Deer Hunting for Beginners Part 1

Where do we start? An appropriate rifle seems as good as any.

First you need to have a rifle of the correct calibre, with suitable ammunition. What is a suitable calibre you ask? Well for fallow deer a minimum of .243 with a max calibre of as large as you can use well with no flinch would be suitable.

To my way of thinking the calibers of .243, 7mm-08, .260, .257, 7×57, .308 and say 30-06 would be good enough for any up and coming deer hunter after fallow deer. For red deer and all the rest, I would say a .260 or 6.5×55 would be the minimum calibre with again up to the largest calibre that you can shoot effectively.

For sambar the minimum legal caliber is .270W, so upwards from there is suitable. Your rifle should be fitted with a scope of a reasonable power, minimum say a 2 to 7 X 33 but something in the vicinity of a 3 to 9 X 40 would be close to right as the lower power settings can be used in thicker areas and the higher settings in more open areas.

Always buy the very best in optics that you can afford. Your eyes are very important and good optics will also be invaluable.

Ammunition: A soft point is always effective on deer, something like a Hornady Interlock or maybe a Cor-Lokt of
a reasonable weight. Nowadays the Barnes and GMX projectiles are great stuff and give good penetration from most angles you would expect to shoot a deer from. These solid pills do expand well, but you are far better with a lighter for calibre projectile when using these solid type projectiles.

Gear: For a start the most important thing is a good pair of boots that you have broken in, as sore feet will ruin a hunt worse than most other things. Socks should be of wool content and reasonably thick. Outer clothing would depend on the topographic area you are in, but usually Aus-cam pants are very good and cheap to start with and maybe a leafy camouflage top over a cotton shirt.  

You can buy all the different camoflague gear later on as you find what is most suitable for where you hunt and your own circumstances. A good hat and face net are the go as are also gloves. I realize that you see plenty of photos of people without camouflage clothing or face nets, gloves etc. But if your serious then go the whole hog, don’t be half arsed about it.  

Depending on area and weather, you will need rain gear and warm clothing for cold climates.

Knives: A good quality strong drop point knife and a small stone or steel would be good for most purposes with a small scalpel or Havalon Knife and spare disposable blades in your day pack. Plus very importantly carry a small torch. I carry a Wolf eyes sniper torch on my belt at all times and a new Wolf Eyes Dingo headlight in my back pack. If you get caught out after dark, then the torches will be of invaluable help.

Binoculars: These are also one of the more important pieces of equipment and you should try to buy the very best you can afford as good glasses save heaps of walking and your eyes deserve the best, as they will get very sore from long glassing sessions with poor optics. Something in the way of 10×42 would be suitable. With good quality glass you will gain extra viewing time in the mornings and evenings and really, these are two of the most important times.

Back packs: You don’t need a massive back pack for day hunts, preferably something made of a soft material that is waterproof and has a bladder inside for drinking water. In this pack you can carry a camera, scalpel and disposable blades, rain gear and first aid gear, matches or lighter and so on. Also a snack or two and any other light stuff you may wish to take for a day hunt.

If backpacking into a remote area then you would definitely need a large suitable pack and heaps of other gear such as light, stove, matches and flint, rope, tent fly, sleeping bag, food, first aid, toilet paper, GPS, hand held radio, food and the list goes on.

Hunting: When deer hunting, one of the first rules is walk little and look a lot. Tramping through the bush too much and too fast you will see bugger all as any deer in the general area will have heard or seen you first and disappeared. Always walk into the wind when possible, or if not possible walk across the wind. Try never to walk with the wind on your back. Sometimes this just isn’t possible, but then you should walk to a spot and then try to do a circuit back so you cover new ground with the wind toward you.

It’s good to find a vantage spot where you can see over a large expanse of likely country, then sit there and glass for hours as I have shot more deer this way than walking for miles hoping to spot and stalk them.

Movement, noise and smell will all give you away, so think carefully about what you do. When walking the hills walk along about a third of the way up or down and try to use a track or pad so you won’t make so much noise. It’s always better to be above your quarry than below. Try not to skyline yourself on hill tops, always cross where there is a bush or tree to screen your movement.

