Deer Hunting Chess Match: Who’s Patterning Who?

'Patterning' deer. Most of us are obsessed with the process, and rightly so. Use these tips, and your HuntStand app, to take your hunting strategy to the next level.

by Mark Melotik

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

‘Patterning’ deer. Most of us are obsessed with the process, and rightly so. Use these tips, and your HuntStand app, to take your hunting strategy to the next level.

Living on and hunting the same piece of land for just shy of 30 years now has given me a rare and valuable opportunity to study long-term behavior patterns of the whitetails I share it with. Obviously, my presence has not gone unnoticed, but it took a while before I started realizing just how much influence I might be having on my local deer herd.

HumpPatterning2 900The first real “Aha moment” came when I started noticing deer sightings spiraling downward, and some of the heavier travel routes seemed to be shifting away from areas I traveled and hunted regularly. This was particularly noticeable around my permanent stand sites. That got me to thinking, “Was it mere coincidence, or were the deer deliberately avoiding these areas?” Though I felt pretty confident in the answer, I found some clear evidence years later.HumpPatterning 900Some Valuable Avoidance Evidence. In a radio-collar study of Maryland deer, James Tomberlin found evidence of deer avoiding permanent stand locations during daylight hours. Other studies have shown deer and elk tend to avoid buildings, other structures and roads; and in the case of roads, avoidance increases during the hunting season. This seems to suggest deer learn to associate inanimate objects like permanent stands and shooting houses with humans, and then to avoid them, something animal behaviorists call operant conditioning.

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More recently, Dr. Steve Demairis and others at MSU looked at how hunting pressure influenced deer movement. Results were variable but they basically found (not surprisingly) that deer movement decreased initially as hunting pressure increased, then movement shifted more toward night time, and areas of denser cover.MarkDeerAdd3 900Clearly my presence in the woods was impacting my local deer, and you can be sure all of us, no matter how careful, are affecting the deer we hunt. So what can you do about it? The first, most obvious and easiest answer is to minimize disturbance. Limit your presence to what is absolutely necessary. That might reduce the deer shifting away from your permanent stands but it won’t stop it, and the effect will increase over time. Eventually you may notice deer sightings going down and you’ll have to respond. MarkDeerAdd2 900How HuntStand Can Help. You should already have all or most of your stand locations saved in your HuntStand app: The ScoutMap of your area, especially your permanent stands and otherwise favorite locations. In the Details, Saved Logs and Notes sections of the app, for each stand you should also have information on prevailing winds and optimal wind directions. (If you don’t, you need to be recording this stuff.) Next, zoom in and take a closer look at the cover types around each stand.

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Also incredibly handy is the app’s ScoutMarx feature. If you keep this up to date, you’ll probably notice the deer are shifting predominantly toward thicker cover on the down-wind side of your stands. This is where the deer can scent-check locations they’ve encountered human presence before, from a more-secure location. Now zoom back out and look for places on the downwind side of that thicker cover—places where you may be able to shift your stands. Or, you can simply set up new or temporary stands. Don’t forget that any new stand might require a radically new entrance/exit trail, more preparation that can be done back at home using the detailed ScoutMap of your area.MarkDeerAdd1 900While the MSU study and other researchers have found that increased hunting pressure causes deer to move less during daylight and more in thicker cover, they also found those deer don’t leave the area. And this is especially true for mature bucks. They’re still there, you just need to double-down on your scouting and planning if you want to connect.P012-256-256-256-17f006By adding camera data from your HuntStand app to the habitat and ScoutMarx info discussed above, you may be able to fine-tune mature buck movement. For example, if you’re only getting night-time images, incrementally move your cameras closer to thick, downwind cover until they start capturing daylight buck images.HumpPatterning3 900Of course, you have to toe a fine line when it comes to time and effort spent in a particular area. Too much intrusion and the deer will simply shift out of the vicinity. Not enough and you may miss important clues about local movement patterns. In other words, technology can help but you still have to be a good hunter and woodsman. It almost should go without saying that any camera checks or moves should be approached with the same care and preparation you’d use for an actual hunt. This means use of gloves and rubber boots while in the field, and a scent-free shower and liberal use of your favorite scent-eliminating spray before hitting the woods. Of course, it’s also smart to plan these intrusions during midday stretches when most all deer are bedded, and while you’re at it, use the insanely accurate HuntStand weather forecasts to pick days that might feature a light rain to help wash away scent and further minimize your impact.

In the end, all of us like the idea, and likely share the same goal, of using our HuntStand app to pattern the deer we hunt. But I’d guess a far fewer percentage of hunters are reacting quick enough once our local deer take notice of our intrusions, and shift their patterns. When HuntStand is showing that wind and weather are in your favor and your deer encounters continue to drop, it’s time to make the next smart move to ensure hunting success.



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