10 Top ATV Tips For Deer Season

Other — on August 4, 2009 at 12:00 pm

2249677_leadIf you’re reading this you probably have or will have an ATV come deer season. And that makes you one of the lucky ones because there are few things that can add more to the success and enjoyment of deer hunting than an ATV.

Taking full advantage of your advantage takes a little thought.

Here are my top 10 tips to using your ATV to make deer season more successful, safe and fun.

1) Do Your Homework
Job 1 in your effort to bag your buck is to find a place to hunt, and that starts with homework. You should approach your mission with something like, “Duh, I have an ATV, I should look for places where I can make the best use of it.” There are many of these types of places and they fall into three categories:

• Public land with special regs accommodating ATVs. Nearly every state has these. For example in my home state of Minnesota, there are certain state forests designated for OHV use, and some of them have the densest populations of whitetails around. Public land doesn’t have the greatest reputation as a great place to hunt, but some of these spots I’ve tried are dynamite!

2249677_deer-on-back• Remote spots where getting way back in — and out with your 200-pound buck — is the key. We all know that getting away from hunting pressure is key to finding the best deer spots. I have a couple that are so far back in that it is unreasonable to walk in there, but with an ATV, they’re a cinch. My ATV simply allows me to beat competing hunters.

• Private land where you can use your ATV to advantage, in several ways, as we shall see.

2) Scout
A couple of my personal creeds are “The only thing I like better than deer hunting is getting ready for deer hunting,” and “I often sacrifice hunting time to find a really great stand site rather than spend the time sitting in a marginal one.” I’m talking scouting here, and to me, scouting is one of the most important roles of the ATV in hunting. The key to effective scouting is covering ground and you cover exponentially more on an ATV.

3) Establish & Maintain Food Plots
The biggest trend in whitetail hunting today is managing habitat for bigger bucks, better success and a more rewarding hunting experience. The ATV is ideal for that because the best food plots are small, hidden-away clearings in woods that you can effectively command from a single stand site. Small-scale plots like these can be built and maintained with ATV-operated implements. I’ve done this and can tell you that bagging a buck of your own cultivation is a uniquely satisfying thing.

4) Network Your Stands
Probably the most important thing I’ve learned in 40 years of deer hunting and guiding deer hunters is the importance of being able to select from a variety of fresh stands. Hunters who continually hunt from the same stand or two all season fail to realize they quickly burn out — the deer get your number and avoid you. A guy needs to have enough stands set up that he can play the wind, keep deer guessing and effectively hunt larger territory. I believe in this so much that I’ll always take a virgin stand in an iffy spot over an overused stand in a great spot.

It’s a lot of work to find numerous stand sites, modify the sites, haul in and set up stands and take them down later, but the job is cut to a fraction of the effort with an ATV.

2249677_ATV0909_65) Put The Accent On Access
One thing that less-experienced hunters often fail to realize is the critical importance of how you enter and exit your hunting area. Whitetails are masters at figuring out when a guy is in the vicinity, and then will go undercover and maybe change their patterns completely, giving you the slip.

This does not necessarily require the stealth of a ninja — an ATV can be a surprisingly valuable tool for keeping incognito. For starters, driving past deer spooks them far less than walking. Another advantage: If you have someone drop you off at your stand via ATV, the deer will think the danger has simply passed through.

Here is one of my most valuable tricks: When I bowhunt a field edge, nightfall will often come without my getting a shot, while the field has filled up with deer. I have a buddy arrive to pick me up on an ATV, scattering the deer into the woods in the process, so they don’t see me exit my stand. The times I’ve tried to hike out, the deer realize I’ve been there, and often never return to the field in shooting light. Being moved off by an ATV doesn’t seem to faze them; they’ll be back the next evening or two.

6) A New Twist On Still-Hunting
People are eternally baffled by the term “still-hunting” used to refer to hunting on the move, as opposed to sitting “still” in a stand or blind. Actually the phrase was coined a couple centuries ago to distinguish a lone hunter sneaking along, as opposed to one running game with dogs—the “still” referred to noise, not movement.

OK, so it might “still” be hard to equate still-hunting with an ATV, but it can work great, and it goes like this. You pick a piece of country that has good whitetail cover, yet still allows you to see good distances from certain angles and points. The ATV’s key advantage here is in the huge amount of ground you can cover. Scoot from spot to spot, park when you have a good vista to scan, and pull out a fine pair of 10x binoculars. Here you switch from still-hunting to spot-and-stalk. If you spot game, figure out how to hoof it into shooting distance, either by stalking the deer directly or getting in front of where it’s going and cutting it off. Tip: Don’t forget where you parked the bike!

7) Manipulate Movement
While still-hunting is about operating in the moment, stand hunting is all about preparation. You can scout and put in food plots and set a network of stands, as discussed, but the most savvy hunters go a step further and manipulate logistics and movement — that of the deer and your own. This consists of encouraging deer movement along certain routes — often by discouraging it in others — to concentrate travel within shooting range of your stand.

2249677_tying-downHow to best do this is dictated by the ground you’re on. If it’s super-thick, you might cut trails with an ATV-mounted brush hog. If it’s too open, you might block certain areas of travel. On a farm I own, I accomplished this by using my ATV to pull up and rearrange tangles of old barbed-wire fences and brush to limit the paths deer could take and “guide” them past my stands.

8) Accessorize
This is my favorite category, collecting all the cool gadgets that help you get your hunting mission accomplished. I divide this category into three parts: things a deer hunter must have for his ATV; things that may not be critical but sure are helpful and/or fun; and specialized accessories.

Must Haves: trailer or pickup loading ramp, winch, rack for hauling deer, gun or bow scabbard, tool set, basket/bag/box for tools and gear, straps and bungee cords.

Helpful Stuff: camo ATV cover, extra fuel container, treestand hauler, sled or ATV trailer for major hauling, chainsaw hauler, bucket holder, spotlight.

Specialized Accessories: This is mainly food plot equipment, including cultivator, disc, harrow, spreader, seeder, cultipacker, mower and sprayer. The ultimate is the PlotMaster, which pretty much covers everything in one package. A couple specialized items that can add stealth to your efforts include a mounted ATV blind that will enclose both you and your rig, and a high-performance muffler to keep game — and people — guessing as to your whereabouts.

9) Get Haulin’2249677_Front-Loader
An accessory so important that I put it in a category of its own is a device for lifting and loading. The invaluable deer-hauling advantage your ATV provides is lost if you can’t get your buck loaded — or wreck your back in the process.

There are many ways to do that, including packing and rigging up a come-along to using specialized hoists attached to the ground, a tree, or the ATV itself. The coolest I’ve used is the Power Loader from Great Day. This is a rack that is essentially a front-end loader powered by your winch that will load 250 pounds or more effortlessly. For info visit www.greatdayinc.com

10) Organize
Finally, you can take full advantage of your ATV in deer hunting only if you’re organized! This covers the gamut of macro organization — planning and executing big-picture stuff, like getting your homework and scouting done early — to micro-organization — assembling all the stuff you need as well as an efficient way of toting it. Put some thought and effort into organizing to make it happen.

There you have it, my top 10 tips for putting your ATV to best use in the deer woods this fall. Have fun and be safe out there!

Mike Strandlund is editor of Bowhunting World magazine and www.bowhuntingworld.com and is a member of the National Bowhunters Hall of Fame.

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