November 3rd, circled in red from the harbors of Duluth to Nobles County, just North of the Iowa border. Hundreds of men and women climb 15 feet above the forest floor barley able to sit still as a fawn trots below their old metal stand. It may still be a week or two before a buck stumbles unknowingly below the wrong tree, but for now you wait. You have spent countless hours, and entire weekends preparing for this day. hanging stands, watching deer in the field, collecting trail camera footage, and mulling over the location of your opening morning hunt. Before you get to see their ears twitch below their antlers as the click of the safety disrupts the silence of the woods, any successful hunter must study every aspect of the animal with a watchful eye.
A New Year Starts…
While most deer hunters will wait for late Spring or early Summer the most avid of hunters’ season begins the day after the previous ends. As you climb down from your stand on New Years eve-bow and arrows in hand-you acknowledge that the season is over, 58 days chasing deer. While even the most dedicated hunters only hunt about 14-25 of these days you are still exhausted. The frustration that fills your body is immense, you’ve been outsmarted-once again I might add-by a big, smelly, obnoxious herbivore. So what does it take to outsmart one of these cunning, experienced, survivalist beasts? Well, it takes about a 307 days and a countless amount of hours in the woods. The new season begins with the new year, your guns, bow, and grunt call will be packed away during this time, but you
will trade that 12 gauge in for a rake and some new batteries for your trail camera at the hardware store.
There is not a whole lot you can do to prepare during the winter while snow is on the ground, however a new form of “hunting” might consume your time during the cold Minnesota winter. Deer begin to shed their antlers late into January and through March. Time spent looking for these antlers can be a good way to get excited for a new year. Most of the time deer don’t move a lot in the winter so checking bedding locations and food sources is a good way to spend your time. You could also prepare by eliminating some pests that reek havoc on young fawns in the spring. Coyote hunting is an important part of maintaining a good deer population, it is legal to hunt coyotes during anytime of the year and you are allowed to use any kind of weapon. You can also keep trail cams up and running all year observing witch bucks stay and which move to a different area.
While the farmers prep the fields for a busy Spring you will stay just as busy in the woods. During the early Spring you will start to see the bucks return carrying the beginnings of a brand new set if antlers. They begin to sprout as little knobs on the deer’s head and by early Summer they are full grown. White Tail antlers-not horns-are the fastest growing tissue on Earth. As the Spring progresses and your computer files fill with photos of wildlife taken without notice by your trail cameras, it is time to start thinking about food plots. A great way to guarantee deer will stay around for the Fall hunting season is to guarantee them a food source. If you have the resources to create an artificial pond, this is ideal. Most hunters who choose to plant a food plot will spend time in the woods along a common path the deer have been taking clearing it out and getting the soil ready to plant. Once you choose where to plant your food plot(s) you have to decide what to plant. Some things to take into consideration are the time you have to plant, the resources, when you plan to do most of your hunting, and what kind of things farmers are planting around you. Soy Beans are good for early season bow hunting, beets are good for late winter muzzleloader hunting. If you have access to tillable farm land, a plot of corn is always a great option, however you must leave it up all winter after the rest has been harvested. In Olmstead County baiting is illegal so you are not allowed to grab a bag of cut corn at the feed store and toss it below your stand. All crops must remain standing, or completely harvested. Committing to a food plot is a lengthy and time consuming ordeal.
Patterns, Patterns, Patterns…
Once your crops are on schedule and the deer now walk proudly displaying a completed rack, it’s time to pattern the deer. Deer have to feed, drink, and sleep each and everyday. From June to August you have to figure out when they do this, who they do this with, and most importantly the path they travel to get here. With the help of trail cameras and some time spent in the woods you will start to find “highways” the deer use to travel on. Bucks will get in a set pattern by the end of the Summer and will follow this religiously up until a few weeks before hunting season starts. Does and fawns will generally travel in groups and wont be as easy to pattern but easier to trace. As the Summer nights come to a close hopefully you will have your tree stands hung and a pretty good idea of where the deer are going to be traveling.
Back to the Stand…
As the dust settles behind a school bus on an old gravel road you begin your climb into the stand for the first time this year. The bucks have now lost the velvet coat that forms around their antlers in the Spring and you have only a week or two before they become nocturnal. Bow season starts mid September and avid hunters have only a few short weeks before the rut is in full swing and the orange army fills the woods for shotgun season. Bow hunting is a great way to admire the work you have put into your land in preparation for the season, and also a tool for scouting as you get some time alone with the deer before they are shot at for the first time. The bugs are horrendous and you don’t spend a lot of time in the tree, but if you have that buck patterned well enough it’s a great opportunity to end your season early.
A week or two before shotgun season starts bucks begin what is called the rut. They get very territorial in the early phases and will spend their time making rubs on trees to mark their territory, and fighting off little bucks. They also lose the pattern you have spent so long studying and become nocturnal (great…). If they were traveling with another buck they will most likely seclude them and bed deep in the woods. They are not chasing around the does like college freshman yet, but will not shy away from familiarizing themselves with one another.
In conclusion the most important part of the hunt can be the 307 days leading up to opening morning. Thousands of hours are put in by hunters all over Minnesota each year. Each wanting more than anything to outsmart the
animal, but in the end, for some that work will never pay off. Oh, and if your like my Dad who never bagged that trophy but spent years crawling to his stand at 4:30am and studying the animal, there’s still hope. Even after years have past and other priorities have consumed your time, when you do decide to give it one more shot and dig your hunting gear out the day before the season opens-disregarding preparation at all-the luck you lacked for years could come just at the right time…