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deer academy

Live Your Best Hunting Life

Image by Anatoliy Gromov
Image by Keith Misner

thl deer academy:
complete deer hunter's guide
brief edition] 


Whitetail Deer are an American icon, and nobody knows that better than deer hunters. American hunters harvest over 6 million deer and consume over 300 million pounds of venison each year. With over 15.2 million deer hunters in the United States, we figured at least a few of those hunters MUST be new to the sport and let's face it, a little refresher course for the experienced hunters never hurt anybody either, right? With that said, The Hunter's Lane has put together our Complete Deer Hunter's Guide [IN A NUTSHELL]. 

Reviewing The Maps: Review maps of your hunting area to determine the topography, boundaries and important natural features of the area. Having an understanding of the layout will save you time and enable you to focus your efforts in the right places. Seek out transition areas and identify food and water sources. Does and younger bucks often bed down within 150 yards of where they feed, while most mature bucks generally prefer to bed as far as 300 yards from their primary food source. Identifying these areas on the map is key to planning your strategy for the hunt.


Finding The Signs: The first thing to look for is sign of the game you're hunting. Sometimes, a places may look "perfect" but if you're seeing little to no sign, move on to an area in which you do find a reasonable amount of sign, such as tracks, scat, tree rubs, hair, plants missing their tips is a sign they've been browsed on and patches of scratched up dirt. It's important to examine these signs carefully to determine if it is fresh sign or not. For instance, old scat will appear dried and even grey in color. Fresh scat will appear at least somewhat moist and shiny, and the presence of flies on and around the scat is a sure sign that it's fresh. Tracks are an excellent indication of the activity in the area. In areas where the ground is soft or muddy, fresh tracks will appear moist, whereas older tracks will appear dried, cracked and will have small plants and roots growing inside them. Taking notice to plant tips that have been nibbled off is an important clue that deer are actively feeding in the area. Tree rubs are a great sign of buck activity in the area. Fresh rubs will appear darker in color from the exposed moisture, and shavings will be visible at the base of the tree, on top of leaves and other ground litter. The ground at the base of the tree rub will also cleared of leaves from the buck's shuffling feet during rubbing activity. Old rubs will appear dry and lighter in color.

Identifying Your Options For Cover: Once you've identified the location you want to hunt, scan the area for the best cover opportunities available to you. Test any potential cover spot to determine if it will in fact hide you well enough to remain undetected, as well as allows you enough room to maneuver yourself and aim your weapon without interference. Avoid facing into the sunlight whenever possible. It's much more beneficial to your hunt when the sun is in the deer's eyes, and not yours. Establishing 1-3 cover options targeting the same spot comes in handy, especially if it you need to move to avoid the sun in your face or changes in wind direction.

Establishing Your Shooting Lane(s): As mentioned in the section about "identifying your options for cover", it is important to test out any potential spot which you plan to sit in for your hunt. Sit in the spot you intend to use and see how comfortable, or uncomfortable that spot may be. Ideally, you'll want to find a spot that offers both a comfort place to sit and a clear shot window. An uncomfortable hunter is an impatient hunter. Establishing a spot where you can comfortably sit for at least 2-3 hours, and are able to easily and smoothly aim into your shooting lane(s) is crucial. Being in a comfortable, steady position also aides in shot accuracy, improving your chances of having a truly successful hunt.


Utilizing The Advantages of Scouting Technology: Establishing good tracking skills and habits is crucial for any successful hunter. We're also lucky to live in an era of technology, affording us useful tools like trail cameras, helping us take the guess work out of which game are in the area and when they're travelling through. This gives hunters a clear edge by providing crucial, time-stamped intel, allowing a hunter to establish the best times and location to intercept the deer. There's also an increasing number of paid apps, like HuntStand and On-X, specifically made for hunters. These apps offer things like topography and mapping information, deer activity forecasts, gps tracking and more. Avenza Maps offers a 100% FREE phone app for hikers and hunters that allows you to download FREE game lands maps. Avenza's maps are usable offline, enabling you to track your location and direction of movement, even when you don't have cellular reception...which is fairly common in the game lands.

