New research out of the University of Georgia Deer Lab is providing unique insight into the rate at which white-tailed deer process visual images and how they perceive their environment. It appears that deer actually receive visual information at a much faster rate than we do, making them more sensitive to movement. Any movement to them will appear to be in slow motion, which, of course, allows them to react more quickly. And, while this finding is true at all times of the day, it is at sunrise and sunset when the difference is greatest (four times greater than humans), the period when deer are most active and when hunters are most likely trying to outsmart them on their morning or evening hunts.
Now that you know deer see us through their own kind of slo-mo app, you’re likely thinking two things: 1) Well, that stinks; and 2) You’re vividly remembering that buck you shot at and missed last bow season because he jumped the string. Sorry to bring up bad memories.
Although you can’t do much about making your weapon of choice shoot faster, let’s discuss some ways that can help conceal your movement to, from and while on the stand in preparation for that “moment of truth.”
Traveling To/From the Stand:
1. Screening in process. Much has been written about this topic in the popular hunting press, but it works. Whether you plant a screen of trees, warm-season grasses or annual crops, hinge-cut to your heart’s content, or get really overzealous and use a large diameter corrugated drainage pipe to crawl hundreds of feet directly into your elevated blind, the act of using an object or screen to block a deer’s view can be extremely effective at concealing your movement to and from the stand.
2. The terrain chain. Topography is a wonderful thing. It influences our own land-use patterns, which impacts vegetation types, continuity and diversity, which directly affects deer and other wildlife utilization and travel. So, from a simple topographic map and aerial photo, you can begin to visualize broad patterns of deer movement. Although it takes a bit of experience analyzing these kinds of resources and ground-truthing each hunting property, over time you will build a sense of intuition and the ability to predict where deer will be, where they want to go, and how they will get there. Then you can use terrain in your favor, doing your best to avoid bumping deer and staying hidden as you enter and exit your hunting property. Since deer typically travel the path of least resistance, you should do the opposite. Walk across the grain and perpendicular to contour lines. Stay low, follow natural depressions to remain unseen. Also, use creek beds and other drainages when possible, which offer the added benefit of scent control by allowing you to walk in water as much as possible.
3. One-lane road ahead. If need be and existing cover blocks your path, clear yourself a way through it. Map out the best path based on your deer and topographical knowledge and take every effort to open it up well in advance of the season to minimize disturbance. I’ve even seen some folks go as far as raking leaves or using a leaf blower during the final approach to their stand to ensure each step they take is on soft, silent soil. But, a word of caution, over time deer may begin to use the same trails, so be prepared to abandon and re-create new access when that happens.
Realize that every time you scratch your nose, check Instagram, or scan the field in front of you hoping to see that giant buck you’ve been catching on trail-camera all month, you could be spotted.
4. Go around, fool! This should probably go without saying, but avoid the places deer want to be at the times they want to be there! For goodness sake, don’t walk straight across your highly attractive food plot, where you know they’re likely feeding, and hope to put an arrow in a deer in that same spot on a morning sit. It may take some extra planning and time to get in and out of your sets, but it will be worth the extra 10 minutes of walking or parking in an unusual spot when you can text your buddies that coveted hero shot.
5. Box yourself in. Don’t use a stand. Ground or elevated blinds have walls. Just be sure that it’s installed well ahead of the time you plan to hunt so deer become accustomed to its presence. Deer aren’t dumb. They are designed to survive, and seeing a new feature on the landscape like a hunting blind pop up out of nowhere will at best cause a reaction of curiosity (and, you can potentially kill some deer that way) but, at worst, it could cause a significant shift in deer behavior and overall use of the area, which will reduce deer sightings and harvest opportunities.
6. Baby got natural backing. Whenever I’m scouting trees to hang a new set, I always look for opportunities to use natural backing to break up my silhouette against the skyline. Key features to pinpoint include multi-trunked trees, large diameter trees, tight groupings of coniferous trees, tall hardwood trees with mid-sized coniferous trees like hemlock or spruce right next to them, hardwood trees with a lot of branch structure that have persistent leaves (trees like oak, beech and others will hold their leaves well into the late-season), and others. The point is try to visualize what the stand may look like during hunting season and make sure you’re not going to be sticking out like a sore thumb.
7. Baby got fake backing. Of course, you can use some good old-fashioned human ingenuity to outwit those slow-motion-seeing critters if you find the perfect ambush site but it lacks trees with good concealment cover, or if you only have access to larger stands like a two-man ladder set-up. Simply purchase some high-quality camouflage netting to enclose the sitting area of the stand, or put your handyman skills to the test and create a backdrop with some plywood and spray paint.
8. Brush it in. This option is like ordering a combo of numbers 6 and 7 (no fries, I’m on a diet. Well, how about a small fries, thanks), wherein you cut some limbs of live branches with persistent leaves or needles and weave them in and out of the platform, side rails and next to your seat. Again, the objective is to not be silhouetted against the sky. One pretty innovative technique used by Dean Partridge of Canadian Whitetail television is to pile up several dozen branches with the cut ends lined-up and tie them together. Dean then hoists the bunch up to the backside of the tree, well above sitting height, and secures it to the trunk with a heavy rope, fanning out the bunch like an upside-down turkey tail. It’s quite effective!
9. JUST move slowly! Finally — and this may be the best advice of all — move slowly, like you’re navigating a minefield. Be hyper aware of your surroundings and simply realize that every time you scratch your nose, check out who posted on Instagram, or scan the field in front of you hoping to see that giant buck you’ve been catching on trail-camera all month, you could be spotted. Each motion must be purposeful, and they must be at least five times slower than you normally move to do the same activity. This is especially true when getting into position to shoot, such as grabbing your firearm or drawing a bow back.
Remember, you are a predator. Act like one.
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