to have a license first before you can buy a tag or permit. Your tag should be game specific, so if you are only hunting deer, then the permit you should buy should be a deer’s tag which is approximately $30 or more; depending on the state you are located. This price also has a discount depending on disability and age.
And once you have successfully harvested your deer, you need to attach the permit or tag on to your deer. And in most states, your fish and game officer will normally check your harvested game and its corresponding tag or a report must be tendered along with the harvest card (which came with your permit) within 10 days of harvesting your kill. There are also states that require seeing your harvested deer’s head to ensure that it is indeed antlerless.
And lastly these necessary licenses and permits can be gotten from your local Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). And along with the licenses and permits that you buy is helpful information on the length of the deer season.
Usually a deer season is broken up into two, one season for bow and arrow use only and the other season for guns. Also included is information on the kind of deer you can tag and the number of deer. There will also be information on hunting hours, clothing essentials, and other safety regulations.
Deer Hunting Packing List
In this section, I will be listing all the highly recommended deer hunting gear that you would need. And a couple more that can make your hunting more successful—which is entirely optional. Along with each list is the rationale behind, which is especially useful for deer hunting beginners like you.
Clothing is an important factor when deer hunting because it will help you blend in with the natural habitation, keep you warm as you wait for your prey, ensure that you abide by the rules especially when hunting with guns (there is a clothing law for this), and many more considerations that will help you achieve a successful hunt. So, here are the various tips and considerations you need to know to prepare your deer hunting clothes.
It may sound commonsensical to you, but there will be times when you think you have dressed enough but still it isn’t. Just think of waiting for your prey patiently and suddenly the rain pours and you’re all wet to the bones. So here is a quick recommendation for various seasons, weathers, and temperatures.
- Really Late Season with temperatures of 15oF and below
Use a Guide Gear pro long sleeve top and bottom, Cabelas wool commando sweater, pac boots, cotton camo overalls, and green freezer suit, homemade orange poncho, and Goretex jeep hat in hunter orange.
- Rifle Season with changeable temperatures of 26oF
Homemade orange poncho, Browning insulated leather boots, Goretex jeep hat in hunter orange, Remington Goretx Quad parka and bibs, Cabelas wool commando sweater, cotton camo overalls, Guide Gear poly pro long sleeve top and bottom.
- Mid-season with temperatures of 40oF and rain
LLBean insulated Maine boot, Camo Yazoo hat worn inside face mask made from old camo t-shirt, homemade camo poncho as a cover-up to hide form, bring PVC rain suit, Poly camo hoodie, Cabelas wool commando sweater, cotton camo overalls, and Guide Gear poly pro long sleeve top.
- Early Season with temperature of 50oF and no rain
Boonie hat, homemade camo poncho as a cover-up to hide form, bring Cabelas commando sweater, LaCrosse uninsulated boots, camo hoodie, cotton camo overalls, and a cotton long sleeve camo t-shirt.
Other Clothing Considerations
- Wearing Orange
it is mandated by law that hunting with a firearm any season, the hunter needs to wear a solid blaze of orange that is externally visible like coveralls, shirt, sweater, sweatshirt, coat, jacket, or vest. This is for safety reasons.
- Wearing Camo
Deer hunters need to camouflage or break-up their form so that the deer cannot perceive their outline and run away.
- Choose Clothes that are Quiet
Deer have big ears which gives them formidable hearing. Now, if your clothing makes a lot of noise with movement, it easily scares them away. Rain suits, parkas, and jackets are quite noisy as well as blue jeans. But if you really want to wear jeans, choose one that is soft and old. The best clothing would be cotton and wool.
- Wear Gloves
Preferably the gloves should be camouflaged and dark. Since human move their hands a lot, camouflaging these movements with a gloves is logical. And to make it easy to shoot, you can cut off the pad on the trigger finger, around one inch at most.
Other Hunting Gears
Depending on the state you live in, there are gun specifics for deer hunting. So, before buying your gun do check out with your local DNR or DEC. If you used the wrong gun when hunting you risk getting your license and permit taken away.
At the end of a successful hunt, you need to field dress your deer. All in all you should have two knives, one for dressing and one pocket knife. Keep your knife nice and sharp so you can easily field dress your deer. You can also opt to carry a hunting knife like the heavy duty Olsen knife with a 4-inch blade and a leather sheath.
a GPS would be a better tool, but if you want something handy and convenient to lug around a pocket watch sized compass can also do the trick. Do not rely on your instincts to find your way back, as there are already a lot of seasoned hunters or climbers who have lost their way in the woods.
