Deer hunting in the South is a completely different animal than hunting in the northern half of the country. I won’t say that it’s harder. But it’s different. And what might work in one location might not in another. It takes a lot of trial and error to kill a southern whitetail. Here are a few things I’ve found to be beneficial in some fashion or another when chasing these wily critters south of the Mason Dixon line.
1. Understand the Southern Deer Hunting Mantra
In the South, for the most part, you either hunt on a club or find public land to dive into. There’s very little small-tract private-land hunting left. (But there is some.) That said, you have to decide what type of hunting you’re going to embark on, and do it to your best ability, before you can be truly successful. You might be a serial big-buck killer. You might be the best mature-buck taker in the country. You can have all of the deer hunting knowledge in the world. But it doesn’t matter if you don’t find a place to deer hunt. And it definitely doesn’t matter if you aren’t able to find deer once you get there.
2. Scout Harder
In the South, depending on specific location, herds are declining. That makes it harder to find deer. You have to work more diligently to find deer where that’s occurring. Because of that, you’re much better off implementing every strategy at your disposal. This includes trail cameras, glassing from afar (where possible), and boots-on-the-ground scouting.
In areas where deer densities are higher, it’s possible to spend less time scouting and be more conservative in your methods. It’s better to go this route when able because you’ll pressure less deer.
Rut sign is rut sign. I don’t care if you’re in Connecticut, Kansas, California or Texas. Deer lay down rut sign. And it’s an every-day thing during the pre-rut and rut.
Now, I don’t hunt over rut sign during the rut. I believe that’s counterproductive. That said, I do sometimes hunt close to it during the pre-rut. Once the main event arrives, I use it to help determine deer are in the area and how deer move about and use the landscape.
4. Focus on the Best Edge Cover
Deer are edge animals. They love transitional habitat. That’s where the bulk of the deer population will be found. And places without adequate edge habitat will likely harbor smaller deer populations.
In the South, you have a lot of big timber. So, there aren’t as many edges as you’d find in the Midwest, or even the Northeast for that matter. That said, edges are still a part of hunting, even in the Deep South. They’re just different types of edges. Focus on cutover timber, spots where pines meet hardwoods or other coniferous trees, where cedars meet hardwoods, and any other location where the successional stage of habitat changes.
5. Find the Food Sources Relevant to Your Location
Food is food and the deer world revolves around it. Locate the preferred food sources for that area. Determine what the deer are keying on and incorporate that into your hunt plans. It’s simple deer hunting 101 knowledge. But it’s important.
6. Locate the Does
Find the food. Find the quality bedding cover. And you’ll find the does. Water isn’t quite as big of a factor in the South because in most southern states, water is abundant. So once you’ve found the three key factors for good deer habitat (food, water and cover), you should be in the money.
Deer travel the path of least resistance. That means they travel through saddles rather than over hills and mountains. They travel through fence gaps instead of jumping over them. They slip along narrow openings instead of beating through thick, nasty brush. That’s how they behave. A deer is a deer is a deer. Right?
I know. I know. This ain’t the Midwest. Bologna. Funnels are funnels. Pinch-points are pinch-points. While they might not be as abundant in the South, you can still find them. And they still work the same. Find them. Use them to kill a rutting whitetail.
8. Use More Aggressive Tactics
Sometimes you might be apprehensive to really dig in and be aggressive. But sometimes it can pay to — especially where deer densities are lower and you have to work harder to find deer. If you’re in this boat, don’t be afraid to still hunt through cover until you find deer or hot sign. This is how you determine where you need to be. It’s better to find deer and bump one or two of them in the process than to spend an entire season hunting where deer aren’t.
It’s also important to get closer to bedding areas. As long as you don’t blow out the deer, getting closer increases your odds of success because it puts you closer to deer and decreases the probability of deer rising from their bed and taking a trail/path that leads them out of range of you.
There’s no denying it — predators have a significant effect on whitetails. Whether it’s black bears, cougars, bobcats, coyotes or something else, they all take a toll. And the southern half of the country is especially susceptible to them. Once you learn how much they can impact deer movement, you’ll understand that you need to as well. Do your best to find and hunt deer where predator populations are minimal. Where necessary, implement a strong predator management program to help the deer herd.
10. Learn to Manage Deer Responsibly
As deer populations continue to decline across the South, it’s more important than ever to manage deer in a responsible manner. In some places — where populations are down significantly — it might be necessary to quit shooting does until populations bounce back. If you have too many deer, it’s important to increase the deer kill to bring it down to a healthy, sustainable level. It’s all about moderation and making educated decisions.