Deer Hunting: Ethics, US Seasons & Dates, License Requirements, Guide, Weapons, Tips, Facts, Myths
- Erik Himmel
Responsible and ethical hunting, wildlife conservation, and game management are crucial aspects of any wild game hunting. But many find deer hunting the most challenging of all.
In this article, we tried to cover all aspects of deer hunting, especially the following:
- Why do we deer hunt?
- Hunting deer in the US
- Deer hunting seasons and dates in the US
- License requirements
- Deer hunting weapons to choose
- How to hunt deer?
- Deer hunting tips
- Deer hunting facts
- Deer hunting myths
What You Will Get Here
Why Hunt Deer?
There will always be people who are opposed to hunting. Modern society no longer demands that we hunt and eat wild food and with today’s vegan trend becoming more widespread, the message is clearer today than ever before. Relying on farming methods has become the norm, and people’s compassion towards animals has become greater.
We have been bombarded in the media about environmental issues, and although it’s an important subject, are they right in saying that eating meat is causing the problem?
Traditional farming methods certainly have an impact on our carbon footprint and on our earth’s atmosphere, but what about hunting?
The reality is that modern hunting is founded on the principle that the population will be impacted less, and regulated science-based hunting can be sustainable and even preferable in terms of environmental impact.
Hunting allows the eco-system, water supply, and wild habitats to be protected, and hunting surplus animals can be more beneficial than cutting out meat from our diets.
These animals have lived their entire lives in nature. They’re chemical and hormone-free and by using adaptive management and science to determine the optimal hunting levels for regulated harvests, it can actually add to the population and support the natural succession of the ecosystem with minimal environmental impact, ensuring this pastime is an ecologically responsible way to feed ourselves.
Deer hunting in the US
With over 11.4 million deer hunters in the US, you’re not alone, but with a white tail population between 25 million and 40 million, you’ll likely be welcomed into the community.
Even with the regulated culls, the number of deer that lose their lives annually is still not enough to keep down the population and the problems the deer can cause. Not only to the environment but also to people and their possessions in high deer populated areas within inhabited regions.
Each state has government regulations, and they vary between them.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Natural Resources oversee these regulations, and based on the deer health and population, assign the deer hunting seasons accordingly.
These regulations can also be adjusted within each county in the state. For example, in South Carolina, the hunting season varies by region, and each region has several counties, as controlled by SCDNR.
The DFW can also create windows within each season where there is a limit on hunter numbers, known as a controlled hunt. These windows of time may also be broken down into time periods whereby only certain weapons can be used.
US Deer Hunting Seasons and Dates (2021)
The season dates vary greatly across the country and differ when hunting Antlered Bucks and Un-antlered Deer. The dates also change depending on your weapon of choice, so ensure you check the region you’re hunting in well in advance. These guidelines refer to hunting Antlered bucks with an air rifle.
(Three regions divide Mississippi for deer seasons, check which area you plan to hunt in)
|Alabama||January 16 – February 10|
|Alaska||August – December|
(The dates vary greatly by the area, but this is the general hunting season)
|Arizona||August 21- September 10|
|Arkansas||November 12 – December 25|
|California||September 17 – October 23|
|Colorado||October 29 – November 8|
|Connecticut||November 26 – December 6|
|Delaware||November 11 – January 14|
|Florida||Different zones vary from September 3 – February 20|
|Georgia||October 22 – January 8|
(Permits are also required for deer hunting and only a limited number are available)
|Hawaii||Kauai – all year round|
Lanai – mid-February – mid-May
|Idaho||October 10 – December 1|
(Dates vary by region and animal type due to controlled hunting)
|Illinois||November 18 – 20|
|Indiana||November 12 – 27|
|Iowa||December 3 – December 18|
|Kansas||November 30 – December 11|
|Kentucky||November 12 – 27|
|Louisiana||November 10 – December 9, January 9 – 22|
|Maine||October 31 – November 26|
|Maryland||November 25 – December 10|
|Massachusetts||November 28 – December 10|
|Michigan||November 15 – 30|
|Minnesota||November 5 – 20|
|Mississippi||November 19 – December 1|
|Missouri||November 12 – 22|
|Montana||October 22 – November 27|
|Nebraska||November 12 – 20|
|Nevada||August 10 – September 9|
(These dates can vary in some regions)
|New Hampshire||November 8 – December 4|
|New Jersey||December 5 – 10|
(This is regulated by zone, so please visit NJDFW for more information)
|New Mexico||October 15 – November 27|
|New York||October 1 – January 31|
|North Carolina||November 12 – January 2|
|North Dakota||November 4 – 20|
|Ohio||November 28 – December 4|
|Oklahoma||November 19 – December 4|
|Oregon||October 1 – 30|
(Although check dates based on region, and hunt seasons)
|Pennsylvania||December 26 – January 28|
|Rhode Island||December 3 – 18|
|South Carolina||October 11 – December 31|
|South Dakota||November 1 – January 8|
|Tennessee||November 19 – January 8|
|Texas||November 5 – January 15|
|Utah||October 22 – 30|
|Vermont||November 12 – 27|
|Virginia||November 19 – January 7|
US License Requirements
To legally hunt in the United States, you must hold a valid license for the state where you will be hunting, and you must comply with the Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations. These licenses can be purchased at most stores that specialize in hunting and fishing.
