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Hunting Basics: A Beginners Guide to Deer Hunting

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Hunting might have once been part of the homesteading life, but today men, women, and teens can take a crack at filling their tags easier than ever before. Instead of heading down to the local butcher to get your hands on some venison, you can take the whitetail deer from your hunting adventure down there for processing instead.

No one can teach you everything you need to know about hunting from just one piece of content. For these hunting basics about deer, however, you might be able to have a successful hunting season this year.

How to Get Your Deer Hunting License

You can’t just take a bow or a rifle out into the forest and shoot a deer legally. Although you might be able to get away with such an action if you’re in a very rural area, most jurisdictions would consider this to be poaching. You may even be charged with a firearms crime if you shoot your rifle outside of hunting season.

Some jurisdictions do have some exemptions that allow for hunting without a license. In the State of Florida, for example, just about anyone under the age of 16 or over the age of 65 is exempt from licensing. Certain disabilities may also qualify. Some US military veterans are also allowed to hunt during certain events without a license. Some jurisdictions allow people who are on food stamps or entitlements to hunt fee-free as well.

If you’re not exempt according to your local law, then you’ll need to purchase some sort of deer permit. There may be a “Sportsman’s License” or a hunting license which has this permit included, but they are often separate purchases that need to be made. These permits are often referred to as “tags” because you must affix the permit to the animal in order for it to be legally processed. Most jurisdictions have a limit on the number of permits you or your family may be able to fill during any season.

You’ll then need to decide which whitetail deer hunting season interests you. Each type of hunting is given its own season and you may be able to purchase permits for each one. In Wisconsin, there are 6 specific hunting seasons. Archery/crossbow, gun, and muzzleloader are the three primary seasons, while there is a 2 day youth hunt, a 4 day antlerless hunt, and then a specific season for hunters with disabilities. You can purchase a permit for each season to which you qualify.

If you have never obtained a hunting license or a deer permit before, you may be asked to provide certification that you’ve passed a hunter’s safety class.

The 6 Benefits of Hunter Education Certification

A hunter’s safety course is often promoted to tweens and teens as they get ready to partake in their first season, but some jurisdictions may require adults to provide evidence of this certification as well before they’ll issue a license. Although you may have the basic hunting and trapping skills that are covered in this course already, there are 6 specific benefits that will help everyone be able to improve their odds of filling their deer permit.

  1. Hunter education certification promotes hunter awareness. You’re not the only hunters in the woods. Being aware of your surroundings so that you keep yourself and other hunters safe is the primary reason why certification is mandated. 
  1. You receive basic hunting knowledge. Where are you going to find the deer? Should you invest in a climbing tree stand? Although online education courses are available, a local class will give you specific knowledge about your hunting areas so that you have the best chance for success. 
  1. You get to practice your skills. If you don’t know how to shoot a firearm or a crossbow, then you’ll have a difficult time filling your tags. A good certification course will make sure you get to know your preferred weapon of choice and make you prove that you know how to take care of it.
  1. Most certificates are accepted nationwide. As long as you’ve taken a hunter’s safety course that is government approved in the US, most jurisdictions will accept your training no matter where it took place. You’ll need to verify this through the hunter education notices that are available locally. 
  1. You get to know the local laws. The rules for hunting can vary from state-to-state. A hunting education course can let you know how to prepare for hunting season so you don’t accidentally break the law. 
  1. You typically only pay when you pass. In Washington State, the cost of a hunter’s safety class is currently $19.50. You only pay that fee when you successfully pass the classroom requirements that are necessary to obtain your hunting license and you receive unlimited exam attempts.

Where Is the Best Place to Hunt for Whitetail Deer?

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Although you’ll find the occasional deer wandering city streets (especially in a community like Port Townsend, WA), it is necessary to head out into the country in order to find the best place to hunt for whitetail deer. These creatures love the opportunity to munch on farm crops all summer long, which means any brush, forest areas, or other forms of cover near farms will almost always have some deer calling that area their home.

This is especially true if the wooded area near a farm is filled with oak or beech trees. Deer also love having a good crop of apple trees around.

Deer tend to leave tracks along the edge of a field if they’re calling that area their home. You’ll notice the hoof prints in the dirt, of course, but make sure that you look at the trees as well. Bucks will scrape the trees with their antlers during the warmer months as part of the mating ritual. If you see these scrapes, then you know you’ve got a good chance to find success.

