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OUTDOORS: Basic deer hunting: find 'em, blend in, be still

She’s no trophy, but a fat, healthy doe is a desirable quarry for the basic deer hunter more interested in meat than big antlers. Basic deer and basic deer hunting is a viable option for many sportsmen. (Ala. DCNR/Special to The Herald)

She’s no trophy, but a fat, healthy doe is a desirable quarry for the basic deer hunter more interested in meat than big antlers. Basic deer and basic deer hunting is a viable option for many sportsmen. (Ala. DCNR/Special to The Herald)

It is not uncommon to read accounts that describe the pursuit of white-tailed deer in ethereal, otherworldly terms. The highly competitive outdoor video market does likewise as one deer hunting television program after another seeks to draw in more viewers. In addition, countless hunters attend seminars and workshops conducted by nationally known experts, where they are told they must be both woodsman and nuclear physicist to successfully hunt and harvest deer.

Such sources of deer hunting instruction have their place, of course, and can often be quite informative and helpful, especially if one’s sole or primary interest lies in patterning and harvesting an elusive trophy buck. But what of the ordinary, run-of-the-mill basic deer hunter? There are, after all, still sportsmen out there who approach deer hunting, like their pioneer forebears, from a more practical side.

“Basic deer hunters continue to view the whitetail almost exclusively as a meat animal,” said Lowell Rayburn, a Mississippi Delta hunter who only half-jokingly claims he would rather shoot a fat, tender doe than the biggest Boone & Crockett buck in the state. “To us, meat hunting is deer hunting in its purest form. The occasional trophy is just icing on the cake.”

This is not to say there is anything wrong with trophy hunting.

“Not at all,” said Rayburn. “Harvesting a trophy whitetail buck is arguably the most difficult sporting pursuit a hunter can attempt. As a rule, trophy hunters are good game managers and great sportsmen. The thing is, though, a hunter who wants nothing more than to take his fair and legal share of harvestable deer, regardless of quality, can often be misled by the so-called ‘rules’ of trophy hunting. He can be led to believe they apply to basic deer hunting as well.”

That belief is a mistake according to Rayburn and other dedicated and unashamed meat hunters.

“Basic deer hunting is easy,” Rayburn continued. “There’s no mystique about it, and a novice or beginning hunter shouldn’t be put off by hype. It’s not nearly as involved or complicated as trophy hunting can be. I find it just as much fun, too.”

There are three simple rules for basic deer hunting success: Find deer, break up the hunter’s outline, and keep still.

“That first rule is a given,” Rayburn said. “It must be assumed you already have a place to hunt and have placed your stands based on what you know about deer habitat and activity. Remember, in this case, you’re not looking for a deer of particular size or quality, just legal deer, period. Your preparation can be a bit more casual.”

Most basic deer hunters who fail more than they succeed do so not because of rule number one, but because they break rules two and three. All the intelligent scouting and deer “homework” in the world prove useless if those rules are not followed.

“It’s true that a deer’s nose is its most important sensory organ,” Rayburn explained. “Often, though, we spend so much time disguising our human scent that we lose sight of the fact that deer can see, too. You can’t stand out like a sore thumb in the woods and expect to be a successful deer hunter.”

This is a problem easily fixed, and one needn’t wear the latest in designer camouflage to do it. Perhaps it benefits the trophy hunter to look exactly like a tree or brushpile, but the basic deer hunter needs not be so exacting. Inexpensive, old, even mismatched camo will do.

“For basic deer hunting, it’s not the camo pattern, it’s complete coverage and not standing out among leaves, branches, and tree trunks. Just break up your human outline. Full-cover camouflage is important, but you needn’t totally disappear from sight to be successful.”

Equally important is one’s ability to remain motionless, or at least nearly so, particularly when hunting from a low stand or ground blind. Unnatural movement can spook deer you never see, even those “unwise” non-trophy animals sought by the meat hunter.

“This doesn’t mean you can’t move at all,” Rayburn added. “Some motion is necessary, after all. What a basic deer hunter has to strive for is remaining motionless as long as he can. When you have to move, do it slowly and deliberately.”

According to Rayburn, turning the head slowly in both directions allows you to scan your hunting area and stretch your neck muscles at the same time. If possible, time your head movements with natural motions, like wind-blown leaves or branches. For necessary lower body movements, slow and easy shifting weight from hip to hip relieves stiffening and cramping. You can also flex knees and ankles without much noticeable motion.

Break up your outline and be still. Without doubt these are indeed the most important points of basic, no-frills deer hunting. Both take little effort on the part of the hunter and can make the difference between dining on venison steaks or supermarket burgers this season.

“Following simple basic deer hunting rules will consistently put good numbers of meat deer within your range,” Rayburn concluded. “The rest is up to you. There’s no anti-miss remedy.”