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Nate Kennedy: Getting back to basics this deer season

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Archery tag

Nate Kennedy fills out an archery tag during the 2020 deer hunting season.

Here we are again. The leaves are well past their prime and falling fast. The first frosts have finally arrived, and the nights and mornings have been cold and crisp. We’ve had a little snow in some areas, and hunting stories fill the air of every coffee shop and bar in town. That’s right folks ... it’s deer season! Sweet, sweet November. Rifle season is open in the northern zone and not far off in the southern, bucks are excited and beginning to chase, and the rut is coming into view in many areas of the state.

This fall has been incredibly busy for me personally. Amazing, but busy! Last year my deer season was as in-depth as it gets. I was obsessed, dedicated and determined. It was one for the books, but this year I simply don’t have the time for that sort of deep dive. This year is different. This year I am going back to basics. No late nights pouring over strategies in my head, no target bucks, and no underlying motivations other than to have fun and spend time in the woods.

If you’re able to, dive right in and dive deep! Get your systems dialed, your gameplan mapped out, and put your all into the next few weeks. But, if you can’t commit 120% of your mind, body and soul to whitetails this season, fear not! Just grab what you need, remember a few basic plays, and go out and enjoy yourself, whether it’s for a week, a couple of weekends, or even just a day or two.

Deer season is really all about goals. What is your goal this season? Is it to take your biggest buck to date? To spend a certain amount of time in a treestand? Perhaps your goal is to get your first deer ever, or to put some meat in the freezer to share during the holiday season. Maybe you just want to spend Thanksgiving hunting with your family, or to take a deer with your grandfather’s old rifle. Regardless, managing your goals and expectations is step one in mapping out your season. For me, again, it’s getting back to basics.

Last year my goal was to bow hunt as much as humanly possible, and to finally take a big buck with my bow. I was passing a lot of small bucks, spending a lot of time in the stand, and pushing myself to stay focused and achieve my goal. That was great, and it was successful, but it was not the basics. This year, my goals are to spend time with family, have fun, and get some fresh air. It’s that simple! Putting a deer in the freezer is definitely still a goal, but it will be the icing on the cake if I should be lucky enough to make it happen.

In getting back to basics, I’ll be pressing pause on a lot of the tried and true strategies of hunting whitetails. Not because they don’t work or they're not worth the effort, but only because I won’t have the time to dedicate to them. What I will put into play are a few basic strategies and hunting styles that I can easily make time for, that will likely increase my odds of seeing deer this November.

Hunting the wind

If I can hunt 15 days or one day this deer season, I’ll always keep the wind in mind. If I set up to sit, I’ll consider which way my wind is blowing, and which way I anticipate deer to come from. If I plan to walk or still-hunt an area, I’ll do my best to walk with a cross wind, or with the wind in my face. This sounds simple, and it is, but it’s often overlooked when just heading out for a quick hunt or a weekend at camp. Wind is like religion to some hunters, but others don’t consider it much if at all. It can be tough in higher elevation areas and in places where winds tend to swirl. That said, it’s always worth your time. When I finally smartened up and started hunting with the wind in my favor, I began to see a lot more deer.

Still hunting

It’s a classic. Still hunting is about as basic as it gets. Set off with a direction in mind, and slowly and methodically walk through the woods. Keep the wind in your favor, and your eyes scanning the woods around you. Be ready, and be safe. Still hunting is a great way to explore new areas, as you can scout while you hunt, and cover some ground. There are many age-old rules of thumb for hunting this way. Some say to stop every three or five or seven steps. Others say to cover some ground at a faster pace until you get into deer sign and then slow down. It’s a good way to just go out and enjoy a walk in the woods, and I’m not sure if there is a wrong way to do it, so long as you are safe and legal.

Mid-day sits

My grandfather shot a lot of nice bucks in his day. Many of them were taken between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. He swore by it. “10 and 2, my boy!” He was onto something. As the season progresses and the rut kicks in, bucks are on their feet and moving. They seem to forget their typical routine, and suddenly they are like college kids during finals week with long hours and no schedule whatsoever. And so, that mid-day sit is a great strategy, especially during November. Again, this is back to the basics. Don’t have time to get up at 4:30 a.m. everyday this season? Strike out at 9 a.m. and bring your lunch. Enjoy a mid-day hunt and you’ll likely see some deer movement!

If you can spend any amount of time in the deer woods this fall, you're not doing all that bad. We’re lucky to have the resources we have and the opportunity as Americans to go out and enjoy them. If you find the time to dive deep, it's a worthwhile adventure for sure. If not, you should still get out there and enjoy some time afield. Who knows, getting back to the basics this season just might pay off. If not, you’ll hear no complaints from me so long as I’m in the woods!

Nate Kennedy is a New York state North Country resident who enjoys hunting and fishing in the Finger Lakes. An Ogdensburg native, he is a lifelong hunter and angler who holds a master's degree in environmental communication from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and he is the northeast regional engagement coordinator with the Ruffed Grouse Society & American Woodcock Society. Kennedy loves to write about and share his outdoor pursuits and his column appears monthly in The Citizen.


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