Tag Yourself a Trophy

The ultimate guide to supremacy in the deer woods

By John McClendon   Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Using a climber stand can allow you to pick the perfect spot to account for wind direction.

Using a climber stand can allow you to pick the perfect spot to account for wind direction.


Deer hunting has become a very sophisticated sport. Long gone are the days when hunters wore Army surplus jackets in olive drab while toting granddad’s old Winchester 12 gauge pump loaded with 00 buckshot. 

Today, we enjoy numerous television channels dedicated solely to hunting—and the majority of shows airing are related to white-tailed deer. Those shows make it look easy to bag giant deer with record-size antlers—so easy that one might forget that even professionals were once amateurs who had to learn the finer points of hunting.

Years of experience have taught me a thing or two, and while you won’t see me on TV anytime soon, I do have a few good tips to help the modern beginner find success:

Wind direction and scent control: This is the most important thing to know about deer hunting. Deer have a nose more sensitive than a dog’s. If you are upwind, deer can smell you, no matter what method of scent control you try. Avoid hunting in areas that force you to approach deer that are downwind. It helps to think of your scent as a “cone” that originates from your location and spreads like a baseball diamond. This means your scent signature gets wider as it travels downwind. 

Always scan for movement: When sitting in a stand, keep your view wide, like a gallery portrait, instead of focusing on everything you can see. Subtle movement will become obvious and seem to jump out at you from the portrait frame. Deer generally appear darker than the surrounding terrain, so train your mind to look for dark shapes instead of the typical light brown coat.

Invest in the best optics you can afford: My binoculars cost as much as a nice set of golf clubs, and I would rather have a cheap rifle with a good scope than a great rifle with a cheap one. The ability to clearly see and observe your prey is the most important attribute you can possess. Deer hunting is mostly observation; the killing part is almost secondary. To do that properly, one must have decent “glass.”

Find a firearm that feels comfortable and learn to use it: You are much better off being able to hit the heart of a deer with a small bullet than the rear end of a deer with a large bullet. Too many hunters allow ego to dictate caliber, but while bigger is not necessarily better, accuracy is. There are some exceptions when a large caliber might be necessary, but there is nothing in the continental United States that cannot be killed with a common .270 under almost any circumstances. Find the right-sized gun and practice to become proficient with it. 

Wear a facemask: There is something about the bare face of a human that deer find quite disturbing. Being hunted for 75,000 years tends to have that effect on an animal. I have noticed that it’s much harder for deer to acknowledge me as a threat when they cannot see my exposed face.