Why Hunters Understand Deer Best

Posted on February 7, 2017



“In discussing deer hunting as a sport, it seems to me that we must never lose sight of the fact that its interest is due chiefly to the nature of the game pursued . . . I hope to be a stag follower as long as I can see a sight. This feeling I attribute to the character of the deer – that noble, elusive, crafty, wonderful denizen of the wilds, the pursuit of which is surely the master sport of the huntsman.”

Archibald Rutledge, Days off in Dixie 1924


All serious deer hunters essentially evolve into more than just individuals that squeeze a trigger or release an arrow. Because one becomes a 365-day a year student of the whitetail, they’re not walking about in white jackets carrying clipboards. No, quite the contrary. Those pupils are much more akin to Old Flintlock Rutledge who studied deer behavior under every possible condition. In fact, because so much of a deer’s mobility is under the cover of darkness, Rutledge built himself a perch 16 feet up in the forks of an old oak tree in order to view whitetails in the moonlight. Here is a sample of what he observed as it was penned in his book, Home by The River, in 1941.

I have a long wait, but who will not wait amid deepening peace and increasing loveliness? At last they came: two fairy shapes, silent, elusive, beautiful. The mild night air is drifting from them to me, so that they do not detect my presence. Here are two great silver stags with silver horns, moving with unpastured grace through a silvery world. They pause, as if posing for an urgent picture. Nearer they come, and I notice that at certain angles in the moonlight they are almost invisible; at others, they are vividly visible. Past me they glide like the spirits of the wilderness, having all the meaning connoted by the night, by stillness, and by the unwearied charm of nature. Into the silver silences they vanish.


Although in today’s world, fast-paced with increasingly demanding schedules and time-crunching deadlines, it’s gratifying to know that the deer hunter can still find respite in the interludes taken in the beautiful primeval forest the whitetail calls home. During those forays, despite however frequent they become, knowledge about the wild and its inhabitants is added to the huntsman’s expanding library.

The following is but a few of the many reasons why I believe the hunter, more so than any other  individual, understands deer best.


Deer Sign


Due to the speculative undertaking performed when seeking optimal places to hunt the animal, a myriad of various deer sign is uncovered. This documentation, be it in the form of rubs, scrapes, tracks or droppings not only validates where deer have been, but it allows the observer the ability to analyze why they traveled through this particular location. A tremendous amount of time is devoted to this activity, which may or may not produce a deer sighting, but the mental exercise of formulating a plan based upon observations only adds to better understanding the animal.




No longer is it sufficient or acceptable to just be in the right place at the right time to shoot a buck. Today’s huntsman has become inquisitive and studious, placing demands upon himself to validate why this was the correct place to be and the motives behind the deer being in this exact location. By understanding why places one in a better position to capitalize on taking a deer much more frequently.




Much has been written about the whitetail, specifically during the past thirty years. Books and magazines now saturate the market, devoted entirely to odocoileus virginianus. To my way of thinking, this is certainly not a bad thing, as I derive part of my livelihood from writing and speaking about deer and photographing this enchanting animal. A vast arsenal of insight can be gained from other serious and knowledgeable writer’s experiences and their interactions with whitetails.



Personally, I’ve discovered that to a large extent, today’s fraternity of hunters educate themselves beyond the basics and demand deeper, more meaningful substance in what they read. With that said, the reader should be able to validate what I have written or my credibility quickly goes out the window.




Ah yes, the idle chitchat around the water cooler. I can honestly say that I’ve indulged hundreds of discussions with hunters dealing with every imaginable aspect of the whitetail. More often than not, these fellow huntsmen are in search of an answer from me but, during the course of our conversation, I usually can learn something as well.




Never has there been such a vast array of whitetail videos as we have presently. I’m not sure if the popularity of these stems from us needing to be entertained, having insufficient time to spend observing wild whitetails ourselves, laziness, or all of the above. Regardless, a wealth of knowledge regarding deer behavior can certainly be gained in the comfort of your living room.





It has been said, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and rightfully so. We have at our disposal through books and magazines a never-ending supply of outstanding whitetail photographs. These images depict the animal in every possible behavioral pattern. From a personal perspective, I can tell you that eyeing whitetails through a lens brings out a much different view of the animal. As the camera focuses, you begin to visualize actions, expressions, and mannerisms intrinsic to the deer you’re photographing. Over the past number of years, I’ve accumulated a wealth of close encounters with whitetails through the lens of my camera; in-depth information I would not have gathered from mere visual observations.




A trend towards quality deer management has now taken hold. No longer is it fashionable nor feasible to manage deer for sheer quantity. Through this effort, several valuable insights become apparent to the hunter. By being selective, you observe more deer. Knowing what food is of the greatest nutritional benefit and what time of the year the deer can best utilize it adds to an expanding database in our noggins. It is through the efforts of the hunter that the whitetail has flourished, and its ultimate future continues to rest in the huntsman’s hand, wallet, and education.




Obviously, the time involved with a long deer season helps us gain the most immediate insight into the whitetail’s world. As we focus all our attention on overtaking the animal of our choice, every shred and scrap of information is scrutinized for us to position ourselves in a favorable situation. These lessons, no matter how frustrating they seem at the time, serve to enhance each of us and propel us to continue this fall ritual that has been carried out by man since the beginning of time.





When these factors are added up, the time, energy, effort, observations, planning and thinking has gone into better understanding the whitetail. In reality, the animal we love most drives us to learn more about him. The more we educate ourselves, the better huntsmen we become. The more we enhance our hunting prowess the more we yearn to go further into the secretive life of the whitetail. Essentially, it’s a circle that never ends as each of us continues our pursuit of the grandest and most fascinating creature of them all – the white-tailed deer.



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