A solid deer hunting strategy can tip the odds in your favor long before opening day rolls around. We define deer hunting strategy as the big-picture thinking and planning you do before the hunting season starts (as opposed to deer hunting tactics, which are the methods you use once you are actually out hunting).
In order to consistently put venison in the freezer, you'll need to understand the different deer hunting strategies available, choose the approach that will work best for you, and then put in the work necessary to prepare for the hunt.
The first step in defining your deer hunting strategy is to select the land on which you will hunt. You can choose to hunt on either private or public land. To hunt on private land, you'll need to secure permission from the landowner, which may or may not be an easy task. However, if you can get permission, there will likely be far less hunting pressure to compete with. You could also buy or lease your own private hunting land.
The main advantage of public land is that it's open to everyone, and that's also its main disadvantage. You don't need anyone's permission to hunt on public land (although you need to make sure hunting is allowed), but this often means that there will be many other hunters hunting the same land.
To counteract this, try to get as far away from roads as possible, hunt as early as possible during the season before the deer get wise, hunt during weekdays, or hunt during the archery or muzzloader seasons (more on this below).
If you're new to deer hunting, start with researching the different public land options in your by checking out your state game department website. This will give you a good idea of the distribution of the deer population and the success rates in different areas.
Whether you choose to hunt on public or private land, look for land that has good deer habitat, including abundant food, adequate water, and cover thick enough to provide security and bedding areas. You can get a good sense of potential hunting spots by studying topographic maps and using Google Earth to view satellite images of the area.
The next thing you need to do is to figure out which species of deer live in the area you'll be hunting and then learn as much as you possibly can about that species and its behavior.
There are three species of deer living in North America. The white-tailed deer is by far the most numerous and most hunted deer species. Often referred to simply as "whitetails", their range covers most of the continental United States as well as quite a bit of southern Canada and almost all of Mexico.
The mule deer has the second largest range of the three deer species. Named for their large ears and often affectionately nicknamed "muleys", they can be found throughout the American West, from Montana to Arizona to California to Washington, as well as northern Mexico and large portions of Alberta and British Columbia. See our article on mule deer hunting tactics.
The black-tailed deer has the most limited geographic range of the three species (it's also the smallest deer, on average). Many hunters call them "blacktails", and they are also referred to as the "Ghosts of the Pacific" due to their particularly elusive nature and the seemingly impenetrable habitat in which many live. They can be found along the Pacific Coast from northern California all the way up to Southeast Alaska. See our article on blacktail deer hunting.
After you've chosen your hunting land and gained an understanding of the general behavior of the species of deer that inhabit the area, it's time to put in as much scouting time as you can before the season begins.
Scouting is an invaluable strategy for locating deer and patterning their movements under various conditions. The more you scout, the more you increase the odds that you'll be able to find deer during the hunting season and get close enough for a shot.
Our article on scouting focuses on scouting for white-tailed deer because whitetail hunting is by far the most common type of deer hunting. And, in many areas, scouting is the only way to effectively hunt whitetails. But don't think these methods are limited to whitetails. In much of the blacktail's range, these same scouting strategies work equally well, and you can even use them for hunting mule deer.
Most deer hunters hunt during the modern firearm season with either a rifle or a shotgun. This is because these weapons are the easiest to learn to operate, making them an excellent choice if you're starting out. However, alternative weapon selection can be used as a strategy to counteract the sometimes overwhelming numbers of hunters out there during the modern firearm season.
Most states have separate bow- and muzzleloader-only seasons. Even though the technology of these weapons has evolved considerably in recent years, learning to shoot a bow or a muzzleloader well is still comparitively harder than shooting a modern firearm. Because of this, you'll find far fewer hunters afield on public land during these seasons. If you're willing to put in a little extra time and effort, you can hunt with a bow or muzzleloader and beat the crowds.
Another advantage to hunting with bow or muzzleloader is that the seasons often coincide with the deer breeding season. Hunting deer during this time opens up a variety of tactics in which you can attract bucks to you, including rattling, calling, and decoying.