Complete Guide to Deer Hunting For Beginners

Deer hunting is one of the most popular and fastest-growing sports in North America.

Yes, we did just call deer hunting a sport, but it’s much more than that.

For some people, deer hunting is a way to put food on the table, not that it’s cheaper; the jury is still out on that, although in my opinion, it can undoubtedly be done cheaper. But more because it’s a natural source of food.

Deer meat is one of the leanest, healthiest meats you can get. It is packed full of proteins and nutrients, and it’s all organic.

Other people like to deer hunt to get back in touch with nature. They want to get out into the wilderness and harvest their own food and feel like they accomplished something, which they most certainly did.

Whatever your reason for deer hunting, we’re going to guide you through how to start and finish a successful deer hunting trip.

Methods of Deer Hunting

There are two methods of deer hunting, both have varying degrees of execution, but the principle remains the same.

Stand/blind hunting

Stand hunting or blind hunting is probably the most popular method of deer hunting in the United States. This method offers the most chance of success and is more beginner-friendly than spot and stalk hunting.

Stand hunting requires the hunter to make use of a tree stand to conceal themselves from the deer. There is also a growing trend in saddle hunting which is similar to stand hunting but a more versatile method of hunting.

Tree stands can be permanent fixtures or portable this generally depends on whether you are hunting public or private property.

When a hunter is stand hunting, they have a stand up in a tree. This offers the hunter many benefits.

A stand is usually placed along a trail frequented by deer, close to a water source or over a food plot.

Benefits of stand hunting

  • Puts you out of the deer’s line of sight
  • Decreases your chance of getting winded by the deer
  • Offers you a better line of sight

Drawbacks of stand hunting

  • You can only hunt the one area
  • Can get cold
Comprehensive guide to deer hunting

Blind hunting is similar to stand hunting in many ways. The main difference is the hunter sets up his hunting spot on the ground. Similar to stand hunting, hunting blinds can be portable or permanent fixtures.

Portable blinds are similar in structure to a tent and can be packed into hunting areas with relative ease. Permanent hunting blinds are usually made of natural materials you can find in your hunting area.

Benefits of using a hunting blind

  • Hunting blinds offer superb concealment
  • Protect you from wind and rain
  • Trap your scent

Drawbacks of using a hunting blind

  • Small window in which to shoot from
  • Another item to pack into the woods

Spot and Stalk Hunting

Spot and stalk hunting is a little more involved than stand hunting and requires the hunter to have a bit more knowledge.

During a spot and stalk hunting trip, the hunter needs to know how and where to find deer.

They can do this by combining many different techniques and factors.

Hunters will head to a general area within their hunting zone that they believe holds deer. Once in their hunting area, they will look for signs of deer. This could be droppings, trails, or tracks. They can use this information to track down the deer,

Another method and probably a more popular method is to find the highest point of a hunting area and set up a glassing point.

Glassing is the means of using binoculars and spotting scope to look for deer.

Once the hunter spots a deer he would like to shoot; he makes a plan on how to get to that deer. The deer could be a few yards or miles away.

If the deer is close enough, the hunter can take a more direct approach. However, if the deer is far away, the hunter may need to come up with a more elaborate plan. 

This involves considering multiple factors: how many deer are there, is it easy to get to the one he wants without spooking the others.

  • Is the deer on the move or bedded down, if the deer is on the move, the hunter has to plan his approach to intercept the deer.
  • Is the deer on a hillside? This may affect the hunter’s line of view, and his scent could be picked up in updrafts. It may be better for the hunter to circle the deer and approach it from above.
  • What time of day? If it’s getting later in the day, the hunter may have to postpone until the following day as it may be dark by the time he reaches the deer. He also has to take the field dressing into consideration.
  • What way is the wind blowing? The hunter needs to stay downwind of the deer to prevent spooking it.

When to Deer Hunt

Generally, the best times of year for deer hunting are early season or during the rut, with just after the rut being a close third.

Early in the Year

There are many reasons why hunting during the early season may be one of the best times to go. 

  • Bucks are in groups
  • Deer are searching for food
  • Deer Aren’t pressured

During the Rut

The rut is one of the most exciting times to hunt. Deer activity is high, and the forest sings with rutting bucks.

Hunting during the rut is one of the most popular times to be out hunting, so best bring your a game.

First, determine which phase of the rut you want to hunt. Most hunters will hunt the early rut; this is when bucks are actively seeking out does.

Alternatively, you can hunt lockdown phase; this is when the chasing is over, and the does are ready to breed. Activity drops substantially during this phase.

The rut lasts a few weeks, with most of it being the build-up to breeding.

Late Season

Late season is when all the rut activity is over, the woods have grown quieter, and deer are mainly focused on feeding to increase their weight for winter.

Time of Day For Hunting

Comprehensive guide to deer hunting

Now that you know which season you want to hunt, another important factor in choosing the time of day to hunt.

Deer are crepuscular animals meaning that they are most active during twilight hours. 

This makes early morning and late evening the best times for hunting.

Early morning

Most hunters that are heading out in the early morning arrive at their stand or hunting area a little before shooting light. This allows for any disturbance to settle before you can legally shoot a deer.

