Managing Hunting Pressure
One of the keys to creating quality hunting experiences on any property is managing hunting pressure. If hunters are putting excessive pressure on the deer herd, deer will often change their movement patterns to avoid certain areas and/or become primarily nocturnal. Just to clarify, hunting pressure is not necessarily the number of hunts or amount of time spent hunting, but the amount of contact with deer. We define hunting pressure as alerting deer in any way of a hunter’s presence, directly or indirectly. Anytime you are spooking deer, you’re alerting them. While there will always be incidental contact with deer on your property, there are certainly things that hunters can do to reduce the amount of pressure they put on their deer herd.
Managing hunting pressure starts the moment you drive through the gate. Every deer in the Southeast recognizes the sound of an ATV and most associate it with danger. While ATV’s can be a great tool, they are loud and can be heard from a long ways off. Unless they are absolutely needed to access a property, we do not recommend using ATV’s to travel to hunting locations. When accessing the property during hunting season, we recommend using a vehicle (without loud exhaust pipes) or an electric cart. Electric carts are one of the best options because they are very quiet and reduce leaving a “scent trail.” If you have to drive past an area where you expect deer to travel from, try to find an alternate route or consider walking to be as quiet as possible.
In regards to hunting locations, the keys to managing hunting pressure are to avoid over-hunting stands, only hunt and access stands under favorable wind conditions, and placing stands in a way that allows hunters to enter and leave the stand without disturbing deer. We have a lot of hunter observation data (number of deer seen while hunting) that indicates the number of deer observed, particularly mature bucks, is directly related to the amount of hunting pressure the area receives. While there will always be certain stands that are more productive, give areas time to “rest” between hunts. One of the easiest ways to do this is by enhancing hunting opportunities across the entire property. Add stand locations away from food plots and feeders to take advantage of deer travel corridors, natural funnels, and natural food sources. Having additional stands in the woods will help disperse hunting pressure and minimize the effects on any particular area. While there are countless scent control products on the market, the best way to avoid a deer’s nose is to hunt the wind. Under no circumstance should a hunter sit a stand (especially on a food plot) with the wind blowing from the stand toward the field or area that you expect deer to approach. The easiest way to avoid this is to create a wind chart using a map of hunting locations. Make notes of which stands can be hunted based on the wind direction. Check the weather before the hunt to determine the dominant wind and choose a stand accordingly. Finally, hunting pressure can be significantly decreased by placing stands in a way that allows hunters to enter and leave the stand without disturbing deer. If hunters are spooking deer each time they enter/leave the stand (particularly food plots), hunting quality will be reduced over time. Do not place stands on food plots in the middle of the field. Instead place on one end or the other, offset from the field, based on dominant wind direction or accessibility. Also, try using natural, planted, or man-made “screens” positioned in a way that allows a hunter to enter/leave the stand without disturbing deer in the field.
Managing hunting pressure does not necessarily mean you have to hunt less. You have to hunt smart and be willing to put in a little extra time and effort to ensure you are not disturbing deer every time you get in the woods. Being able to adjust your hunting strategies to decrease hunting pressure will make the hunt more exciting and generally more successful!