The Real Secrets to Deer Hunting Success

By John Wick | October 2, 2003
From Missouri Conservationist: Oct 2003

This is the story of a young hunter who suffered annual deer hunting failure before learning the secret. From that moment on, he enjoyed years of deer hunting success.

The story begins when I was a little boy. I wanted to hunt, but more than anything else, I wanted to hunt deer. Unfortunately, without any relatives that hunted, I never received any encouragement.

When I was 17, and living in Pennsylvania, I bought a license, borrowed a gun and joined some friends for my first hunt. We walked about half a mile into some woods and then scattered several hundred yards apart near the top of a ridge overlooking a well-used deer trail. The morning was cloudy, cold, and windy. I almost froze, but I kept watching that deer trail, waiting for my big deer to arrive.

I had heard shots all morning, but by noon, all was quiet. Suddenly two shots boomed in the valley below me and several hundred yards to my left. That perked me up, and my eyes zeroed in on that trail. Half an hour later some movement down in the valley caught my attention. It was two hunters dragging a deer.

I went down to congratulate them and see the deer. It was a nice 8-point buck. The man who shot the deer asked me where I had been sitting. When I showed him, he asked why I hadn't seen the deer, because he had watched it walk down the valley just in front of me in fairly open woods. I had been leaning against a tree watching a spot 50 yards in front of me all morning, but never looked to see what was going on farther down in the valley.

I went back to my spot and decided to work on observational skills. Then it started to rain, but I was too mule-headed to quit. An hour later the rain turned to sleet. It was looking more and more like I wasn't going to get a deer this season, but I kept waiting and watching in front of me.

After an hour of sleet it started snowing. It snowed hard for about 30 minutes, and by the time it stopped I had lost all hope of getting a deer. I decided to head back to the truck.

I turned around and walked about a hundred feet when, there in the fresh snow, I saw the tracks of several deer. I couldn't believe it! Several deer had passed not more than a hundred feet away.

Following the tracks, I walked along the top of that ridge for about a mile, but I knew I was never going to catch up with those deer. Again, I decided to return to the truck.

"Boom!" A shot sounded right in front of me. I heard someone holler, "I got him!" Next I saw a hunter step away from a tree, run a short distance and kneel down over a deer not more than two hundred yards in front of me. He was a beautiful 6-point buck.

While field dressing the deer, the happy hunter told me the deer had just ambled along the top of the ridge, stopped, and looked back at me. That was when he shot him. He said three does were with the buck when he shot.

Why hadn't I seen those deer? I had perfect vision, but for some reason I couldn't see four deer 200 yards away from me.

That night I returned the borrowed gun and gave up for the season. It seemed like some hunters were meant to get deer, and some weren't. I decided I was among the latter.

When next season rolled around, I had read dozens of articles about deer hunting and was ready to give it another try. I had a nice new gun, better clothes for winter weather, a good spot all picked out and three days off. Most important, I was smarter.

Or so I thought. I didn't get a deer that season, or for the next two seasons, for that matter.

The following summer I met a man whose deer hunting experiences were about the same as mine, but he talked of a man he knew who had gotten a deer every year for some 20 years.

With about a month to go before the season opened, I decided to visit this man and see what he had to say. He told me he always hunted alone, but if I'd help him get caught up with his work, he would take me hunting for one day. He told me not to take a gun and to stay six feet behind him the entire time we were hunting. He would show and tell me everything he knew about deer hunting. He would tell me why some hunters get a deer every year and why some hunt all their lives and never get a deer. I eagerly agreed. This man knew the secret, and I wanted to find out what it was.

He told me to be at his place two hours before daylight, and I got there right on time. When it was light enough to shoot, we headed into some brushy woods. He said it was unwise to walk in before daylight because you would just chase out all the deer ahead of you, but if you waited until daylight, you'd often get your deer before you got to your spot. Sure enough, we saw three small groups of does before we got to the spot he had picked to stand.

He told me to sit down and that he was going to stand. I sat a long time, but I can't say I learned anything. The expert was alert and watched everything around him, but I could hardly stay awake.

Suddenly his shot woke me from my daydream. He turned and said, "Let's go see what he looks like." I followed him about a 150 yards to see a buck with one side of his rack broken off. The other side had five long points.

After field dressing the deer, the expert drove me to a nearby diner. Over our meal, he told me he had been watching me before he shot the buck. "If you had been alone," he said, "you never would have seen the deer, let alone shot it." He said I only needed to know one thing if I was ever going to get a deer.

This is what he said: "From the time you load your gun until the time you unload it, keep thinking to yourself that in one more second you're going to see that buck. No matter what happens or what's going on, or how tired you are, or how good the weather is, or how bad the weather is, keep saying to yourself, 'In one more second, I'm going to see that deer.' That's the secret."

We returned back to the same general area where we had spent the morning. The expert got out of his truck, loaded his gun and entered another brushy area. He crept through this tangled mess, alert and quite obviously believing that he was going to see a deer. About every hundred feet, he stopped, stood and slowly turned completely around, looking at everything.

After about an hour, he looked at me and pointed into the brush to our left. I didn't see anything, but he kept pointing, and finally I noticed it. A doe was lying right at the edge of a small patch of brush and honeysuckle.

We continued, but two hours later I was tired and bored. It was going to be dark soon, and I was thinking about where to hunt tomorrow. Suddenly the expert aimed his rifle at something I couldn't see. He fired, and two does burst from the brush 200 feet away.

I hadn't seen them before they moved, but the expert told me he saw the does and a buck lying down watching us, evidently confident that we hadn't seen them. He led me to a beautiful 11-point buck lying dead from a clean shot in the neck. The expert admired his deer, and we dragged him out. We went back to his house and talked until midnight.

The expert gave me dozens more tips, most of which I had read in books and articles. Undoubtedly, the most important thing he told me was to believe that I was going to see deer.

I realized the importance of this secret after he shot that 11-point buck. Not one deer hunter in a hundred would have seen that deer, but the expert did. He was so sure there were deer around, and so sure he would see one, and so sure in one more second he would get his chance, that instead of just seeing a lot of woods, he was seeing every detail in the woods.

At last I realized my problem. I was so sure that I wasn't going to see anything, that I really didn't see anything.

The next morning it was foggy and raining as I left my truck, but my spirits were bright. I was armed with a powerful new weapon: the power of a positive attitude. I kept thinking - and believing - "In one more second, I'm going to see a buck. In one more second, I'm going to see a deer. In one more second, I'm going to see that beautiful buck. In one more second, my chance will come."

It was wet, cold, and uncomfortable. I had been out for hours, but I knew in one more second my chance would come. I was happy, alert and ready. Suddenly I saw a deer leg! That's right, a deer leg. There was a thick pine tree about 75 yards in front of me, but between the bottom branch and the ground I saw one deer leg from just above the knee to the hoof. I couldn't believe I had seen one little deer leg in that whole big forest.

The deer took several steps away from the tree. It was a buck! I aimed for the shoulder, squeezed the trigger, and down he went. An 8-point! Words can't express how good I felt at that moment.

I am happy to say I have experienced that same thrill more than 40 times. Every year since then I have gotten my buck, but I have also learned that I don't have to kill a deer to have a successful hunt. Once I cleared the hurdle of killing my first buck, I learned that a positive attitude enables me to enjoy the natural setting, the friendship of my hunting partners, and the adventure of the hunt. I have a good time rain or shine, buck or no buck. Now they call me an expert, but I'm really not. It's just that I know the secret, and now you know it, too.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Circulation - Laura Scheuler