Whenever deer season starts to wind down, it’s crucial for hunters to take some time to reflect on the season, addressing what worked well, what strategies failed, and how you can improve for next year. But perhaps the most important thing to focus on is where you saw deer sign. If you spent the whole season in the same stand and never saw deer, you should ask yourself whether or not it’s time to move on. Sometimes a deer hunting spot can look so promising and just never pay off.

You’re not always going to get lucky during a season and actually encounter the buck you’ve been seeing on trail cameras, but you have to at least of some reassurance that deer could be in the area. If not, count your most recent season as a case of trial and error, and move on to another spot if you have one.

However, it’s sometimes worth taking a closer look at the spot to make sure it can’t be improved. Let’s look at this analytically and discuss a variety of factors that could be affecting your favorite spot.

A change of property ownership

Let’s be clear that I’m not talking about the private land you hunt changing owners, but rather the neighbors.

For instance, one side of my uncle’s property was once bordered by a piece of land that never got hunted. We could usually count on some deer movement in this sanctuary bedding area on opening day of firearms deer season every year. In fact, we harvested several bucks making a beeline toward it.

But then one year, the property changed hands and someone started hunting it. The sanctuary was no more, and bucks quit fleeing to it. Now, it didn’t ruin our hunting area entirely, but the new hunting pressure did change some deer trails as the animals were no longer using that area as an escape sanctuary.

If you’ve noticed a sudden, extreme change on your hunting land, it could be a result of something going on next door. They could be hunting with aggressive tactics, or worse, they could be revving up ATVs at the peak of deer hunting season.

In some cases, you might be able to combat these problems by enticing deer with better food sources and cover on your land, but there are plenty of extreme cases where hunters have to abandon their spot altogether.

The obvious signs your public land spot is compromised

Public land hunting can be simply soul crushing for whitetail deer hunters, especially novice ones. First, it’s incredibly hard to find a deer hunting spot no one else knows about. If you do, you’d better keep that secret close to the chest. If you find a perfect bowhunting spot that holds mature bucks year after year, you’ll likely know when your location has been found.

Perhaps you’ve been very careful to not mark the pathway to your treestand locations, you’ve relied on GPS to get you in and out, and you’ve used a climber to leave no sign you were there. Maybe you were even so paranoid about giving away your spot that you didn’t even cut shooting lanes. All that extra effort can be for naught in a hurry.

If you’re out shed antler hunting in January and February and start seeing boot prints, your spot has likely been compromised. Most shed hunters are die-hard hunters already scouting whitetail for next year’s rut. If the boot prints are there, the tree stands and ground blinds will likely be close behind.

Sometimes you can make the best of a bad situation, though, as plenty of trophy bucks have gone down in pressured areas. But, if you’re starting to see more deer stands than animals, it’s probably time to move on and find the next good spot.

There is no fresh sign

This seems like something that should be an obvious indicator to move on, but many hunters stubbornly keep returning to the same spots year after year even though it’s obvious things have changed. Sometimes it’s because of tradition, as it can be hard to let go of the stand your grandfather used.

But some people will find things like a young buck dead in an area or a heavy rub line and set up a stand or blind, not realizing the rubs are three or four years old and the buck wasn’t remotely fresh.

Sometimes you’ll see a gradual waning of sign over time as a result of habitat loss. Many animals are being forced into more urban areas as a result of development, and in some extreme cases, they may disappear from that favorite hunting spot.

Your best resource is your trail camera, so be sure to monitor those closely. If you you’re only seeing a handful of deer over the course of an entire off-season, it may be time to try something else.

A disease outbreak

The sudden outbreak of a viral disease can have a devastating effect on a deer herd. Chronic wasting disease and epizootic hemorrhagic disease are two major ones to watch out for. If your area gets EHD, you’ll likely know it when the dead deer start piling up by the dozens. The blood-sucking flies that cause EHD have dashed the high hopes of many a hunter who has a giant buck on camera, only to find it laying facedown in a creek a few days before the season begins.

In some instances, it takes years for an area to recover from a disease outbreak. CWD, an always-fatal neurological disorder caused by prions, can linger in a feeding area for years, infecting animal after animal. While there has been no evidence these diseases affect humans, you also must ask yourself if it’s worth taking that chance, as many medical experts advise against eating contaminated meat.

Then there are all the other unwanted effects these diseases bring: mandatory deer checks and testing, baiting bans,  and extreme carcass disposal and transport rules. At some point, it may become too much of a headache.

You already have limited time to hunt, so why waste it in an area that could be ruined by one sick deer when big bucks can be found elsewhere?

Your gut tells you to

At the end of the day, the decision to move on from a favorite hunting spot is never an easy one. Sometimes there are easily identified reasons for the lack of deer, but there’s often seemingly no rhyme or reason whatsoever. Sometimes deer just move on for a stretch of time.

If you’re noticing waning deer sightings in the area you hunt, do a little detective work first. But if the problem can’t be fixed, it’s better to just accept it and give it at least a season or two before trying again. Hopefully it isn’t permanent!

But of course, sometimes there’s just no changing neighbors or stopping the spread of progress from ruining your favorite spot. Examine all options and trust your gut feeling on a hunting spot, as you’ll find that feeling is right more often to than not.

You’ll find that feeling is right more often than not.

For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and General Outdoor Youtube Channels


The post How to Determine When It's Time to Move on From a Deer Hunting Spot appeared first on Wide Open Spaces.

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