Deer Hunting Pressure Reduction Tactics
Do you know what variable often separates bad hunting properties from good ones? Better yet, do you know what separates the good from the great? Most people assume having thousand acre spreads, all of the latest gadgets, or million dollar food plot programs that are the golden tickets to owning a big buck heaven. But in many cases, it’s simply paying attention to and managing one critical aspect of deer hunting. This overlooked factor is hunting pressure!
Hunting pressure on your deer hunting property…it separates the ability to harvest gnarly old whitetail monarchs and eating that dreaded tag you had such high hopes for. This year, instead of automatically dismissing yourself because you don’t own x, y, or z, check out the following tips for reducing hunting pressure where you hunt.
What is Hunting Pressure?
First, let’s start with a hunting pressure definition. Any time a whitetail (or any game animal) is hunted or distressed, there is a certain level of disturbance to their natural activities. The more people or hunters that animals encounter, especially if they are perceived as dangerous predators, the more the prey animals will go out of their way to avoid them in the future. As an example, let’s compare a small public property near a large city to a huge ranch with no hunting allowed. Deer on that small public property are going to be harassed by hunters almost constantly throughout the hunting season. Whether they’re getting bumped from their daytime beds or shot at while on the move, they will quickly associate humans with trouble and move off the property or hide out in the thickest, nastiest spots nobody dares to venture into, only to come out (warily) by night. Whereas the large private ranch has no hunting pressure and lots of room for the animals to roam without encountering people. These deer generally have no problem with moving around during the daytime and are free to keep to their natural activities. Since they rarely see people, they aren’t as likely to associate them with danger immediately either.
Now it might seem like any kind of disturbance would pressure deer, but that’s not true. Let’s look at some activities that fall under hunting pressure and some that don’t. On a typical farm property, you probably operate or have someone else operate a tractor or combine fairly regularly. You probably get out to cut and split firewood often or mow trails. Whitetails are used to these activities on your property and have learned to not associate it with danger. Now as soon as the chainsaw stops or the tractor turns off and a human gets out, that will probably change their perception. On a typical hunting property that you only visit a few times per year, the conditions are different. Sure, you probably get out a lot in the fall to take a hike, walk the dog, check your trail cameras, walk to your tree stand, or do some habitat maintenance work, but the deer don’t regularly encounter humans on your property throughout the year, so it’s perceived with a higher degree of caution.
There are certain activities, and perceived noises, sights, and smells that deer simply get accustomed to, and some that are not. It entirely depends on the property, but also what the deer are used to tolerating. Let’s be clear here, no deer herd will tolerate or get used to a human sneaking stealthily through the woods to climb in a stand or check cameras. However, they will be more apt to accept a four-wheeler driving in the next holler over. It is important for you to understand what deer might categorize as a predator encounter/observation vs. a non-threatening event such as getting pushed out of a bedding area by equipment (four-wheeler, tractor, truck, etc.).
Why Reducing Hunting Pressure Really Matters
Now that we’re clear on what it is, why would it be important to manage the hunting pressure on your property? As we mentioned, deer are more likely to stick to natural habits and routines when they are unpressured. Mature bucks are more likely to chase does during the rut all throughout the day, which means a better chance at harvesting one. Provided you have the right food and cover on your property, they’re also more likely to stay within your boundaries, keeping them safe from neighboring properties.
But hunting pressured whitetails can be a recipe for long sits with nothing to show for your effort. Even repeatedly sitting in one tree stand location can educate deer to your pattern, causing them to vacate the area and find a new route. The more people that deer encounter, the more they learn about how to avoid us. Keep in mind, pressured deer are really good at hiding from us!
3 Ways to Reduce Hunting Pressure
There are many ways to minimize the pressure on your hunting land. Let’s look at three distinct categories: offseason tasks, habitat work, and hunting applications.
Depending on where you live, riding a four wheeler or Textron side-by-side can be a great option to reduce the hunting pressure when you’re checking trail cameras, refilling feeders, or simply looking around your property. It seems counterintuitive, but since deer may be used to this activity in your area, they won’t view it as a threat (categorized as non-predator) – as long as the machine keeps running. When the engine dies and you get off or out, you’re suddenly a human predator again. An even better option is to ride in your Chevy truck, since deer are very used to vehicles and don’t pay them much notice. Obviously, this one is more feasible for agricultural areas or places you can easily access with a vehicle.
