If you challenge most hunters with the conventional whitetail wisdom, the answer will almost always be, “maybe, but not with my deer.” It is the nature of the beast, but we tend to have strong prejudices about the deer we hunt. Also, unsurprisingly, we’re biased towards our abilities as hunters.
Combine those two, and it’s a short jump into a world of clinging to absolutes to excuse the reasons we fail. We affirm that all males are nocturnal. The routine was too hot and all the chases happened at night. The orange army always kills the young males before any of them reach maturity.
You name it, we spit it out and promote it. But how many of these long-standing white-tailed convictions are simply not true? I would discuss them all.
Common Deer Lies
If I were to check off the list of usual suspects, I might say that deer don’t move when it’s windy, rainy, too hot, or too cold. You can also say that they move during the day, but not during the break, or not after they have received too much hunting pressure.
Common sense argues differently. Take the statement too windy. If that were true, Kansas males could die in their beds waiting for a quiet day. Too hot? Well, it seems that they eat and drink and do their thing all summer long, very well. But, he argues, maybe not during the grind when they have winter coats and a layer of accumulated fat?
Imagine if your only window for lovemaking was three weeks out of the year. Would the sweltering heat stop you, even if you were wearing a couple of thermal layers? Or would you find a way to stay in the shade, stay hydrated, and still look for a docile mate?
The antidote to these ingrained beliefs is to hunt in shitty conditions. You’ll see males doing their thing when most hunters think they won’t. This is also a great way to dispel perhaps the most common lie we believe: that there are no mature dollars in a certain field.
Deer old habits die hard
Aaron Hepler is an outdoor writer from Pennsylvania who grew up hearing from relatives that good dollars just don’t exist on public land in his home state. It wasn’t until he ignored what his father and uncle were preaching that he realized the quality of the deer available to him (and all other hunters).
“They always talked about the deer not being there, but they were just hunting in the wrong places,” Hepler said. “My image of males as a child was all spikes and young males. It wasn’t until I was older and started hanging out on my own that I realized there were males over a year and a half out there.”
Hepler went on to target those dollars and kill them. He did it on public land, in a state where the number of people buying hunting licenses exceeds the total population of residents in some Western states.
I’ve seen this myself, countless times. Whether it’s North Dakota, Oklahoma, Wisconsin or wherever. Locals have told me he was wasting his time hunting “their” public lands. Some of those might be psy-ops to pick on a non-resident, but some of them were clearly genuine. However, in the seven or eight states in which I have hunted on public land, I have encountered mature males in every one and have killed mature males in almost all of them. Local feeling doesn’t carry much weight when you travel, and it’s good to expose yourself. Doing so will make you question what you believe to be fact about your own deer.
The good thing about what we think deer do or don’t do is that it’s testable. You can hunt during the heat or rain, or set up cameras on public land down the road to see what caliber of bucks really live there. You don’t have to take anyone’s word for it, and you can tell if the deer are really “playing by the rules.”
I think that’s probably the best lesson any deer hunter can learn. Questioning our beliefs and hunting them when they shouldn’t move, or where they shouldn’t live, is a great path to becoming a more successful hunter. If for no other reason, do it because most of your competition will never do it. If you think deer don’t know that, you’re wrong. That’s a conviction I hold to when it comes to white-tailed behavior. When we’re not there, they’re more likely to do their thing.
So, be the one who is there.
Featured Image via Matt Hansen.