Where are all the Whitetail Deer?
August 1, 2009
Where Did The Whitetail Deer Go? You have worked all spring and summer keeping your feeders filled, building new deer stands, or fixing old ones. You have planted food plots and planned hunting strategies for your first fall hunt. Each time you check your feeders, food plots, or game trails, you are encouraged by new deer signs. You see fresh tracks, rubs, scrapes, and other signs that deer continue to use the area. But, now that archery or early gun season-opening day is here, you’re not seeing the deer you expect to see. You may be asking yourself, “where are the deer?” or, “what did I do wrong?”
When this happens, and believe me it happens to all of us, there are several factors to keep in mind. Let’s discuss a few. First, most of us observe deer patterns over the spring and summer and work to draw deer into our areas using any number of tactics including feeders, food plots, salt licks, and other game getting techniques.
Adjust your hunting land
For successful deer hunts in Georgia, my bet is on the hunter who adjusts to both natural and man-made conditions, uses sound judgment when choosing stand locations, and makes the necessary adjustments as the environment changes with the season.
Changes to the environment near your hunting area can also play a part in changing the frequency that deer visit a stand location. These factors may include timber logging, field plowing, construction. They also include another hunter creating a new stand location to close to your existing one. For example, we have two deer hunting stands that are close to a paper company property line. About a month before deer season, the paper company decided to cut timber on the adjacent land. Before the timber started falling, these stands always showed good deer sign. When the timber cutting started, even only 100 yards away, the deer traffic to these stands was greatly reduced. In this case, we also learned that the logging would stop just before gun deer season opened. So we chose to leave the stands in place and hunt other stand locations until the deer return to this area.
Reduce human visits to your land
Another factor that can reduce deer traffic to your permanent stand locations, feeders, and food plots is human traffic. By late summer, it is important that your trips to stand locations be limited. When you do visit these locations, it is important to reduce the human scent left behind. If you are visiting your stands and feeders just to check for fresh deer sign, stop. Trust your stand location choices, fill your feeders. Work the food plots early enough that your presence is no longer required long before the season opens. Repeated trips will inevitably leave behind human scent and prevent deer from visiting. Your best chances of a successful deer hunting stand are those less visited by you the hunter. If you do visit your stand locations before your early season hunts, take care to use quality scent elimination products and strategies. Use different routes to and from your hunting areas before during and after hunting season. The point is that you don’t want a human scent trail caused by repeated visits to your stands.
With this in mind, you will also want to choose future permanent stand locations. Those should be close to natural food sources when possible. Another good strategy is to place your stands between natural food sources, between food and water sources, or between food or water sources and deer bedding areas.
Wait for nature to do its thing
Second, the whitetail deer, especially mature bucks, prefer the natural forage of the woods and field edges. This is regardless of how much corn and feed supplement is around your feeder or how well your food plot has grown. Your deer feeders and food plots may not be located near natural food sources. You may have to wait until natural food sources run low before deer seek your feeders and food plots more actively. Your man-made food sources may not draw in deer and other wildlife. This may be because natural food sources such as acorns or other mast crops have the attention and your stand is not in the path of the natural sources. You may need to wait for the natural food sources to dwindle and for deer to return to your feeders and food plots. Otherwise, the hunter will have to become mobile and hunt the natural food supply using portable stands.
If you believe this is the case, try to locate a creek bed. Find a small pond, or any other water source, no matter how small. Chances are that if you find water, you will find fresh whitetail deer signs. Even if a creek appears to be dried up, search up and down the creek bed for any remaining pools of water and look for deer signs. Once you find water and fresh deer sign, consider using a portable deer stand to set up on this location for early-season success.
While all of these are good strategies, many of us forget that deer also require a good source of water. By late summer and early fall, water sources can “dry up” leaving few locations for deer and other wildlife to get that life-sustaining fluid. Your hunting area that has shown good promise all summer long can suddenly stop showing whitetail deer activity. If deer sighting is down, it may be that the deer are seeking a water source.