Residents and non-residents of the state they’re hunting in will require a deer license to hunt. Licenses vary in price across the country and are considerably cheaper to residents of that state. For example, as a resident of Wyoming, you will pay around $38, but a non-resident will be charged $312. In Washington, a resident license will set you back $95, but non-residents will be looking at a fee of $860.
Across some states, only a certain number of gun licenses are issued and so your application will be entered into a lottery with all other license applications.
For military deer gun licenses, a resident of a state who is a member of the United States Armed Forces, (stationed outside of the state, but can show proof of their residency; i.e., driver license of valid photo ID) upon paying the license fee, will be eligible for a gun season license, without being entered into the lottery.
How to Hunt Deer
Hunting deer: Choosing the right weapon for you
Naturally, the most popular choice for hunting deer is a firearm, but many people still choose to shoot with a bow and arrow, which can be handy in some situations however it does not offer a long-range and requires some mastery.
As a firearm is the most popular choice, here are our top three hunting rifles for deer.
When choosing your caliber, consider the type that will suit the deer species that you plan on hunting. A .30 / 06 bolt gun will serve fine for most deer hunts but depending on your style, length of the shot, and weight of the gun for those long treks uphill, there will always be a perfect gun to suit your needs.
1. The Remington rifles seem to be the most popular choice amongst seasoned hunters and the Beanfield Sniper Remington Sendero SF II is a favorite. With a weighty 26-inch barrel, this rifle is built for fast and accurate shots. Weighing over 10 pounds, this is a heavy rifle when a scope is added, but if your plans don’t involve a long hike or you prefer a sturdy gun, then this could be ideal for you.
2. The Timber Classic Marlin is a potent rifle with moderate recoil and good magazine capacity. Not only does this gun give a sense of nostalgia, but gives the user a great balance between portability, firepower, and handling.
3. The Alpine Shooter Sako Finnlight is known for its reliability and superb accuracy. This lightweight gun comes in many different calibers with the .308 being a popular choice. It has mild recoil, accurate loading, and undisputed killing power.
With a huge range of guns to choose from, ensure you do your research and take into account the parameters for your hunt.
To stand or to stalk?
Deer have an incredible sense of smell and hearing, so in any hunting capacity, diminishing your smell and the amount of noise you create is key to a successful hunt.
If you decide to stalk your prey, you’re going to need a huge amount of skill, patience, and the perfect setting.
Background noise is essential, so the best time for stalking is during a light rainfall, making the forest floor soggy and less noisy, and the rain should also help with masking your scent but too much rain will make the deer bed down, and you will get drenched, which is never fun.
A successful stalk begins with slow movements. Not stepping more than once or twice a minute or even slower if you’re feeling extra patient, but it’s a fine line between stalking and standing, is it really stalking if you’re only moving a small amount? Is it better to just sit and lower the risk of spooking the deer?
Stand hunting has to be the more preferable option with at least some protection from the cold and less chance of spooking the deer.
Planning ahead where to locate your stand is good practice.
Place your stand where the degree of scent is at its lowest and facing downwind of where the deer are expected to be. Make sure you have some clear pathways of shooting, and not too much brush in the way, but enough to keep you hidden.
If you’re using trail cameras for hunting deer, don’t check them too often. The deer will avoid areas for days if not weeks, where hunter movement has been detected and it will also increase your scent trail in that area.
Deer will pattern humans as much as you pattern them, and they have a good memory.
Use solar cameras where possible, which will mean you won’t need to change the batteries. Place them 6 or 7 feet above ground level as the bucks will spot them and focus on minimizing the risk as much as possible.
Best time to hunt throughout the season
Early in the season, the first or second days are going to be strong hunting days. The deer will not be used to the hunters and so won’t be spooked easily.
Getting to your stand early in the morning will also be beneficial, but ensure you know the times when you can begin, as there may be some restrictions.
You’ll find that around lunchtime, some hunters will leave their stand for a break. This can spook the deer, sending them your way, so this could also be a good time for you if you’ve prepared for a full day sit.