“I feel like steady normal pressure of feeding deer at stations helps deer associate humans and equipment with potentially the smell and normality of having easy access to tasty food. Keeping these offseason tasks steady until bow season can really help when it is time to drop the hammer. Couple these stations with trail cameras to get an inventory and what bucks are coming in regularly to the stations can be deadly! In areas where feeding is not legal to hunt over, feed in areas that is or will be food in the future. These areas could be a fruit tree, persimmon tree, oak flat, or a food plot.” – Michael Waddell
A very popular method that keeps deer on your property year-round is to designate a whitetail sanctuary. Unless you need to access it for some habitat maintenance in the offseason or retrieve a deer during the season, this sanctuary is strictly off-limits to humans. Deer feel safe in this zone since they never encounter people there, and it serves as a home base for them to branch out to the rest of your land. Locate it in the middle of your property for the best chance of seeing deer during daylight in a tree stand location elsewhere.
During the offseason months, it’s also good to tackle some habitat projects. If your property consists of 95% agricultural fields or 95% open woods, it might as well be a deer desert. Sure, they will use it at certain times of the year, but it doesn’t have the right diversity and edge habitat that whitetails need throughout the year. Deer require mature forests for mast, young regeneration for browse and cover, and conifers for winter thermal cover. Enlist the help of a professional forester/biologist who can advise you on timber cuts or tree plantings. You can tackle as large or small of a project as you want, and even cutting a few select trees to open up the canopy or feathering the field edges a bit helps.
“Always stay out of bedding or sanctuary areas, figure out where deer move to and from these areas for feeding and keep the wind in your favor. Don’t hunt just to be in the woods. Make smart decisions on where and when to go based on wind, food sources, and the deer activity during daylight hours. If you’re only getting night pictures on your trail cameras, then wait until the daylight or hunt the edges of the best cover so you can get in and out of the stand undetected.” – Nick Mundt
The hunting application is where the real rubber meets the road so to speak. During the hunting season, you will need to plan things out in advance as much as possible and practice your self-control. Hunting pressured deer every single day on a small property can quickly fill the area with human scent or educate deer, which can potentially ruin your hunt for the year, and even next. But if you can force yourself to only hunt that property when the conditions are perfect for a particular entry/exit route and tree stand, you have a much better chance at settling your pins on a nice buck. This also applies to changing conditions. If you settle into the tree and the wind suddenly shifts to a bad direction, you need to weigh the risks of staying put or sneaking back out. More often than not, it’s a good idea to creep on out of there.
If you have food plots for whitetails, you can easily ruin your property very quickly. That’s right – we said it. Food plots can be very powerful tools for deer hunting, but with great power comes great responsibility. Hunting the same tree stand by accessing it on the same trail every single afternoon will have the deer avoiding that food plot in no time. Some does and fawns might still use it towards evening, but mature bucks definitely won’t. Switch up your tree stand sites as much as you can so you don’t burn them out, and use plot screens to hide your access. This can be a thick natural vegetation source (tall switchgrass, dense spruce line, etc.) or one you strategically plant (e.g., sorghum, corn, or Egyptian wheat). Another method is to use the existing terrain to your advantage. For example, if you can sneak down into a ditch below your tree stand, you will be out of sight and mostly inaudible to the deer. As long as you move silently and stay scent free, you can often sneak out unnoticed at the end of the day.
If you are hunting on a lease or a hunting club, the side by sides or Chevy truck can help again. Using it as a cover (as long as it is a regular occurrence) can help cover the entry and exit of hunters. The hunter being dropped off walking to the actual stand location will need to still keep the above tactics in mind, but there are applications using equipment that can help!
“There are several ways to reduce hunting pressure with hunting applications, but one that stands out is using the wireless trail cameras. Send pictures straight to your phone for the latest information and reduce human pressure on your hunting property.” – T-Bone
Hunting Pressured Deer on Public Land
As mentioned at the beginning, public lands are often heavily pressured from a hunting perspective, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Or is there? While you can’t tell people to not hunt on a public land, there are other ways to hunt these areas. Oftentimes, the public land hunting strategies are a little bit contrary to the private land ones. A good deer hunting public land strategy is to always be willing to do more and hunt longer than other hunters might be willing to do. For example, if there is a difficult to access area, pack your waders and wade on through the muck or lace up your Old Dominion boots to access unspoiled ground. Then, use other hunters’ movements to your advantage. Be the first one in the woods in the morning so other hunters can push deer to your honey hole.
As everybody else is complaining about hunting pressure and how miserable the hunting action is, you’ll likely be counting your third buck of the day to walk by. And that is a great feeling and reward!