You've scouted an area you think no one else will discover, or worse, where you believe no one will ever trespass. Isn't it frustrating when those guesses are wrong? Everyone who hunts deals with pressure from other hunters in some capacity.
Hunting pressure is hard to swallow, especially if you feel you've wasted your time in spots you thought might pay off. The negative feeling grows if you hunt that spot only to be greeted by routine people traffic or other hunters.
Overcoming the element of pressure is a challenge, but it isn't impossible. Sometimes it takes choosing the right day or the right situation to put you into "the right place at the right time."
Here are a few ways to slip in and out of pressure, like Tom Cruise sneaking through an HVAC duct.
OFF TO THE RACES
It sounds backward, but hunting an opener can be one of the best opportunities you will have to kill a buck. While this might seem like diving straight into the fire that is hunting pressure, it is only a little of that.
Season openers are not always easy. The weather can be hot, pestering insects are relentless, and the days are long. Sound like good reasons for an average hunter to get serious? Almost always, the answer is heck no!
To beat the competition, you have to be willing to suffer just a tad more than the next guy. Hike farther when it's hot. Embrace the bug bites, eat more garlic, or use a Thermacel. Hunt all day and take mental breaks at regular intervals.
Stop looking for them! You will locate them when you least expect it. That’s why they are overlooked! If everyone could look for and find one, that spot would have a different name.
Textbook overlooked areas are:
- Spots close to parking access.
- Sites bordering a road.
- Random features like the edge of a junkyard pile.
There are articles, podcasts, and YouTube videos that teach how to take advantage of spots like these. These spots exist, but use caution. Due to recent trends in hunting, textbook spots may not be as “overlooked” as you think.
It's usually a good bet that Wednesdays and Thursdays will be your best vacation days. But does that mean all weekends are bad? That depends! If you don't want to see another soul, you'll want to avoid weekends. But if you're ok embracing the pressure by finding areas deer go to retreat, you could have stellar hunts.
Weekend spots do not look like the typical places deer like to be. The food will be sparse, and the cover might be drab. But where people aren't, deer will be.
The other tactic is to check the parking access closest to your home. Record or take mental notes of how many cars you see in parking access throughout the season. Next year you will have a good grasp of places people prefer the most. Hanging an extra trail camera at strategic locations can also provide some good insight on how are people are walking on main trails. Just because there are cars in the parking lot doesn't necessarily mean everyone is going deep.
Those records will tell you where the least amount of pressure is likely to occur on the weekends or the weekdays. Don't miss counting cars parked along roads for an inclusive look at the entire crowd.
One of the best days anyone could ask for is an opening small game season overlapping with a deer season. These days are for fast action.
Pennsylvania has a pheasant opener that coincides with a bow and muzzleloader season. Other than the opening day of firearms, there are never more hunters in the woods. In many areas, the advantage comes from crossing out half of a landscape in the form of fields. After that, eliminate predictable deer hunting locations. You'll probably come up with five to ten percent of a landscape left to hunt. Deer will crowd that five to ten percent until they begin to understand the pattern of the newly opened season.
Hunt all day! The movement will be hot and heavy in the morning and evening as deer get pushed into these new areas. But watch out for those mid-day periods where bucks move around to find better cover. They might be on high alert, but you'll be ready.
I'll keep this point short. We all love the phrase "embrace the suck." It's real and isn't always fun, but hunting pressure is part of hunting. Accepting it will foster learning, and you'll be able to hunt through it much easier.
I'd consider myself a fair-weather hunter. Strong wind is not my jam, and neither is steady rain or heat. But my willingness to hunt in those situations is there because I'm aware that deer respond well to the decreased human intrusion.
Be safe, but don't skip a day you wanted to hunt just because deer aren't supposed to be active. Use the necessary gear to adapt to the weather. When those rain clouds disappear, when a seasonal cold front moves in, when that wind lies down, deer will be on the move.
GIVE IT EVERYTHING YOU GOT
If there is ever a day where very few people will be in the woods, it will be on the last day. Vacation days are all used; those who saw hunting as a short annual event finished weeks ago, and the rest of the crowd are burnout from a long season.
For days preceding the season's closing, deer will begin to relax. The shift to a typical seasonal pattern puts the deer somewhere you know you can tackle. Those buck beds you found in a core area will again entice homebody bucks.
Don't throw in the towel. You invested time all season, so why would you give up when the getting is good? Hike to your very best location and give it everything you've got.
Author: Aaron Hepler, Exodus Black Hat Team Member