Five Rules for Stalking Whitetails

With the right moves at the right time, you'll see deer.

Photograph courtesy of Larry Smith/Flickr

You can't sit in a tree stand and wait for a whitetail forever. When you are not moving and deer are not moving, there is no way your paths will cross. So when whitetails are not active, you need to climb out of the trees and start stalking. Here are the ground rules.

1. Stalk from noon until 4 P.M., or all day when it's windy or snowy. Under moderate weather conditions, midday is the most sedentary time for whitetails. They've been filling their bellies all morning, and they're ready to bed down and chew their cud. This is also the time you are most likely to break for lunch and take your own nap. Don't. It's the ideal time to stalk, unless it's stormy.

Whitetails usually stay put all day when a strong wind blows or when a storm hits. Protected gullies and draws collect deer looking for relief from wind, heavy rain, and snow, and single deer hunker down behind boulders and uprooted trees. Stalk them all day in these quiet places.

2. Stalk in wooded and hilly terrain. Whatever the weather, deer seek cover in which to bed. Brush breaks up their silhouette. Tree trunks hide their shape. Hilly topography gives them land forms in which to conceal their whereabouts. But brush, trees, and terrain help mask your movements too, allowing you to stalk surprisingly close to whitetails at rest.

Use islands and avenues of vegetation to hide your approach to whitetail bedding spots. As you crest hills and ridges, go eyeballs first in order to scan the other sides for unsuspecting deer. Use places where hills and vegetation come in the same package to double your odds of stalking undetected.

3. Concentrate your stalking near food, edges, and hillside brush. Deer often bed down during the day right where they've been eating. Focus your stalking on a favorite patch of whitetail food.

Look for edges that exist where different types of vegetation meet, especially coniferous and deciduous forests. Deer like the diversity of edges, often finding food in one kind of vegetation and escape cover in the other.

Brush means safety to whitetails but headaches for hunters. So, hunt hillside brush where you can move through the sparser vegetation above the tangles while you look down into their hidden windows and openings for bedded deer.

4. Stalk when rain or snow quiets the ground. Your movement can be heard as well as seen, and nowhere will your stalking be noisier than in dry ground litter. Rain does wonders to soften the snap, crackle, and crunch. A good snow will cover noisy leaves, but wet snow gets crunchy when it freezes, and dry snow becomes squeaky at subzero temperatures. Look for 4 to 6 inches of snow when the thermometer is holding in the teens and 20s.

5. Stalk very, very slowly. If you stalk at the right times, in the right places, under the right conditions, the whitetails will be there. Improve your odds of seeing deer before they see you by moving at a snail's pace. It also gives you the chance to carefully and systematically scan the entire landscape, at every step, for anything that resembles-in shape, color, or texture-part of the deer you've been hoping to find.