We have all experienced it at least once while on stand. A mature deer steps quietly along only to freeze, eyes fixated instantly on you in the tree, its body is rigid save for the head which is now bobbing up and down towards you and blows. The coming seconds are the kind hunters dread as the deer continues to blow before finally running away to a spot it deems “safer”. Other times it plays out differently; a calm collected deer simply without warning jets off miles away and leaves you standing in your stand wondering what just occurred. Both of those scenarios we have all seen and experienced, the question though is what do they tell us about this creature we pursue? 


Many of us, myself included, give the whitetail deer way more credit than it truly deserves. At times you would think from the stories we share we are hunting Albert Einstein with hooves, when in reality we are hunting a creature which has less analytical brain power than your average child. Now before you click off of this write up do not think for a minute I’m saying the whitetail deer is stupid, actually they are quite intelligent (in a sense), I just feel we over estimate their ability to analyze things. 

In my short years I’ve absorbed nearly every ounce of whitetail knowledge I can lay my eyes, hands or mind on. Throughout those years I have learned numerous things which I know I will benefit from for years to come...however one day in 2012 my hunting knowledge was about to have a shock it never expected. In 2012 I would meet the accomplished hunter and author of Taking Pressured Trophy Whitetails: Pursuing The Gray Ghost In Urban And Farmland Settings, Bill Vale. I would be blessed with having this man come to a brand new hunting property my father and I picked up and spend the day scouting it first-hand. If I chose just one concept or idea out of the thousands of things I learned that day it was the following about statement Bill said about mature deer; “Don’t overestimate their intelligence Ty, remember they are basically like a burglar alarm when it boils down to it. You can analyze and execute, they react.” 


I’ll be honest everything I’ve been taught was challenged by that statement, yet here was a man whom walls were covered from floor to ceiling with trophy caliber mature whitetails any bowhunter would respect without a doubt. So I listened and began to learn what many sometimes never realize.

The sight we all dread while on stand...

Yes it’s true deer seem to have a 6th sense at time and know something is up despite all steps taken by the hunter…however that 6th sense is just a reactive survival instinct. It is this survival instinct which dictates what bed they use each day, what field they feed in at night and why they approach both as they do. Deer have to approach life this way because it is the only ability they have. They cannot formulate a plan or construct an analysis of factors presented to them and execute a well formulated approach to life. If they could they would be 100% nocturnal animals, unable to be legally harvested by all of us who hit the woods each fall in pursuit of them.


Instead deer grow, with maturity and experiences, into some of the most sensitive “deer alarms” in the woods; triggered by scents, noises or feelings. They cannot predict any of these but just as burglar alarms are wired to react, so are they and do so at times with such sensitivity the hunter doesn’t even realize or know they triggered one. This is easily seen by thousands of hunters countless times during the season as they watch yearlings walk with the wind through the woods completely oblivious of what lays before them; give that year 2 years time and this event becomes a lot less likely because it does not follow sound survival instinct. 


It is this ability to be “wired” so sensitive that at times makes hunters feel the animal must have a brain capable of logic or reason and “knew” not to come through their stand area because of “insert excuse”…when in reality the mature buck the hunter was after did not repeat an action of traversing the stand location as it has on countless times (confirmed by trail cameras) before due to the pre-dawn wind being out of a different way than the post-dawn wind (merely used as an example); therefore making it impossible for the mature buck to utilize that path after light safely scent checking the area before him which is something a mature buck will rarely do.



The above scenario never has to occur though. The hunter, unlike the deer, has the ability to analyze data and formulate a plan. If a mature buck is routinely using a trail with certain wind and weather conditions, why hunt it when those conditions are not present? Do not expect the deer to go against sound survival instincts, instead use the hunter’s biggest weapon their brain to find a way to hunt the animal when they are making a sound survival driven decision. 


That day my whole idea about what goes on in a mature whitetail’s mind changed. They are amazing intelligent creatures in their ability to survive by reacting to everything nature throws at them; wind conditions, crop rotations, seasonal cover, weather, human interaction and much more. They do not however have cognitive ability to formulate planned actions beyond doing “x” due to survival or procreation of their species. 


Armed with this knowledge my hunting approach became much more intensive and deliberate. I no longer chose a stand without a formulated reason behind it; a reason based on countless factors like scouting, trail cam pictures, pre-dawn winds and much more. I have no doubt this one idea will be the biggest reasons I continue to add mature bucks to my harvested list for as many years as God blesses me with the ability to hunt.


Blessings brothers and sisters, and may God bless the time you spend in the woods this year!


The very first buck I ever harvested back in 2002!

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