- Scents and Lures
You need scents to cover your own human scent. Deer have very developed sense of smell and they can smell humans, so you can mask up your scent with certain clothing and spray scents. I especially use scent killers all over my body, hat, boots, and gun or bow and arrow. And when I feel especially sweaty, I do touch ups. Now lures on the other hand are odors that attract deer. My choice would be a buck or doe urine in November and for all-season I love using Trail’s End #307.
- Rattling antlers and Grunt Tube
Instead of caterwauling all over the forest trying to imitate deer, invest in a suitable grunt tube. It can mimic everything from a fawn bleat to an all-out bleat. You can also use rattling antlers to entice bucks to your area.
These are pretty helpful when scouting for your prey. Choose something that packs a lot of strength in a small frame. Also use one that does not become an obstacle when you shoot.
- Folding Saw
If you plan to make a waiting spot on a tree, a folding saw can make any tree a good vantage point instead of souring the area just for the perfect one.
- Tree belt
This is a handy gear if you add clips and hooks to it so you can hang your pans, pots, extra clothes, calls, quiver, optics and many others.
- Tag, license, surveyor’s flagging tape, and elbow-length plastic gloves
These will all come in handy when you harvest your kill. If you are a no nonsense type of person, you can go ahead and dig out your deer’s innards with your bare hands. All others are a requirement for a deer kill.
- Safety Belt
This is another important gear especially when you are looking to climb trees as your waiting spot. The safety belt is the first thing you put on before climbing and the last thing you remove before disembarking from your climb.
- 32-oz pee bottle, 20-oz water bottle, and energy bars
You never know how long the wait is and if you move too much it just might scare any deer from passing your way. So these three items are important to bring whenever you are waiting in ambush. Just make sure to check what you bottle you are holding before drinking.
- Matches, lighter, and flashlight
Whether you plan to use them or not, these three items are very important that you bring with you while deer hunting. It just might mean your survival.
Finding the Best Spot to Hunt
Finding a spot to hunt for deer is not as easy as you seem. And if you want to have a higher success in harvesting a deer, then you have to prepare for it before your hunting trip begins. So, here are several steps and ways to finding your hunting spot.
There are basically three different scouting methods and they are through a camera, on foot, and aerial. It should also be done in a specific order too.
So, the first thing is studying topography and aerial maps of your hunting area. You need to have a feel for the general lay of the land which will help you in the next scouting methods. What you are looking for when studying maps are access routes, stand sites, possible food sources, funnels, ponds, and creeks. You can use TerraServer or Google Maps.
Now that you have a general feel and idea of the area and have pinpointed various spots, it is time to put your feet on the ground. It is best to bring with you map printouts in order to ensure its accuracy. Do ensure that you add personal notes to the map to help you in finding the perfect spot.
And the last step is, if you are hunting in your farm, you can put up trail cameras to determine if there are deer living in your property or are just passersby. You can also identify buck to doe ratios and even their movement or travel habits.
Now that you are on foot, it is time to look for deer activities nearby. What you should be watching out for are obvious beds made out of leaves on side hills, ridge tops, and grasses; travel corridors through rub lines, scrapes, and timber; plus beat down and heavy trails.
Also take note of places which can be possible watering holes and current or future food sources. This is also the best time to set up trail cams where you can identify the deer’s feeding and traveling schedules around the area.
Further, scouting can also help you identify access points to various stand locations. These are spots where and how the deer are moving. These are also spots that provide you a way to get in and out undetected during the hunting season.
Where to Put Your Stand
A perfect stand should be located in natural terrain like pinch points, funnels, and saddles which will urge deer to contrite in a spot as they move around the area from their bed to feeding grounds all through the day and as they return from these feed areas and back to their bed.
This spot should be concealed well while still being accessible for you as you enter and exit the spot without disturbing the herd. Further, the wind direction is also very important.
A good stand spot should be located down wind of the traveling deer so that it will keep the hunter’s scent and the hunter itself undetected. It is always better to take advantage of the deer’s movement rather than drawing them to your spot.
Here are some other considerations:
- Most people want to hunt the ultimate prize—the buck. But there is a reason why these bucks have grown old and that means they are very wary and know how to isolate themselves from potentially dangerous situations and human contact.
- One of the likely hideaways for bucks are thick creek bottoms because these places let them drink water and rest in relatively isolated area.