Planning Your Hunting Day: Waking up on the day of your hunt is always exciting and that excitement can make it easy to forget or miss important things that could ruin your hunt. Ideally, preparing your hunting gear, food & drinks, gassing up the vehicle ahead of time as this allows you to get through your morning routine and get out the door quickly, wasting little to no time on distractions. Using a checklist is a great way to ensure you won't forget anything you'll need for your hunt. The Hunter's Lane has created our very own hunters' checklist for our readers and followers: THL Hunting Day Checklist

Stay "Comfortably Ready": Nobody enjoys being too cold, too hot, hungry or uncomfortable. So why put up with it during a hunt? You don't have to. Bringing certain items can make all the difference when it comes to being comfortable enough to sit your hunt for several hours and wanting to move from that spot in less than an hour because you've lost all feeling in your rear-end. Having food or snacks and water is very important as it helps you stay comfortable and mentally focused. Bringing a small pad, even an old life-jacket to sit on can make your hunt way more enjoyable. Ideally, a light-weight portable fold-up chair will keep you comfortable and ready to take aim without having to dramatically adjust your body to be in position to shoot. Portable hunting chairs come in a variety of styles and heights, allowing you to choose one or more that fit your exactly hunting needs.

Keep Calm, Aim, Fire: They call it "deer fever", symptoms being: extreme sudden excitement, labored breathing, shaky hands, and maybe some sweating. This happens to many hunters, especially when a prized buck appears within shooting range. This happens as a result of surging adrenaline, which is our body's natural reaction to crucial situations. When you spot a deer within range, be sure to take a breath, calm yourself as much as you can and DO NOT rush. Keeping quiet and STILL as long as possible. This is utterly crucial when a deer is within, or almost within shooting range is in sight. The smallest movement at the wrong moment will send any deer bouncing off into the brush before you can even blink. When it's time to take aim, raise your weapon smoothly and calmly and be ready to pull the trigger, as this motion can be enough for you to be spotted, leaving you with just seconds (or less) to take your shot. Remaining calm is key.

Tagging Your Game: A "Deer Tag" is a physical document you must carry with you while you’re hunting because if you are successful, you will need to tag the animal right away, upon recovery. Information about the kill needs to be filled out on the tag, including the date and time of the kill, then you’ll need to attach the tag to the deer immediately. Deer tags have a sticky side, allowing you to wrap the tag around one of the antlers, if you've shot a buck. To tag a doe, cut a slit in the middle of an ear allowing you to slide the tag half-way through and close the sticky ends of the tag together. This system helps sustain the environment and ecosystems by protecting vulnerable species while preventing overpopulation. Once tagged, hunters must bring the deer to a designated check station within the game lands property to be recorded.

Field Dressing A Deer: After filling out and attaching your deer tag, you have to decide on how you plan to get the deer out of that location and to your vehicle. It is standard practice to field dress deer right on the spot, removing its intestines to prevent the meat for becoming contaminated and also reduces the weight of the deer, making it easier to take your deer out of there. Another commonly used option is to quarter the deer right away. This usually works best when the terrain would make it very difficult or even impossible to drag the deer out whole. Both field dressing and quartering take practice to get right. The key to safe and efficient field dressing is a sharp, sturdy knife. Use a knife with at blade at least four inches long, a guard, and a large handle. A small knife can turn sideways in your hand when it hits bone. A butcher’s skinning knife is ideal. Be sure to study up on how to perform these tasks before ever attempting to shoot a deer. These videos are a great place to start if you need to learn how to field dress or quarter a deer:

  • Field Dressing & Quartering A Deer: Tyler Ridenour from shows us the "Gutless Method".












Utilizing Deer Carts and Other Recovery Tools: Deer carts are a very helpful and useful too to have. Some whitetails can be as heavy as 200 lbs., and even after field dressed, can still weigh upwards of 100-130 lbs. Combine that with the obstacle of challenging terrain and you have yourself a very daunting task ahead of you to get your deer out of there. Fortunately, tools like deer carts are a real time and energy saver when you've bagged a deer deep into areas blanked with thick grasses, especially if you're miles from your vehicle. A cheaper alternative to a deer cart is a "Deer Sled". Yes, it's just like what it sounds's a plastic or sometimes aluminum sled made specifically for you to lay a deer on, making it easier to to haul out, obviously in snowy weather. This is also good for areas covered in high grasses. Lastly, a"Deer Pull" is the most wallet-friendly tool, but requires a little more energy than the other two options we've mentioned. A deer pull is simply a looped rope with a handle, usually made of wood or plastic. You simply twist the rope around the antlers or ankles of your deer and pull it back to your vehicle. Deer pulls are inexpensive and ideal for those hunting in terrain where deer carts may be unable to go, like steep, rocky hillsides or areas where brush is too thick to bring a cart through. Either way, having the right tools with you will definitely make your recovery efforts easier and faster.

Utilizing Local Meat Storage & Butcher Services (aka "Meat Lockers"): A meat processor will take your field-dressed deer, skin and age it, then cut it up and return it to you in neatly wrapped packages. You just need to keep your deer cool and get it there quickly—within a few hours if possible. This is an ideal option for those who prefer not to do their own butchering. However, the deer will still need to be field dressed before brought to the meat processor. We recommend calling butchers and meat processors in the area in which you'll be hunting a day or two before you arrive to determine their hours, ask questions and get rates for their services. 

