10 Changes To Make Before Next Deer Season

A new year is coming, and if your deer dreams didn’t become reality this past season, take charge right now to make deer season 2024 your best season ever.

by Darron McDougal

I kicked the dirt as I approached my stuck-in-the-ground arrow; the white fletchings exhibiting not a single speck of blood. The arrow had whizzed cleanly a few inches beneath a mature, heavy-antlered eight-pointer earlier that morning due to a rookie mistake enhanced by buck fever. The buck was clueless as to what had happened. He trotted back to his doe in a nearby sumac patch, and then they faded away. I wanted that shot back so severely, but the cold reality that I had messed up after logging many painstaking hours in the stand sunk in. Even steak sauce couldn’t have made my unfilled Kansas tag taste good.

That hunt happened in 2016, and right then and there, I vowed to make changes so that I wouldn’t have to endure the sucker-punch feelings again the following season. In other words, I took some time to identify my problems and then spent the off-season addressing them. 

The 2023 season may have been a difficult one for you. If so, it’s not time for a pity party. No, it’s time to confront reality, identify your mistakes, and begin working on making some changes. Following are 10 changes that will likely help you have a more productive 2024 if your 2023 hunting season was anything like my 2016 season. 

10. Update Your Bow or Gun

If you’re having problems with your bow or gun, or you simply lack confidence with your existing bow or gun, consider upgrading. In some cases, this could entail a new bow sight or a new rifle-scope, which is more affordable. (Photo: Darron McDougal)

Some folks quickly blame their bow or firearm when they miss or make poor hits. Most often, it’s an excuse to divert responsibility from humanistic blunders to something else, but sometimes equipment is legitimately to blame. Trustworthy equipment indeed instills confidence, so if there are reasons why your equipment is bridling your confidence or even causing you to miss, consider upgrading. 

Now, this doesn’t always entail buying a new bow or gun. It could be a new bow sight, arrow rest, or release. Or, it could mean replacing a cheap rifle scope with something more reliable. Although there is a human element to every shot taken, equipment can be a legitimate cause for misses or poor hits in some instances. The ethical thing to do is use equipment you know won’t disappoint you. 

9. Map New Access Routes 

Tons of hunters get hung up on finding the best stand locations. But, putting your focus on that alone can have consequences in the way of spooking deer. The problem isn’t your stand or blind location but how you access it. 

One of the best ways to tailor your access routes to reduce or eliminate bumping deer while entering or exiting is to harness a mapping app such as HuntStand Pro Whitetail. I start with one of the satellite maps in the app to get a property overview. I try to predict bedding and feeding areas in relation to stand or blind locations. From there, I assume deer will feed primarily right before dark and early morning. And, they’ll mainly be bedding down during all other hours, except during the rut when more daylight activity transpires. 

With that task done, I avoid walking through those areas when deer will be in them. I also pay attention to the HuntZone feature to see how my wind will disperse as I hike in to hunt. I try to avoid sending my wind toward where deer will likely be while accessing my stand or blind. HuntStand has a neat line drawing tool, allowing you to mark out access routes and then reference the app to ensure you’re staying on the straight and narrow. 

8. Switch to Cell Cameras

 While trail cameras are great, conventional models require routine wood visits, which increases human scent dispersal, noise, and overall disruption. Cell cameras that transmit data via text or e-mail are hugely advantageous. Beyond placing the camera initially, you won’t need to revisit it until the batteries need replacing. You’ll get photos and videos while they’re still relevant, and you won’t need to visit the camera location to get them. If legal where you hunt, consider going wireless for 2024. 

7. Practice More

When deer season opens, keep shooting with your equipment so that you’re familiar with it and can identify any changes that may have occurred. (Photo: Darron McDougal)

You have to use your equipment regularly to develop proficiency and confidence. Most serious hunters practice diligently during the summer, but then their practice tapers off or becomes nonexistent during the hunting season. While you don’t have to shoot a lot during the season, having familiarity with handling and shooting your equipment will keep your proficiency and confidence high. You’ll also be able to identify equipment problems at the range rather than when you shoot at a buck. 

6. Network and Learn From Others

At hunting camps and other places where you can chat with other hunters, be sure to bounce questions off of hunters who you know are annually killing mature bucks. This is a great way to learn. (Photo: Darron McDougal)

I look for opportunities to connect with other hunters who are more successful than me. I pick their brains and try to learn little tidbits I can apply. Having an open mind has enabled me to learn things that have directly impacted my success. So, start a conversation with folks you come into contact with who you know are skilled, successful hunters. 

5. Silence Your Treestand 

Treestands and other tree gear can be extremely noisy, especially in cold weather. Apply silencing material where needed, and keep pivoting points lubricated (look for a scent- and gunk-free lubricant) so your stand won’t squeak as you shift your weight. A squeaking, popping treestand will spook deer. I like Hawk’s Helium Pro, which has Teflon washers on all pivoting points to eliminate noises.  

4. Harness the Effectiveness of Ozone

I became a believer in ozone for hunting in 2016 after encountering a handful of deer downwind from a borrowed Ozonics unit. Since then, I’ve tried not to hunt whitetails without Ozonics, and I also treat my apparel and truck interior using my Ozonics equipment. Like most, I was skeptical until I saw the results. I consider very few items bona fide “game changers,” but Ozonics machines make the cut. 

3. Install Lifelines For Every Stand

“Safety first” is what we learned during hunter’s ed classes or while being mentored by whoever got us into hunting. However, as time passes, many hunters become complacent and overlook safety measures. Hunting from treestands is incredibly dangerous unless you’re wearing proper safety gear. Outfit every stand location with a lifeline. This way, you’re hooked in from the moment you leave the ground until you’re back on the ground once you’ve finished hunting. 

2. Try New Tactics 

I burned out on whitetail hunting in 2019. The straw that broke the camel’s back was sitting in treestands in Iowa — the supposed whitetail paradise — for more than 10 days with zero mature buck sightings. A discussion with a friend inspired me to forget the treestands and hunt actively on the ground. I did that, and I killed a buck two mornings later. And I had a blast using a new strategy. 

Good things can happen when you break away from your comfort zone. If you have yet to use rattling antlers and grunt calls, give them a roll next season. If you’ve never tried hunting on public land before, do it. If you’ve only ever hunted with firearms, get a compound bow and try bowhunting. There are so many different ways to hunt whitetails, and it’s a shame when people burn out by doing the same things repeatedly. Try something new. 

1. Adopt a New Mindset 

Many of us get way too hung up on success and big antlers. Thanks to the social media flurry of big-buck posts each fall, it’s easy to think you’re the only one struggling during a difficult season. But all of the success you’re seeing others have doesn’t hold a candle to the army of hunters who’re struggling just like you. 

So, enjoy the grind. Find delight in the little things. Each day is a blessing. Don’t make killing an animal or a certain-size buck such a big deal. I’m not saying to lower your standards. I’m simply saying that hunting is hard, and we need to embrace that fact, for it’s the very reason why success is so sweet when it finally happens. If you’ve been putting too much pressure on yourself to produce, change your mindset and make hunting about the process and having fun. 

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