Mid-morning hunting 

Far too many hunters overlook mid-morning hunting. This leaves it as a great opportunity for hunters who think outside the box.

Pressure on whitetails can get high during the season, with the peak around early morning and late evening. Most hunters are already on their way home by mid-morning, and the forest quietens down. 

This reduced pressure on deer makes them a little less wary and increases your opportunity of tagging out.

Midday

Mid-day is not for the faint of heart. Activity levels are low, most deer are bedding down, and very little is happening all around.

However, for those that are willing, the best time of year for mid-day hunting is during the rut.

This is when all things change, and you may likely find a buck chasing does during mid-day with frequent periods to stop and rest.

Late evening

Late evening is similar to early morning hunting in that deer are on the move. 

Some things to be aware of with late evening hunting is legal light hours and injured deer.

If you make a bad shot in the late evening, there is a chance you could lose that deer to the dark. The best chance of recovering that deer is coming out at first light with a deer tracking dog.

Where to Deer Hunt

There are two places you can hunt deer, public land and private land. Both come with their own challenges and rewards.

Most people will hunt public land due to the huge cost or low chances of getting permission to hunt private land.

Public land

Public land is land managed by the government for the public. Hunters can use this land in accordance with the law and regulations of the land.

Public land falls under the management of either Federal, state, or local governments.

Federal – U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S Army Corps manage the majority of federal land. Together they amass millions of acres of land. Most of this land is available to hunt.

State – State land doesn’t make up as much as Federal land, but there is still plenty of land to hunt. This land is usually Wildlife management areas or state forests. 

Local – Local governments manage the smallest amount of land, but most of these could be prime opportunities due to not been as well known.

How to Find Public Land

There are a few ways to look for public land for hunting. Your state’s wildlife agency may have tools and resources for finding public land, so checking out their website might be worthwhile.

Another option is to use onX. This is a company that provides maps and GPS for hunters.

You can download the app to your phone or computer and look over all the public land hunting in your area. To find public hunting land using onX you need to turn on the government lands layer. The public lands layer will show you what is private land and what is public land.

After you have picked the public land area you wish to hunt, you need to check the requirements and restrictions at Hunt Central; this will give you the license requirements, seasons, pricing, etc.

Private land

Comprehensive guide to deer hunting

Private land hunting is a little different than public land hunting. With private land hunting, you either own the land or lease it. These lands usually have much less hunting pressure.

However, private land hunting usually comes with a big price tag.

Leasing private land

Leasing private land is very popular across heavily pastured areas of the U.S. Leases can be formed in many ways; some landowners will agree on a lease just by word, where others will want contracts drawn up.

Leases can be for a single hunter or multiple hunters. Each lease has to be negotiated and agreed upon with the landowner.

It’s important to discuss everything you plan to do with the land so there are no hidden surprises.

Let the landowner know if you plan to plant any food plots, construct tree stands or blinds, clear any brush, etc.

Buying Private Land

If you have the funds, a great way to have your own hunting paradise is to purchase private land for hunting.

Prices for hunting land vary across the country and are usually priced on a per-acre basis.

Many property agents specialize in hunting properties. Alternatively, you may choose to go it your own, if so, checking local classifieds or local hunting forums may help you to find that piece of land.

Scouting

The next step is scouting once you have established where to hunt, regardless of whether it’s private or public land.

While you may be eager to rush off and look at your newfound hunting area, the first thing you do should be E scouting.

E Scouting

E scouting is looking at an area electronically on your phone or computer to assess its outlook for hunting.

You can E scout an area on Google Maps or onX. Use the different layers to assess the situation closely. You can use the top layer to assess the steepness of slopes and valleys.

Next is to look at the terrain; you can use terrain or satellite layer for assessing terrain.

There are a few key things to look for when choosing a hunting area. Water, food, and shelter are the three main things to look for when e scouting for deer.

If you can find water, food, and shelter in close proximity to each other, this is a good area to consider hunting.

Once you find an area you think is a good area for hunting, you need to consider how to access it.

Choosing the easy access point may seem tempting, but this is likely to land you in an area surrounded by other hunters.

I like to find an area that is a little more challenging to access but not so challenging that I can’t get a deer back to the truck.

Scouting on the ground

Now that you have found an area and a good access point, it’s time to get boots on the ground.

This is an important step as it will be the final reveal on whether you choose a good hunting area or not. 

First, you will get to check out your access point to make sure it’s difficult enough to deter other hunters but not so difficult that it’s unusable.

Next, you can see if the area is the same as it was in the maps. Sometimes maps are not up to date, and you may come to find out that the area has just been logged or worse, logging is currently in operation.

Once the area is satisfactory, it’s time to start looking for signs of deer. Look for trails, rubs, and scrapes, check out the bedding areas, and do lots of glassing.

Some hunters spend more time in the field before the season than they do during the season. Scouting will be the make or break of your hunt.

Another idea is to set out trail cameras. Try to find travel corridors to and from water, food plots, and bedding areas. Setting up cameras in these areas will give you a good idea of the traffic in the area.

