There are deer hunting mistakes that can end your hunt before you even pick up your rifle or bow. These aren’t gun safety mistakes; they are non-dangerous, human errors. Errors of omission and commission, things you forget to do, and things you did and shouldn’t have done.
Most deer hunting mistakes boil down to being too excited to start the season and failing to plan. The rest arise from being over eager to ensure your hunt is successful.
Related: Deer food plotting tips.
The absolute worst of all deer hunting mistakes.
The # 1 deer hunting mistake: Using last year’s deer hunting weapon without checking the sights.
A year in a gun safe, or (God forbid) a closet, can add up to a lot of bumps to your rifle’s scope. A compound bow or crossbow hanging on a rack can be the subject of curious guests and children. People with no idea what the dial and pins they are playing with do.
The old days of iron sights are gone. So too are the days you could drop a weapon on the forest floor or toss it into the backseat of your truck and still find it as accurate as the day you sighted it in at the range. Today’s archery sights and rifle scopes are expensive and sensitive. If you expect to place your arrow or bullet in a deer’s vitals, you’ll have to protect your sights from the slightest jostling and recheck your zero before the start of deer hunting season.
Besides relying on what worked last year, can we talk about your shooting skills and muscle memory? Noting deteriorates faster than an archer’s shot placement. You could leave meat out in the summer sun, and it wouldn’t go bad as quickly as your hand-eye coordination.
Sure, you could limit your range to 20 yards and start practicing ten days before archery season. Great! Fantastic plan, genius! However, if your bow has a mechanical defect, what are your odds of getting someone to fix it—days before the season starts?
You can avoid this worst deer hunting mistake by spending some time on the range. Get you and your weapons accuracy checked. If you don’t, you could spot that huge buck after days of sitting in a blind and shoot over his head.
Related: The best deer hunting calibers.
Deer hunting mistakes: #2.
Trampling the hell out of your deer hunting spot.
The first rule of deer hunting is to hunt where there are deer. The problem is, if you keep checking, the deer will leave.
I’ve had this happen to me. The first game camera photos provided exciting proof of deer activity. I had never seen whitetail activity in numbers and of such regularity as suggesting a pattern. Confirming that pattern was my downfall.
Back in the old days, a game camera memory card had to be removed, another put in place, and the card read back at home. Back then, I had so many cameras; I had little camera numbers written on all my cards to track where all the photos and videos were being taken. Today, I use SpyPoint cellular trail cameras—and get the pictures they take sent directly to my phone.
As you may have already guessed, my cameras circled my intended hunting stand location. So did my daily trudge through the foliage to collect and check the cards. I inadvertently concentrated my scent, creating a deer-proof zone that rivaled any garden saver product on the market.
Soon enough, I was no longer seeing any deer on my cameras. Not wishing to spend a full season in a dead zone, I started scouting for new locations. Scouting mere days before the beginning of Open Season.
I managed to arrow a doe that season, but not before being busted several times while tromping through the woods and loudly cutting and snapping branches to create shooting lanes. I’ve never heard so many does snort or jumped so many prize bucks since.
The lesson? Scout early, but stop when you have found enough deer sign to satisfy your needs.
Related: Where to shoot a deer.
Deer hunting mistakes: #3.
Leaving gear at home.
If you think you can forget something at home when you go deer hunting, try being a predator hunter at night. At least deer hunters don’t have lighting equipment to worry about.
That said, a pocket check before you hope in your vehicle early in the morning of Opening Day won’t help you. If you rely on memory only, something critical will be left behind.
Bullets, arrows, rifles, and scent control sprays are just part of the list of things you’ll only notice missing as you exit your vehicle. But it can be even worse. There are things you will never realize you forgot until that buck appears (arrow releases, for example), or worse, tags for the buck you just killed.
There are a few ways to prevent a long, angry drive back home. One suggestion is akin to what construction workers do; keep all your tools in the truck. Apart from weapons, you can create a hunting backpack that always has all your needed gear in it.
But the best thing you do is have a checklist. A checklist is only as good as your ability to create and use it. I wrote my first one on my iPhone 200 yards from my house. I made it after walking those 200 yards (uphill, both directions) after forgetting my gutting knife.
Whatever system you pick, make sure you faithfully use it. And say a quick prayer for that coyote hunter using his hands to warm his dying battery lights.
Related: Kill a coyote, save a fawn!
Deer hunting mistakes: #4
Not testing all of your equipment.
One wonders how many archers practice religiously in a T-shirt and shorts and then can’t hit the broadside of a barn in their hunting clothes?
Or, how many bucks are jumped an hour before dawn by the clinking and rattling of a deer hunter sneaking into his hunting stand?
Testing your equipment before hitting the field will help eliminate many problems you can’t imagine while in the store or at the range. At a minimum, get in a few minutes at the range while wearing all your expected hunting clothing. Get a feel for how your arms and shoulders move in your winter jacket. Can you still draw a bow or shoulder a rifle and take the same comfortable, accurate shot you did during practice?
At some point, before you do any cold weather deer hunting, take a nice long walk in the woods while wearing your cold weather gear. If you sweat, you have a problem. To avoid hypothermia, you’ll need to know how much to wear while walking versus how much to wear while motionless on your stand.
Don’t forget to have fun while deer hunting.
Some of us, myself included, tend to take deer hunting too seriously. It is, perhaps, even ironic that even if we avoid these four deer hunting mistakes, we forget the only rules that matter; have a safe and enjoyable hunt.