Don’t dis-count hunting during the rut. Bucks can be overly hormonal, focused on tracking does, that they don’t notice the hunter. During the morning of the rut, bucks move 70-75% more and they can completely forget the need to stay hidden from humans; however, almost any deer you shoot will be gamy.
The hormones running through the animal, don’t make for good meat, but there are various techniques to make the meat more palatable.
Evening hunts are also great as the season cools down as deer will need to eat and move more to stay warm before bedding down.
Choosing the right hunting clothes
It goes without saying that you will need to have several layers to keep yourself warm especially around your core, head, and toes.
A good base layer, zip-up jacket, and a wind stopper are all essential, as well as a hat with ear flaps and layers around the neck. Also, ensure you have a pair of good quality boots with some space for an extra pair of socks or even a heat pack when you need it.
Heat Factory heat packs hold their heat in longer than others, so they’re a great added extra to pack around your core and to keep your hands warm on those all-day hunts.
A handwarmer tube may also come in handy, not only to keep your hands warm but as a fanny pack to keep extra batteries and snacks in.
When it comes to the color of your clothing, try to fit in with your environment, and unless you’re in the snow, stay away from white attire.
It’s an alarm signal for deer. If they see a flash of white, they may think it’s another whitetail running through the woods and alert them to danger.
Avoid any fabric which could make a lot of noise. Wearing canvas, denim and nylon make it impossible to stay quiet.
Soft cotton, buckskin, and wool are the best materials for hunting clothes.
Bear in mind that legally, during the gun deer hunting season you are required to wear 500 square inches of blaze orange, which will appear grey to deer.
Shooting tips: Getting your technique right
The aim is always to shoot to kill, quickly and painlessly with little to no blood trail. Ensure you know where your bullet will land once you’ve shot, if you’re not certain, it’s more than likely not to hit where you expect it to and will probably cause a slow and painful death for the deer, which will never be found.
Even after being shot, a deer can run up to a half-mile away, so it’s important to shoot right the first time, but you will no doubt have times where you don’t.
If you’re shooting farther than 50 yards away, you’ll need a rifle rest.
You’ll struggle to keep the gun steady without one, and the farther the shot, the shakier the sight will be.
With the gun stabilized, you can focus on your aim, looking through your scope and how to shoot.
- After adjusting the crosshairs, move your head so the entire scope is visible. If the entire circle isn’t visible, then the gun is not pointing in the direction that you think it is. You may be seeing an optical illusion through the scope, if this is the case, adjust the position of your cheek on the gunstock.
- Don’t grip your gun too tightly. Keep it stable from your rest, your shoulder, and your cheek. Keep your head glued to the stock, but your grip loose.
- Don’t squeeze the trigger. Just touch the pad of your finger on the trigger. Take a breath, then as you breathe out, let it out halfway and hold. Make a slow and gradual pull until you fire the shot. Don’t wait for the recoil. You’ll be more likely to flinch and it’ll throw you off the shot.
- Be patient. Wait to see if you’ve made the shot before you pop up to check. Try and take two full breaths. This is hard to do, but it ensures that the shot follows though.
- Practice firing dry before you load a live round. This will help you avoid your flinch. Also, dry firing a few times after shooting will help you to desensitize after the recoil. Dry firing won’t do any damage to a modern gun but avoid dry firing on any antique gun you may have acquired.
Setting your sight
If you don’t have a bore sighter, go to your local sporting goods store and have it done. It won’t cost you more than $10 and it’s well worth it for the savings in ammo and any frustration you might feel when lining up your scope’s crosshairs with the barrel of the gun.
Find a good firing range where you can practice if you don’t already have the land. You need to be able to safely practice shooting to a couple of hundred yards and consider setting up targets, then you can adjust the settings on your scope and see what works best for you and adjust accordingly.
Practice makes us perfect
When it comes to any pastime, practice makes perfect, and this couldn’t be more applicable than when it comes to hunting but bear in mind that the environment in a range is vastly different than when you’re in your stand waiting for a deer, with only a split second to make a decision.
Firing your rifle dry is a great way to develop muscle memory, and although shooting live rounds gives a more accurate feel for the shot, it is more expensive.
You need to trust your gut when shooting and build your confidence with your rifle. If you can, measure out targets, such as bottles of milk or soda and set them at different ranges to develop your skills, and take satisfaction in watching the bottles explode.
Taking the shot
You’re now practiced enough that you’re ready to go out in the wild and put your money where your mouth is. You’ve planned your hunt, done your research, and now you’ve got a chance at shooting your first deer.
Take a deep breath and try to stay calm.
