Tips from the Whitetail Woods 2019-20
I've been super busy with working on my first book, so it's taken me a while to finally sit down and write everything I learned this season in the whitetail woods. The overall takeaway from 2018-2019 was that I had a lot of work to do. The learning curve switching from private to public land in New York was pretty drastic. I didn’t want a repeat of last year, so I put a bunch of plans into action this year. I spent over 200 hours in the field, spread out on about 13 different spots, on mostly public land. It was my fifth season hunting seriously, and I drew my bow six times.
Three shots were kills, although one I did not recover, which was shot during the early season warm front. Clean pass, a kick, and I was pretty confident about shot placement, although she did quarter towards a bit as I shot. There was some blood but not a lot and I didn’t know the area at all (picked a spot on public near work and just setup my climber on fresh sign). I kept getting turned around and ending up where I started, so I pulled out after a couple hours of searching in the dark. Unfortunately, it rained overnight, then was almost 80 degrees during the day; in other words, I didn’t stand a chance of finding her/the meat not being rotten.
The other two kills were a buck and a doe, both double lungs at less than ten yards. Both ran less than thirty yards and died within sight of the stand. I just got the skull mount back from the taxidermist, and it came out great. Of the remaining three, two were in PA on public, one was a shoulder shot, and the other was a clean miss. The last opportunity was the second to last day of late bow. I had six does within 20 yards feeding for almost a half hour, right before dark. Two were more like five yards away. Right at dark, I tried to draw and got busted, and they all took off. Rifle season and the late doe season in Tompkins County were deader than dead. It seemed like as soon as the orange army hit the woods, the deer just vanished, which is something I heard from a few different people. I ended up just scouting a ton of new areas and hardly saw any deer. Overall, bow season was one of the best/most exciting I’ve ever had, and firearms was easily the slowest I’ve ever had. Here are some of my takeaways from this year:
I started shooting regularly in May this year, instead of August like previous years (just being honest). All the time spent with the bow at the range really paid off. This was the first year that everything with my form just seemed to click. I also got confident with adjusting my pins, which is something I’ve always struggled with, likely because my form was inconsistent. By the time September came around, I was super confident with my shooting even at distances out to 40 yards. This year, I’m working on shooting every day, even if its only a few arrows per day.
Never Stop Scouting
This season, I turned scouting into something I do year round. I scouted a ton last winter, spring, and summer, and it paid off. I figured out quite a few new spots and went into the season with about half a dozen areas I felt that I knew well enough to hunt. By the end this deer season, I had scouted well over a dozen new spots that I feel I can hunt confidently.
Trail Cameras: Set ‘Em and Forget ‘Em
One hard lesson I learned about trail cameras is to leave them the hell alone. This was the first year I hung more than one camera. I know some guys run 20+ cameras, but I just can’t afford to do that. Since I only had four, I hung them in key locations, areas that were covered in sign and well-used trails. From a mixture of excitement and uncertainty, I ended up checking them every two-three weeks, which was way too often in retrospect. I definitely pushed deer away from at least one camera by doing this. I also learned the hard way to use good batteries. I had one camera I had left out all season to document when deer started using the area more often, hoping to find out its a late season hot spot. I just pulled the card the other day, and the last picture I had was me putting the camera back in the tree on October 1st.
Keep a Log/Use onX
This is the first season I started using onX to mark sign and started keeping a hunting journal every time I went out. Using this data, along with trail cameras, rubs, and scrapes, I already know where I’m going to be from October 14th-November 11th next season, which is pretty damn cool.
Don’t Be Afraid to Hang and Hunt I’ve heard people on hunting podcasts talking about “data paralysis.” They have so many cameras, logs, and information about so many spots it gets tough to make a call about where to hunt. This year, I saw a lot of deer just by picking a new spot on public land that I thought looked good and hunting it that same afternoon, and it was awesome. Half my shot opportunities for the whole season came from doing exactly that. I liked the feeling of not having any clue what was going on back there, compared to other areas where I felt like I almost knew too much.
Cycle as Many Spots as Possible Last year I learned the hard way that the more spots you have, the better, especially if you're hunting public land. On average, I was cycling about six or seven spots, going to each no more than once every 10 days or so. I definitely saw more deer this way than I had in previous years, and it felt good knowing I had plenty of options if I ran into some issues with pressure from other hunters.
I really made an effort this year to help some people get out into the woods, and it was a really awesome experience. Not everyone is lucky enough to be taught by their parents, and it felt great to take a back seat and get someone new in the woods.
Overall, I had a great season chasing deeries around in the woods of upstate New York. I wanted to get a third deer in the freezer, but I didn't. I spent more time out than ever, I have plenty of venison, and I can’t wait to get back into the deer woods October 1st. For now, its time to cook, shed hunt, and wait for spring. Want to read two stories from my 2019 season? See below!