- Bigger bucks usually rest and make their bed in higher altitude and shady places. In these spots they are more removed from human threats and well concealed.
- When picking stand spots, pick the most inhospitable spots for humans to go through. A wise hunting saying, “where man does not tread, the deer may roam.” These inhospitable spots can be old swampland, dense cedar thickets and others. Just look for a trail and set up your stand.
Aside from on the ground stands, tree stands can be your best spot for waiting for your prey. There are times when tree stands are already there and there will be times you’ll have to set it up for yourself.
There are various ways to set up a tree stand. You can choose from several tree stand sold in the market from expensive to less expensive units. Choose well and buy according to your needs.
If you are on a tight budget, you can also build your own tree stand by hoisting up a simple wooden platform just high enough to see far. The design of your tree stand doesn’t matter as much as how high up it is and how secure it is. Always remember safety first.
While there are states that do not allow hunting within 300 yards of bait, but there are tricks to go about this rule. What other hunters do is to bait their stand at least 3 to 4 weeks before the hunt. Around their spot, they put baits to let the deer know that there are also safe areas for feeding.
Normally, deer are baited with sugar beets, mineral licks, carrots, apples, and corn. Now, in order for you not to go against the law, you can stop baiting your area at least 10 to 7 days before you plan to hunt there.
Now that you have readied everything beforehand, you can go deer hunting. Ensure that the date of your hunting is legal, you have the necessary permits and license, you also have the right gun, and also know the right type of deer that can be legally hunted.
Step 1 – Preparations
Hunting is best done with responsible friends or family members. So, it is highly suggested that you invite a friend or a family member to hunt with you. If there is no one to accompany you, then you have to do the following for your safety:
- Have a GPS or compass with you to guide you home. It is not enough to rely on your senses or that stream or big tree. Chances are there will be other streams in the area or the same big tree. Just for safety measure, bring a compass or GPS to guide you home.
- Let someone know what time you will be back from your hunting trip. Further, do stick to the time you intend to return. This way, it will allow that person to check on you if you have indeed returned safely.
- Bring with you a fully charged phone, so that in an emergency you can contact the necessary officials.
- Before going to your stand, spray yourself with scent killer along with all the hunting gears that you are bringing with you. If you are on a tight budget, you can use baking soda as a scent killer.
What you can do is when you shower, fill a large bottle with water and add a tablespoon, pour it all over you, and do not rinse. You can also add baking soda into an around your clothes the night before the hunt and in your boots.
Step 2 – Go to Your Stand
If you have followed the steps laid out in early sections, then by now you already have a good stand spot. But if not, then you can scout the area for possible places where deer are. This can be found through proofs like game trail signs, rubs, and scrapes. Rubs are generally abrasions on a tree where bucks scraped their antlers against tree trunks—they do this especially during mating season.
There are also signs that can be seen on the ground and these are scrape spots. Scrapes are areas in the ground where bucks have dug their hooves into during rutting season. The fresher the scrapes are, the more reliable it is as an indicator of deer nearby.
If you have sweated a lot while scouting for a good stand, it is time to spray yourself again with scent killer.
Step 3 – Settle in Your Stand
Now that you are in your stand, you can settle down and lie in ambush. This will be a good time for you to apply various deer enticing techniques as follows:
- In the early deer hunting season, you can use rattling antlers. This will communicate to bucks that there are other bucks sparring in the area and will especially attract them to come to the area especially early in the season. This technique also lures bucks even from afar to your stand.
- Another technique used during early deer hunting season is the use of buck urine. Especially when bucks are sparring in the early season, they are very territorial. Masking your scent with buck urine and using it can be quite rewarding.
- Doe estrus scent is another item used in enticing bucks to come your way. What you can do is soak a rag in doe estrus urine and bring it during the hunt; this will usually lead a buck straight to you. You can also spray on the doe estrus scent.
- You can also use a grunt tube or deer calls. Deer calls can be produced mechanically with a ‘doe in estrus’ can or other grunt tubes that can mimic deer bleats. Or you can also mimic deer bleats if you can. This is another way of enticing other deer to come to your spot.
Once you have made all possible ways and techniques to entice the deer towards you, sit, and wait patiently for the deer to come. Be wary and on the lookout.
Step 4 – Making the Shot
When making a shot, the biggest movement you are going to make is either standing up or crouching on your knee to get a clear shot. When you do this, do it while the deer is still approaching and not when it is close already or else you risk spooking the deer if you change your position too late.
The best position when getting a shot is on a kneeling, sitting or prone position because the standing pose is a very unstable position to shoot in.