Walk in the shadows and try to stay out of the sunlight, also move slowly as movement will give you away very quickly. On a cold morning look for the hill that gets the morning sun first as the deer don’t like the cold either and you will often find them sunning themselves.

On windy days the deer don’t like the wind as it is hard for them to use one of their best methods of detecting danger and that is their ears. With the wind blowing in their ears they cannot hear so well so they will head to calmer well sheltered spots in the bush and be harder to find.

Look for bits of a deer, not the whole deer. Maybe an ear twitching or a tail or antler, or even a bush or tree moves where there’s no wind. Look behind you often, sometimes game will move across behind you after watching you pass by.

It’s also good to know what the country will look like on the way back too, as many a person has been lost from looking at country they have just passed through and thinking it’s that different they must be in a different area. A GPS is a handy tool to take with you as is a UHF radio if there is more than one of you and you split up.

Things to look for: Rub trees are pretty easy to see and they will give you an idea where a stag or buck has been rubbing so you know a stag or buck has claimed that area as his territory. With some deer, wallows are a good thing to find as if you sit quietly above a fresh wallow, you will have a good chance of getting or seeing a deer.

Fresh deer droppings is always good to find so you at least know they’re in that area. Naturally in the rut the deer will call and let you know where they are, at those times the does or hinds will usually be the ones to give you away by spotting you first, barking and running, taking the males with them.

Where to find deer: Read a few books and ask questions when getting around as the squeaky axle gets the grease. Often you will read in newspapers where someone has run into a deer, possibly that would give you an area to start door knocking.

When door knocking, always wear clean respectable clothing, definitely don’t go in your camouflage clothes. Be polite and if you get a knock back, thank them for their time and ask them if they know any other neighbours that have deer, it’s amazing how often they will give you a good prospect so you will leave them alone.

Deer habits: I could probably write a whole book on stuff like this as there’s always something new to learn about deer. None of us know it all, even if some think they do they are only kidding themselves as there is always something new to learn.

One amazing thing I have learned is that you can often pick up great ideas from a new hunter, as their brain in not so in sync with all the so called smarter ideas that we think we know. Something so simple for us older people to appreciate will often be a great idea. Below is an article I wrote on red deer. Have a read you might glean something.

RED DEER (Cervus elaphus)

  • The male of the species is called a stag, while the female is called a hind.
  • The rut or roar usually starts 101 days into the year, which coincides with the full moon in April. It usually takes a cold snap to start them off properly, but if you wish to arrange a trip ensuring that the roar has started, then arrange it for the week starting on the 11th April and you can’t go far wrong.
  • The oestrus cycle for the hind is approximately 18 days.
  • The gestation period for hinds is approximately 240 days.
  • The offspring are called fawns or calves and are born with white spots that disappear after approximately six weeks. They start eating grass at approximately two weeks of age supplemented with mother’s milk for many months.
  • Older stags tend to move away from the hinds in bachelor groups in winter.
  • Stags start to lose their antlers each year toward the end of September.
  • They are usually fully grown out again by January when they start rubbing the drying velvet from their antlers.
  • The colour of the antlers is dependant upon the terrain the stags live in and the types of trees they rub on. A somewhat rarity is a full grown stag with no antlers; these are called hummels and should be culled to stop their bad genes entering the herd. In saying this though, sometimes a hummel’s offspring will grow antlers as normal.
  • Hinds can bark at you or some other form of danger at any time of the year. Stags only roar during the rut and are mainly quiet the rest of the year. The ginger-coloured patch under their tail around the backside is called their caudal patch and stands out when they are running especially as the sun hits it.
  • The red deer, unlike other species, does not use its tail as a warning signal.
  • A red deer’s hearing is excellent and this along with their excellent sense of smell and good vision make them a challenge to hunt out of the rut period. During the rut a red stag has only one thing on its mind and will readily come to a call from a hunter. At this time of year the hind will be the one to give you away as they are ever vigilant.

Hunt safe, hunt smart and be a conservation hunter.

Good hunting
Next month the author will give a detailed description of fallow deer and also take you on a short red deer hunt for a nice stag.

This article was first published in the Sporting Shooter March 2014 issue.




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