Plan Next Deer Season Before This One Is Gone

December 13, 2023 By: Mark Turner

Most whitetail hunters have less than a month of season left, and hunters in the Deep South still have great rut action coming up. I look forward to getting out several more times this year as well, but my mind has already shifted to next season.

It’s easy to wait until spring or summer to start thinking about your fall hunting strategy, but I find now is a great time to consider various ways to make next season even better. Recent hunts are still fresh in your memory, and considering off-season projects now helps ensure they are taken care of well in advance.

Taking Notes from the Stand

Using an app like onX, it’s easy to make detailed notes on specific stand locations.

Over the past several years, I’ve spent much of my time in the stand considering ways to improve a particular spot or property. These ideas often come from watching deer walk just out of range or not using the area I would have expected.

I find it can be a lot of fun to take the time to think about what would happen if I moved a stand 30 yards, planted a field differently, or cut a few trees to funnel deer closer.

I’m sure a lot of readers also have similar thoughts, but in past seasons I’ve forgotten these ideas long before I was back in the woods working on stand sites. Having a note on my phone devoted only to treestand locations works well to solve this issue. Every time I have an idea from a stand, I jot it down in a section I’ve made for a particular location.

The same could be accomplished using the notes section on an onX waypoint or with a pen and small notepad. The important thing is writing your thoughts instead of trying to remember you wanted to cut a particular tree six months from now.

Unless your memory is much better than mine, you’ll probably forget!

Small Changes to Note

Did you have issues bumping deer while accessing your stands this season? If so, be sure to note those issues and adjust your access routes for next season.

One of the first things I take note of during a particular hunt is whether I have adequate shooting lanes. How many times have you realized a potential shot opportunity was blocked only when you looked through the scope or peep sight?

Generally, it’s worthwhile to go ahead and cut a missed limb or tree during the season, but at the very least you should make a note to fix it after the season. I had this happen earlier this fall when I realized a branch was blocking part of my shooting lane from a tripod stand, and several deer ended up behind the limb.

Making a note reminded me to trim the limb before hunting there again because there’s no reason to repeat this mistake.

Other small issues such as accessing your stand or slight changes to stand locations can also be noted. Several years ago, I had problems with constantly bumping deer while leaving a ladder stand on the edge of a large field.

The stand creaked halfway down and was relatively exposed to any deer within the field, but the need to fix these issues would end up far down my mental checklist while working on stands during the summer. The stand seemed concealed before leaf drop, and the noisy ladder didn’t seem too bad during the summer.

After more than one frustrating season, I finally decided to write down what I should do to resolve the issue. A few hinge cut trees and adjusting the ladder completely solved this issue in just a few minutes, and I no longer bump deer off the field.

Without making this note, I’m sure I would have had yet another frustrating season without fixing the issue.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Be sure to make note of and record your observations from the deer stand so you can make adjustments to your hunting strategy and stand locations the following season.

Another topic I like to consider from the stand are the strengths and weaknesses of my overall hunting strategy. For example, what parts of the season do I tend to see more deer or particular bucks I’m after?

Most hunters would consider the rut as their best time, but if stands are poorly located this may not be the case. By evaluating your hunting during various parts of the season, you can begin to develop a strategy to improve times when hunting seems poor.

Having a good balance of morning versus evening stand locations may not be something you think about throughout the year, but it becomes painfully obvious when you sit the same food plot evening after evening.

Alternatively, perhaps you have too many stands on food plots and not enough stands to target deer heading back to bed in the morning. Whatever the case, taking notes of the need to develop more stands that target either food or cover can help you add opportunities for next year.

When I realize this is an issue, I spend time looking at onX in the stand and placing pins on areas that might be suitable morning or evening stand sites for next year.

An issue that became apparent for me this season was the need to diversify stands based on wind direction during bow season. I found myself hunting marginal winds several times because I didn’t have enough good bowhunting locations for an unusually prevalent southwest wind.

I eventually made an adjustment by hunting from a climber and was able to harvest a buck on my first sit as he checked some does and worked a scrape. You can be sure I took note of the location and will be adding additional stands for southwest winds in other areas to avoid overhunting particular stands in the future.

Considering locations for new stands may seem like a task for the offseason, but it’s much easier to pinpoint wind or seasonal weaknesses in your hunting strategy now.

Habitat Management

Exclusion cage on a food plot.
An exclusion cage is a great way to monitor the success of your food plot and determine if you need to provide more food for deer or reduce the number of does on the property.

Habitat managers should also take advantage of time in the stand to evaluate their efforts, whether that’s food plots or cover.

On many properties in the Mid-South and North, December is the time food plots begin to show greater grazing pressure, as deer begin recovering from the rut. Monitoring exclusion cages as you hunt allows you to closely track deer use and help indicate whether you need to add more food and/or harvest additional does.

Cover strongly influences deer movements, but how often do we consider an area serves as bedding cover without additional management just because it’s not an open field?

I fell into this trap this season because I noticed a large drop in deer sightings around a historical bedding area which was clearcut about ten years ago. I’ve cut a few trees to maintain cover previously, but the cover is now much less dense, and deer aren’t using it as heavily.

I’ve added some chainsaw time on my offseason to-do list to ensure this area supports more deer bedding for next year. Making notes now for future habitat management projects allows you to be much more efficient during those limited work days most of us have on the farm.

Final Thoughts

Like many of you, I view deer hunting as a process more than an event that happens during one part of the year. Scouting, running trail-cameras, hanging stands, and improving habitat are all part of the process, and I encourage you to start considering preparation for next season before your last hunt this winter.

Getting some notes together while my memory is still fresh has certainly helped me, and I hope it can do the same for you!

About Mark Turner:

Mark Turner is an NDA member and Level 2 Deer Steward who is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tennessee working under the direction of Dr. Craig Harper. His research is investigating how nutritional carrying capacity and land use influence deer body and antler size across the eastern United States. Instagram: @markturner442