People are often taught to aim behind the front shoulder, but the bone does not extend behind the leg, it goes toward the neck and back to the shoulder and leaves a large portion just up from the leg that is open to shoot.
Moving straight up from the leg, cut the body in half horizontally, and where those lines cross is the perfect place to hit the deer. This will hit right at the top of the heart and both lungs. The deer should die quickly which will make it easier to find.
If your aim is a little high or low, it will still hit vital organs and will likely still kill the deer.
If you’re aiming downward, aim to go in at a higher elevation. This will ensure you go through both lungs and it will leave a good blood trail. If you hit lower, you’re more likely to only go through one lung.
Finding and field dressing
After tracking the general direction that your deer was shot, look for any signs of blood. If you find a trail, then follow it for at least 50 yards.
If there is no sign of blood, wounded deer will often follow a clear trail, which may help you find it.
If you still can’t find the trail, walk-in small semi-circles to get back on the blood trail.
Once you’ve found your kill, you want to keep the meat protected and clean so you’ll need to field dress it, unless it’s a smaller deer, where you don’t necessarily need to do so, providing you can get it to a processor right away.
Field Dressing the deer, allows the meat to cool down quicker, lowering the chances of spoilage.
Here’s a short video on how to field dress:
Deer hunting tips to elevate your hunt
- Be quiet. Sound extends 360 degrees around you, whereas your scent will only spoil 45 degrees downwind. There’s no point contaminating the smallest wedge downwind from your stand with your scent and then creating lots of noise.
- Keep your stands as hidden as possible. Use fiberglass, switchgrass, Egyptian wheat, and anything else you can to hide your stand. The deer are smart and will track your pattern as much as you track theirs.
- Don’t use ATV’s in certain areas. They’re far too noisy. Use them to get as far in as you can and then walk up to your stand. Unless you’re trying to spook deer toward you. Consider a Quiet Cat, E-bikes, and even golf carts to get up to your stand, and hike as much as you can.
- Don’t work your favorite stand too much. Deer have a good memory and working a stand too much will cause them to stay away from you. Once or twice in a season is going to be better for you.
- Don’t rely on elimination spray. It will lead to more failure if you rely too much on these products. Make sure you’re trying to eliminate your scent as much as possible. Use fragrance-free soap, shower daily, change into clean clothing every day. Limit the debris on the trails and use your elimination spray.
Deer Hunting Facts You Should Know
- Early season deer will be close to their food source. Studies show that deer who are not pressured will be closer to their food source, so bear that in mind when hunting.
- A 200-pound buck will drink 4-6 quarts per day. This fact may not help you to kill deer, but it is good to know.
- They bed relatively close to a water source. This may not be a large river or lake. but a small stream. So, keep an eye out.
- The average range of a buck is 750 – 1000 acres. This is a huge area, but their home range is likely to only be 50 to 100 acres and they’ll spend the majority of their day in that area.
- Deer see the color blue 20-25 times better than we do. Eliminate any blue clothing or accessories. They have great eyesight!
Deer Hunting Myths You’ve Probably been Told are Facts
1. The “Peeing in the Woods” Myth
Many people will tell you not to pee in the woods and will carry pee bottles around with them, but don’t worry about it. You can pee in the woods! All urine turns into ammonia within 20 minutes and it does not put the deer off.
2. The “Dry Doe” Myth
People will tell you to shoot dry does because they’re not producing but just because she has no fawns around her does not mean that she’s dry. Her fawns could’ve been taken by a predator.
Unless a doe is dying she will have fawns yearly and older does have been known to make better mothers, protecting their young more.
3. The “Bucks Always Bed Down on the Downwind Side of Does and Fawns” Myth
Bucks will change where they bed, but they will not change their bedding area just be downwind and potentially put themselves at risk. Bucks will usually bed behind does, but this won’t necessarily be downwind.
4. The “Toes Out, Dew Claws Behind” Footprint Myth
You cannot tell the exact size of the deer by the tracks that they leave. Just because it looks as if the dewclaws are behind the toes, this does not mean that it’s definitely a mature buck.
A big buck, when walking, will have a swayed-out stride and a wider stance, so measure between the tracks. The dewclaw is hardly ever an indicator that it’s a mature buck.
5. The ‘Scent Control Will Give You the Most Success” Myth
There are so many products on the market, and so many people put all their faith into these products, but the number one form of scent control is your positioning. Ensure your scent is blowing away from the stand, even better if it’s onto a lake or into a brush.
Ensure you do everything you can to control your scent. Dress outside the truck and try to leave no scent trail. Do not think you’re immune to being smelt because you’ve covered yourself in elimination spray.
I hope this post has helped you with your Deer hunting practice, and don’t forget to have fun!