Equipment for Deer Hunting

Comprehensive guide to deer hunting

There is a lot of equipment for deer hunting available on the market. Most of the gear being sold today, you don’t need to successfully harvest a deer. Some of the gear makes it easier, some of it doesn’t make a difference. Here we’ll look at some gear that you will need.

Tree stands

Tree stands are the most popular and probably the most effective way to harvest a deer. The 3 types of 3 stands available to hunters today are the lock on, the ladder stand, and the climbing stand.

Each stand has its own pros and cons and every hunter has their own preference.

  • Lock on stand

    The lock on stand is the most popular amongst the 3, it also happens to be the most affordable. Lock on tree stands should be lightweight and stealthy. They are a little different to get into the tree than a climbing stand but still a one man job. The hunter usually uses screw in tree steps to postition the lock on stand in the tree.
  • Ladder stand

    Ladder stands offer a solid platform of about 10-20 feet on whicch the hunter can stand. These stands are best suited for beginners. They are a great option if you plan to spend the whold day hunting. However, it normally takes two people to set up a ladder stand.
  • Climbing stand

    Climbing stands are light weight and best for big stragiht trees that would be otherwise difficult to hunt from. Getting the stand into the tree may take a bit of practice but it is a one man job. The hunter uses the stand and “walks” it up the tree. Once in the tree the hunter can sit comfortably on the seat while hunting.

Clothing

Hunting clothes is a very competitive market; hunters went out in blue jeans and a flannel shirt once upon a time. Times have changed since then, and clothing manufacturers are coming up with new innovative technology to stay at the top.

While you may not need all the latest bells and whistles, one thing you should have is hunter orange. Although not required in every state, hunter orange is something we recommend you have for safety reasons.

Depending on your method of hunting and the season, your choice of clothing will vary greatly.

Whatever method you choose, I recommend using a layering system. This allows you to add and remove clothes when necessary.

Optics

Optics for deer hunting comes in three forms, binoculars, spotting scopes, and range finders.

Binoculars

Binos are the most common optics to find out in the field. They are the least cumbersome to carry around and offer the greatest versatility.

When choosing a pair of binos, it’s important to take into consideration your method of hunting. If you plan on hiking for miles, you may not want a heavy pair of binoculars. Likewise, if you plan on glassing for hours, you may want to consider a tripod or even a spotting scope.

I find 8×42 to be the perfect all-around binos; these would suit most whitetail hunters.

Spotting scopes

Spotting scopes is something you’re more likely to see in use for sheep or goats. Although, some whitetail hunters like to use them, and that’s perfectly alright.

Although there are some options in lower magnifications, spotting scopes can be pretty powerful for the whitetail field.

For the average whitetail hunter, a 15x-30x is a good magnification.

Range Finders

Range finders have grown in popularity in the hunting industry over the last decade. Whether you are using a bow or a gun, a range finder is a good addition to your arsenal.

A range finder allows you to make more ethical shots and takes guessing out of the equation. 

Compound Bows

The rise in range finders is partially due to the rise in the popularity of compound bows.

With huge advancements in technology, bow hunting has become easier and more successful.

One great benefit for bow hunters is they generally enjoy a longer season than rifle hunters.

Choosing a bow is a personal matter, and there has been plenty written about it. 

The best way to choose a bow is to go to your local bow shop and try out a few types. You can also get measured properly at your bow shop. You will get more information there than anyone can give you on the internet.

Crossbows

Crossbows don’t share quite the same luxury of longer seasons as compounds do, but more and more states are starting to extend crossbow season, and even some states are allowing them in regular archery season.

Crossbows are a lot more powerful than compound bows and a lot easier to master.

Rifles

This is where all the debates are centered around deer hunting. Ask ten different hunters on what rifle you should use for whitetails, and you’ll likely get ten different answers.

The bulk of the debate is centered around calibers. Hunters seem to get hung up here, perhaps because there is so much choice.

Caliber

In reality, caliber doesn’t matter that much; you could kill a deer with a .22.

As a beginner, you may not want to be shooting beyond 100 yards; in fact, most whitetails are taken inside of 100 yards.

Any big game round can drop a whitetail at 100 yards.

The most popular whitetail calibers:

  • .6.5 creedmor
  • .30-30 winchester
  • .30-06
  • .270 winchester
  • .280 remington
  • .243 winchester
  • .300 winchester
  • .308 winchester

FAQ

Can you use a shotgun for deer?

Yes, shotguns can be used for deer hunting. They are usually rifle barreled and used with a slug.

Can you use a 22lr for deer hunting?

A 22lr isn’t a great caliber for deer hunting. While a well-placed shot with a 22lr will kill a deer anything less than a well-placed shot can lead to a lot of suffering.

Can you call a deer?

Calling deer can be a great tactic to increase your chances of success. The best time to call deer is during the rut.

Are deer hard to hunt?

Hunting deer takes a lot of skill, but equally as much luck. It may appear hard to a beginner but after your first season, it will become easier.

What should I look for when hunting deer?

Ideally, your pre-season scouting should have provided you with all the informaiton. When you’re on the ground you should look for fresh signs of deer. This includes fresh droppings, bedding areas, rubs and scratches, and fresh tracks.