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Take Deer in the Early Season Day 1: Scout Deer from the Skinning Shed

John Phillips with a deer trophy
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Editor’s Note: Dr. Grant Woods of Reeds Spring, Missouri, one of the nation’s leading white-tailed deer researchers, not only has studied whitetails for many years but also uses the latest scientific technology to track deer movement and learn why deer do what they do. I’ve asked Woods to tell our readers how to find the bucks of their dreams this year.


Deer eating in the wildFirst, I’ll study the pressure hunting patterns in the early season – which in many states includes bowhunting and black-powder hunting for deer. Often at this time of the year, the bucks will be moving as though they’re not disturbed. I call a pressure hunting pattern any hunting condition after the first day of modern gun season. So, when you’re hunting a pre-pressure pattern like we often encounter during early deer season, the three areas to concentrate on when you’re looking for deer are places where deer eat, drink and bed before the rut, which means you should be hunting pre-rut food, water and cover patterns for the most success. The deer should be easier to pattern during the early season, which should be one of the best times to take a trophy buck. If we can accept these generalities, let’s look at some more-specific areas to find a trophy early-season buck.


Deer in the wildTo bag a big buck, we must start with the regions where a trophy buck will be most of the time during the early season. That older-age-class buck will be in what I call a secure area where he doesn’t believe he’ll see a hunter. Or, if he does spot a hunter, that buck believes he can escape before the hunter sees or takes him. A secure area may be only a small trash pile out in the middle of a 40-acre field where the buck can stay and then smell and see in all directions. Or, the buck may have a little hidey-hole where hunters rarely if ever think to look for a buck. Your chances of finding a buck in his bed will be very slim because he’s picked his bedding spot, knowing the hunter won’t be there.


Dr. Grant Woods deer hunting


I’ve learned from the studies I’ve done that the most-effective way to discover a trophy buck or a nice buck is to scout from the skinning shed. I’ve learned this technique when my company, Woods and Associates, has been called in to remove nuisance deer from golf courses, airports and other places where deer cause major problems for people. When we’re called into areas like this, we take the maximum number of deer we possibly can take in the shortest time. We’re not playing at deer hunting. We must be extremely efficient and know exactly where and when to take the most deer. Therefore, when the first deer is taken, we immediately study what the deer’s been eating.


Deer eating in the wildIf you’re the member of a hunting lease, hunt with a group of friends or hunt on public lands where deer are checked in and sometimes field dressed, you quickly and easily can learn where and how to see the most deer and possibly the biggest bucks in the shortest time. By carefully examining the deer’s stomach contents, you can tell exactly on what that deer’s been feeding. Deer are unequivocally slaves to their guts. They must eat. Therefore, once we determine what the deer are eating from examining the first harvested deer’s stomach contents, then we need to determine when they’re eating. I’ll usually split the deer’s esophagus to learn exactly what he’s been eating just before he’s taken. Then the further back in the stomach where we find food content, we can tell about what time the deer has been eating what. For instance, if the buck has grass in his mouth or in his esophagus, then we know he’s been feeding on a grass or an alfalfa field. Lower in the stomach, if we find honeysuckle, then we know that the deer has been eating honeysuckle before he’s reached the grass. Then even further back in his stomach, if we discover acorns there, we’ll understand that the deer has eaten the acorns before he’s arrived where the honeysuckle is. By scouting from the skinning shed, you not only can determine what a deer is feeding on but also when he’s eating that particular kind of food. This knowledge enables the hunter to arrange his morning and afternoon stands in the spots that provide these food sources.


Dr. Grant Woods harvesting a deerSomething we’ve learned by scouting from the skinning shed is that one of the deer’s preferred foods is mushrooms. Mushrooms will digest quickly. If you discover mushrooms in a deer’s stomach, and you can locate a patch of mushrooms to hunt over, then set a stand up in that area quickly. I believe and so does Dr. Larry Marchinton, who has researched white-tailed deer for many years at the University of Georgia, that there are hallucinogenic mushrooms to which deer become addicted. Often mushrooms sprout up after a rain. Marchinton and I have found that deer will disregard danger somewhat to reach those mushrooms when they come up. In case any goofballs are reading this, I don’t suggest that any humans eat any of the mushrooms that I believe are hallucinogenic to deer.


Remember, if you hope to take a big, early-season buck this year, the more diverse the habitat where you’re hunting, the more critical having different stands for morning and evening becomes. Very rarely will you find a deer eating in the same places in the mornings that he eats in the evenings. We know this because very rarely if ever do you find a bottleneck where a deer is passing from one woodlot to another woodlot with tracks going in both directions. Deer will move through that bottleneck, either in the morning or in the afternoon, to go somewhere. But rarely will the deer come back to that same spot, if they’ve already passed through it once before on that day. So, a two-way bottleneck with tracks going in both directions definitely will be a place where you can hang a stand and hunt there all day. However, finding that two-way bottleneck is very difficult, if not impossible, in most places. How to Hunt Deer Like a Pro: Volume 2If you do discover a two-way bottleneck, you also must realize that probably another hunter has found that same spot. So, you can expect intense hunting pressure on that bottleneck, forcing the deer to only use that trail after dark.



To learn more about Dr. Grant Woods’ work and download free video and learn the latest research about deer, visit https://www.growingdeer.tv and https://www.facebook.com/GrowingDeer/.


John E. Phillips’ latest deer book “How to Hunt Deer Like a Pro: Volume II,” just was published this week on Amazon in print at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0BGSP3QPB/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tpbk_p4_i4

Cover: How to Hunt Deer Like a ProThe Audible version should be available by mid-November. Since deer hunting and deer hunters are drastically changing each year, John interviewed some top deer hunters like Mark Drury, Dr. Larry Marchinton, Dr. Bob Sheppard, Pat Reeve, Gene Wensel, Cody Robbins, Ernie Calandrelli, Brian Murphy and Luke Brewster, who took the world’s largest whitetail, to learn their up-to-date techniques for successfully hunting deer and having more places to hunt. Also, John’s first book in that series “How to Hunt Deer Like a Pro” at http://amzn.to/YpoQHA for Kindle, print and Audible, includes other outstanding deer hunters. To see all of John E. Phillips’ books on hunting and fishing, visit www.amazon.com/author/johnephillips.

Tomorrow: Remember Deer Know You

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