The best time to shoot a deer is when they are 20 to 30 yards away from you, that’s around 18.3 to 27.4 miles away. If you take a shot while the deer is too far, you will only manage to injure it, spook off the rest of the deer, or miss the deer’s vitals and cause it a long and painful death.
Now that you have seen your target deer and you have positioned yourself, remember that the deer will go on doing whatever it is its doing. It will not wait or stop for you to get a good shot. So, what should you do?
- When using a gun, make sure that it is already fully loaded with just the safety on. This way, all you need to do is flip the safety off to get your shot.
- To help catch the deer’s attention and give you time to get a good shot, you can make a short bleat sound to get its attention. But do ensure that you take the shot as soon as possible after the bleating or the deer can get spooked and run away.
Lastly, where should you take aim? When taking aim on the deer, target the brain or head, neck, or the upper shoulder. You can also target your shot just behind the front leg, 6-inches up from the chest. If this shot is properly placed, it will travel through the deer’s vitals and kill it humanely. This portion is the upper shoulder.
Inspecting the Deer’s Blood
As a responsible hunter, your goal is a one-shot kill. This way you the deer is felled quickly preventing much suffering and pain. You can easily check your shot just by checking the ground where you shot the animal. Here is what to look for:
- If there is stomach matter or watery and thin blood with bile and white hair – this means that you have missed your one shot kill and therefore you need to track the deer and give another shot in order to humanely kill it.
- If there is dark red blood and brown hair – this means that you may have shot the deer farther back than targeted and may have hit the liver. This also means that it may take a little bit longer for your deer to die, but still it is relatively quicker than the shot mentioned before this.
- Pink blood with air bubbles and brown hair – this is great news because it means that you have hit the lung or heart. It also means that your deer is quite near and will die quite quickly.
Step 5 – Finding Your Dead or Wounded Deer
Commonly, the deer will not drop dead on the spot where you shot it. If you fired your shot right on target, your deer is just nearby. But, if just got wounded it may travel far. So, what to do and how to track your deer?
The best way to track your deer is to wait for 30 minutes before tracking your deer because if you track it right away, it may have enough energy and adrenaline and travel further than it would otherwise. Whereas if you wait 30 minutes, it will give the deer chances to lie down and probably bleed out.
So, before you head out to track your deer do not ever forget to bring with you a compass or GPS. If you also have company, ask someone to track the deer with you. And when you are tracking the deer, do not forget to take note of your surroundings. This way it will be easier for you to return to your stand point and/or return to your car.
Here are tips to make tracking your deer easier:
- You can use a handy fluorescent light to spot blood easily during dawn or dusk. This type of light retails for $20 and is quite handy to carry around.
- You can also use a spray bottle filled with hydrogen peroxide, mist the area and any blood trail will foam up making it easier to spot.
- To track your deer, go to the point where you have shot at it. If you have hit your deer, it will leave a trail of blood. Just follow this trail of blood. If it disappears, look at the foliage or brush to the side of the trail for signs of where your deer may have gone or laid down.
What to do once you have spotted your deer lying on the ground? First and foremost, do not approach the deer right away. As much as possible, call your companion, and then make sure that the deer is dead or if needed give it one final shot on the head to kill it and release it from its suffering.
Step 6 – Field Dressing your Harvest
There are no field dressing directions that will ever prepare you for what’s to come. This is the common reason why you need to have an experienced hunter beside you to help you dress your deer.
Here are several tips and considerations you should remember when hauling and dressing your deer’s carcass:
- Deer’s are heavy, especially a dead deer. This is also the reason why you should have a buddy with you and an experienced buddy is best of all.
- You need to remove the guts of your harvested deer. This is what you call field dressing. And then you need to bury your deer’s guts underground. So, expect some shoveling, gutting and swiping at all those flies and ants.
- Bring your deer’s head with you, you just might need it to prove that your deer is indeed antlerless.
- If you think that carrying a dead weight is easy, think again. Your harvested deer, especially if antlerless has no good spot for holding on. Without antlers, the head is bumpy and has no good handles.
- If you drag your harvested deer, the head catches at nearly everything and dragging it increases its friction, thereby making it heavier.
- Lastly, there are spots on a buck’s leg that you should never touch. The tarsal glands of a buck are found on the inside of a buck’s legs. They urinate directly on these when marking scrapes and etc. And these glands are oily and the worst smelling of all.
And to end your hunt, enjoy your venison and sausages!