Let the hunt begin: Plenty of tips to help deer hunters

Using the same ammo for practice and hunting will produce consistent results on the range and afield.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)
Using the same ammo for practice and hunting will produce consistent results on the range and afield. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)

With muzzleloader deer season finished, Arkansas deer hunters are ready for the statewide youth deer season Saturday and Sunday, followed by the opening of modern gun deer season on Nov. 12.

Warm to hot weather has tempered deer hunters' enthusiasm so far. Two days of cold weather got hunters excited during the muzzleloader deer season Oct. 15-23, but temperatures that reached into the 90s have largely limited deer movement and kept hunters out of the woods.

The weather forecast calls for heavy rain on Saturday, which might dissuade hunters from taking their children afield. A miserable hunting experience can tax the patience of experienced young hunters, but it can discourage a new hunter from wanting to go again.

On the other hand, proper timing can result in an optimal experience, said Mike Waters of East End. Waters is planning on taking his son Braden, an experienced hunter.

"Man, a lot of times right after it quits raining, deer pop out everywhere," Waters said. "If you're out there at the right time, you'll have deer all over you."

Hunters have taken mature bucks throughout the archery and muzzleloader seasons, but anecdotal evidence suggests that bucks are still mostly active before daylight. In the last two weeks, game cameras have largely photographed bucks at night.

A large mast crop around the state might also complicate normal deer hunting tactics in many areas. Vast amounts of acorns are falling in central Arkansas, in the Ozarks, in the Ouachita Mountains and in portions of South Arkansas. Where acorns are abundant, deer seem to have scattered and are staying in the woods eating acorns. Deer that regularly visited bait sites through muzzleloader deer season have either abandoned bait sites or visit them irregularly, according to our observers around the state.

Hunters that have patterned bucks eating acorns stand a very good chance of encountering deer in hardwoods during the first two weeks of modern gun deer season. Sitting against a tree in tight quarters with a lever-action rifle or shotgun might be an excellent way to bag a deer until late November.

Hunters on leased lands that are limited to hunting fixed locations might not see deer over bait sites and near feeders until deer and hogs exhaust the acorn supply. Deer movement and feeding patterns will eventually coalesce around corn and rice bran during daylight hours. Regularly putting out sweet attractants like Nut Grub will encourage them to visit a site daily. Eventually they will use it in the daytime. Solunar tables are fairly reliable indicators about when day-to-day animal activity, and they can help you avoid hunting when deer are least likely to feed during the day.

Hunters that haven't used their firearms since the 2021 season will improve their odds for success by spending some time on a range sighting in and reacquainting themselves with their weapons.

Scopes that were handled roughly might have fallen out of zero. Also, shooting a firearm is largely a muscle memory exercise. If you haven't shot your rifle in a year, your form and eye-hand coordination and breathing sequence will probably be awkward and out of sync. You might also have forgotten exactly where your trigger breaks in the pull sequence, and recoil might make you flinch. That can cause you to rush a shot or pull a shot. Either can result in a miss or a poorly placed shot that will wound a deer.

It doesn't take long to regain your form, but it does require practice. Your first session will reorient you to your firearm. Subsequent sessions will refine your form and enable you to shoot for accuracy.

Also, use the same ammo for hunting that you use in practice. If you sight in your 30-06 with 150-grain Remington Core-Lokts but you hunt with 180-grain tips of another brand, your hunting load's point of impact will be different -- maybe radically different -- from that of your hunting load. Again, that can cause you to miss or to make a wounding shot.

If you have a choice of multiple stands, use the one that is best suited for the wind for the time that you hunt. If, for example, your stand is southwest of the route that deer travel through your area, avoid hunting on a day when the wind blows from the southwest because the wind will carry your scent to the deer. Hunting downwind of where you expect to see deer will largely remove scent from the equation.

If it is warm, you will encounter mosquitoes in the morning and evening. Avoid using smelly mosquito repellents. A ThermaCell keeps mosquitoes away, and its odor does not alarm deer. A ThermaCell is a portable device that releases citronella vapors from wafers that the device heats on a plate. You can buy it at any sporting goods store.

Also, download the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's mobile app on your smartphone. You can check your deer on the app, and it will also tell you legal sunrise and legal sunset for your hunting spot. From this you will know exactly when you can shoot if you hunt in the morning or evening.

  photo  Preseason preparations will contribute greatly to success in modern gun deer season. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)