Preparing For Taxidermy Service: If you plan to have your buck mounted, there is a specific method of  field dressing your deer, so as to preserve as much of the neck fur, or "cape" as possible. This method is shown in the video we've posted in this guide about field dressing and quartering. Click HERE to watch that video. We also recommend researching taxidermy services ahead of time to determine service rates, shipping fees and any other important details. 

Preserving & Selling Fur Pelts: Many local fur buyers purchase deer hides. Contact your local fur buyer to see how they would like it prepared. Many would just like them salted, rolled, and frozen, but we recommend calling them to clarify what needs to be done. There are several crafters who purchase deer hides to tan and later sell in their stores or online.

Enjoying The Unique Flavors of Wild Game: Wild game such as deer, elk and antelope tend to be very lean due to their active lifestyle and natural diet. Their meat, therefore, is lower in total and saturated fat than red meat. In addition, fat from wild game contains a higher proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids. There are several mouth-watering recipes for wild game out there that are sure to impress. Wild Game cookbooks are a great way to learn how to prepare, season and cook these flavorful meats. Also, be sure to check out the our Wild Game Recipes section, here at The Hunter's Lane.

Image by Anatoliy Gromov
Image by Keith Misner

thl deer academy:
summer scouting for big bucks
[brief edition]


Although deer season may be months away for most of us, summer is the best time to observe and study the the deer in the area you plan to hunt, possibly finding that giant we all dream of. This time frame of the summer is an often-overlooked phase of scouting for mature bucks. Bachelor groups of bucks this time of year tend to seek out open hardwood canopies adjacent to high quality summertime forages such as soybeans or alfalfa fields. Big deer don't get that way being stupid or careless. With that said, The Hunter's Lane has put together our Summer Scouting For Big Bucks [Brief Edition].

Reviewing The Maps: Review maps of your hunting area to determine the topography, boundaries and important natural features of the area. Having an understanding of the layout will save you time and enable you to focus your efforts in the right places. Seek out transition areas and identify food and water sources. Does and younger bucks often bed down within 150 yards of where they feed, while most mature bucks generally prefer to bed as far as 300 yards from their primary food source. Identifying these areas on the map is key to planning your strategy for the hunt.


Find The Summer Bedding Areas: Mature bucks are still going to bed with the wind at their back and a clear view ahead. During the summer, they typically bed close enough to the food source they can view anything in front of them, and smell anything from behind. The most obvious sign to look for is the presence of oval depressions in the grass, brush, or dirt indicating where a deer laid down. Take note of how many beds you see clustered together in one area. If you see four or more beds in a circle, it's likely a doe bedding area.

Locate Food Sources That Produce During Deer Season: On late July and August evenings, drive to a hunting area and park where you can see a good piece, or if you have to sneak to a hill that overlooks fields of alfalfa, soybeans, or clover. In a more contiguous woods habitat, set up with a partial view of clear-cuts, power lines and other openings in the timber. Target food and cover that will be available to deer from September on throughout the season. It's no secret that acorns are a favorite food source for deer. When available, acorns dominate their diet in Fall and Winter. A big crop of acorns come September will draw and concentrate deer in the timber, so your hottest stands will likely be on ridges and in oak bottoms. Conversely, a lack of nuts and a poor mast year will scatter deer as they move around and seek other food choices; you’ll generally do better to hunt the edges of bean and corn fields, and browse thickets where does and bucks browse.

Place Trail Cameras: Once you've discovered locations that show signs of deer activity, set up trail cameras. One or more cameras, strategically placed, will provide you with the best possible opportunity to identify the bucks moving through the area. Checking cameras every two weeks is a good rule. Be mindful not to spook deer when you go in to change batteries and SD cards. Minimize your intrusion when checking cameras.

Understand Seasonal Buck Behavior Patterns: Scouting early and often in July and August pays off, even if you don’t connect on a good buck during the first weeks of deer season. As summer fades to fall, you might spot your target buck only a few times or lose him altogether for weeks or even months. But the onset of the rut will often bring a mature deer back to his home core area, back to familiar ground where you spotted him earlier in the summer. Be there and be ready.

Use Your Intel For A Successful Season: Utilizing the information you've collected by getting familiar with the lay of the land, bedding areas, food sources and trail cameras, you now have the best possible chances of filling your tags early into deer season. 

Summer Buck Bedding.jpg
Image by Anatoliy Gromov
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