Most hunting land isn’t public land. This means you must have permission from the property owner to be hunting on their property. There are some public hunting lands that can help you fill your quota. Be sure to check with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to see what grounds are accessible in your area so you can hunt legally. Always make sure you are dressed in visible gear as required to avoid needless hunting accidents.

What is the best time to go hunting? Any time is a good time to hunt for white-tailed deer. Many hunters prefer either early morning near dawn or late evening at twilight, but deer move around all day long. Go hunting when you feel like it.

Choosing the Right Weapon for Deer Hunting

Rule #1 when hunting: you must be familiar with your weapon. If you don’t know which bow or rifle you want to use right now, then postpone hunting for a year so you can become familiar with your weapon of choice. Familiarity and proficiency will help you be able to successfully fill your deer permits.

So let’s narrow down some of your choices if you are deciding on your weapon right now.

  • Most rifles used for deer hunting should be .22 caliber or larger. Some jurisdictions may require you to have a .243 caliber firearm. Some air rifles for hunting do qualify in certain areas, so check local laws if that is your preference.
  • Black powder hunters should use a firearm that is at least .45 caliber.
  • Some jurisdictions only allow for shotgun hunting, so a 12 gauge slug gun is your best option in that scenario.
  • Crossbows, compound bows, or recurve bows tend to perform well when their draw weight is set to 45 pounds. Youth bows with a draw weight of 25 pounds can be effective at a shorter range.

Then you’ll need to practice your effectiveness at the maximum distance for your preferred weapon. Most bows will give you an effective range of 30 yards. Black powder firearms can give you about 70 yards. A scoped rifle can give you 150+ yards depending on your skills and the craftsmanship of the firearm itself. Make sure you practice shooting in different positions, like kneeling or shooting offhand, so you can safely shoot at a deer that comes your way when you least expect it.

You don’t need to be perfect with your shooting in order to have a successful hunting experience. You do need to be proficient enough with your preferred weapon that you won’t endanger yourself or others. That’s why if you’ve never gone hunting before or never shot a firearm before, take a year off and get to know your weapon.

The deer will still be there next year for you.

The Best Ways to Locate Deer Out in the Wild

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In order for you to successfully fill a deer permit, you’ve got to actually find a deer to shoot at, right? Although some hunters can go into the woods and find a deer within seconds, not everyone has that kind of luck. Keep in mind that hunting mule deer is a little different, so consider this to be a guide to hunt white-tailed deer successfully.

Here’s what you do: find a comfortable spot, sit down, and wait. That’s really all that you do.

Now when we say that you should wait, you should be waiting as still as possible. Deer can sense movement from yards away, so if you have to smack a mosquito on your forehead, do so slowly otherwise your target is going to run away.

To make the waiting bearable, a number of products are available to help keep you comfortable. Ground blinds help to camouflage you in the woods, have shooting windows, hold multiple people, and stop most of the mosquitoes from biting you. Climbing tree stands get you off the ground so you’re not as noticeable, but they also change the shooting angle and that can be problematic for new hunters at times.

Wearing full camouflage hunting gear is essential for a successful hunt when it is allowed. Don’t forget to don an orange vest and affix your permit number where necessary according to local laws. Consider using camo face paint and hunting gloves to help cover the brightness of your skin. Having orange-based camo during gun season is almost always a good idea.

Then there’s your smell. You don’t need to invest in an expensive deer scent or human scent mask to have a successful hunting experience. Just wash your clothing in baking soda and then store it inside a plastic bag with a few trimmings from local trees until it is time to go hunting. Take a shower with baking soda, avoid eating bacon or other food with a distinctive odor, and then make sure you aren’t upwind from your target area.

In Conclusion

It is important to take your time and not rush your shot. It is also important to know how to field dress a deer so the quality of the meat you’ve just obtained doesn’t spoil or taste bad when processed. Put all of those pieces together and you’ll be able to have a successful hunting experience.

Sometimes we follow the traditions our families have always had. Sometimes it is important to start our own traditions as well. Deer hunting can be an incredible experience, but only if you have the skills and gear to do so. Be prepared ahead of time, be safe, and you’ll be able to fill your deer permits.

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