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The Early Bird Gets the Worm and the Buck

Hutchings_day2Editor’s Note: Fifty-year-old Kevin Hutchings, from Howell, Michigan, which is located close to Ann Arbor, has been hunting deer as long as he can remember. He was one of the original Mossy Oak Pro Staffers.

As I’ve mentioned yesterday, most public-land hunters want easy hunts. They’re more concerned about one or two extra hours of sleep than getting to their stands before daylight. If I know the woods will start to lighten-up at 7:00 am, I want to be in my stand by 5:00 am. I know that I’ll need 30 to 45 minutes to get from my truck to my stand site. So, I want to arrive at the place where I'm leaving my truck at 4:00 am. Often, I get up to go hunting between 3:00 and 3:30 am. Once I park my truck, I look for the horse trail or the hiking trail that I’ll use to get close to my stand site. Once I leave the horse trail or hiking trail, I'm covered-up with odor killer and/or I'm dragging a drag rag to help cover my scent. I make sure I know the woods and what kind of landmarks to look for in the dark to reach my stand site. I know the woods I hunt so well, since I scout the places I'm planning to hunt all year long. I’ll either ride a horse or walk the hiking trails and notice deer sign crossing those trails. Then, I try to determine why the sign is there, and where the trails are coming from and going to. As the season approaches, I may or may not put out a trail camera. In some of the places I hunt, I know the deer will be where I plan to set my tree stand, because they’ve always been there. So, I won’t put out a trail camera. In other areas that I don’t know as well, I may put up a trail camera before the season - just to see what size bucks are using the region where I plan to hunt. 

Often, I’ll have about 12 stand sites set-up from the beginning of hunting season. The public lands where I hunt allow us to have our stands set-up a month before the season and leave them up a month after the season. I chain my stands to the trees and lock them, or I use cable to attach my tree stands to the tree and lock the cable. We’re required to have our name and contact information on our tree stands. Yes, I’ve had some stands stolen, but that is just part of the price I'm willing to pay to have a good place to hunt. I use fixed-position stands with climbing sticks, or I hunt from ladder stands and ground blinds. 

If someone sees my stand and decides to hunt out of it, I have a choice to either ask them to leave or go and tell a conservation officer that I want to take my stand down, but someone is in it. Luckily, I've never had that problem. I think the reason I haven’t is because I'm hunting where other hunters don’t want to hunt. I leave my stands up, since I want to make as little noise as possible in the woods. I walk as quietly as I possibly can to my stand. I take my time climbing the tree and getting set-up. When I'm ready to leave the woods, I try to move as slowly and quietly as I have when I’ve come into the woods. 

I think the two biggest keys to success when you're hunting public lands is to plan to hunt the places no one else wants to hunt, and to get to your tree stand long before the other hunters start coming into the woods. This way, hunting pressure is an advantage rather than a disadvantage. When hunters start slamming car doors and walking through the woods like they walk down the street, they’re moving deer to me instead of away from me. Hunting pressure is only a disadvantage, if you're part of the hunting pressure. If you’re in an area with little or no hunting pressure, then, the older-age-class bucks have to come to where you are to survive. 

I've never had another hunter walk past my stand when I've been deer hunting. However, I have had people hiking through the woods walk past my stand, and I’ve had other hunters come in and set-up near my stand. If I see or hear another hunter coming into the woods, I usually turn on my flashlight and point the beam toward them, so that they know I'm there. Most of the time, they’ll turn and go away from me. 

To learn more about hunting, check out John E. Phillips’ new eBook and print book, “Bowhunting Deer: Mossy Oak Pros Know Bucks and Bows.” You also can download a free Kindle app that enables you to read the book on your iPad, computer or Smartphone. 

For information on making jerky from your deer to provide a protein-rich snack, you can download a free book from

Day 1: Go Where Others Won’t Like Swamps to Take Public Land Buck Deer

Tomorrow: How to Get Deer Out of Gnarly Places with Kevin Hutchings

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