Principles vs. Tactics of Whitetail Hunting
With how much attention our society places on results and how easy it is to consume content on any topic of your choosing, trophy hunting whitetails on public land can quickly become overwhelming and feel out of reach.
It's easy to scroll through social media this time of year during hunting season and see guys posting their grip-n-grin pictures with #PublicLandHunter in the description, or listen to tactic-based podcasts about how they set up to kill a mature buck.
What tends to get lost in translation is the amount of hard work and discipline it takes to enjoy these guys' success deer hunting. This brings me to my main point and question, do principles or tactics kill you big bucks?
Starting with tactics, let me break down what I see as the key differences between the two. Tactics are the X's and O's in a playbook or the individual plays of the game you are watching on TV. An example of a tactic on a whitetail hunt would be to set up hunting locations on the downwind side of a white oak tree that is positioned in a staging zone between bedding areas and a primary food source. Other tactics include:
Many hunters don't take things like ground scent into consideration. You can use the access routes of most hunters to your advantage on public land by locating a thick overlook location that could potentially be a buck bed.
Finding a travel corridor between primary food sources and bedding during the rut keeping the wind in mind to blow your human odors away from anticipated deer travel.
Principles are the why behind the tactics. They are the game plan the coach created which led him to call that specific play. To tie in principles with our hunting tactic example, they are the reason why you know it's a good idea to set up between bedding and primary food, keeping in mind things like wind direction, thermals, cover and access.
In order to know to sit in specific locations like this with this type of intent as a hunter requires you to have knowledge of what deer eat and where they bed as well as many years of scouting, reading deer sign to understand what ultimately makes this the right spot. A few key principles:
Understanding what hunting pressure does to the natural flow of deer movement during deer season.
Understanding that whitetails, especially bucks, like to conserve energy during the rut, so finding easy travel routes in the topography increases your odds of crossing paths with your target.
While both are important, I believe the principles you instill into your hunting approach give you the ability to have success with the tactics you use while in the field. I say this because in my first couple of seasons chasing deer on public land I was a tactic junkie.
I consumed and tried to apply each and every tactic I could get my hands on without even bothering to decide how exactly they applied to my current scenario.
More often than not, this led to the majority of my hunts ending in embarrassing failure, but rather than digging deeper and trying to find out why I just moved along to the next deer hunting tactic.
As the 2021 season came to a close I knew it was time for me to make a change in the way I hunted. I was way too passionate about what I was doing, spending an insane amount of time in the field, but not seeing any results.
I realized it was time for me to flip the script and start from the inside out. I developed a few core principles that I follow religiously, and allow the tactics I have learned to take care of themselves. These principles are simple, but like the layers of an onion, they can be peeled back more and more before reaching the core. They are:
Always ask why. Why did you see this deer here at this time? Why does this ridge have deer activity, but that one doesn't? Why are the deer using this particular trail?
Think like a predator. Predators must eat to survive and to do so efficiently, they must conserve their time and energy. I focus on always being aware of my surroundings and searching for the next opportunity.
Reflect, review, and plan ahead. I keep a journal of all of my trips out into the woods. I log weather conditions, deer sightings, etc. to break down the full story that is being told out in the woods. I use the information to plan ahead trying to make the most of my next trip in the woods.
To the untrained eye, principles and tactics blend together easily. I believe drawing a clear line between the two can lead to more consistent and longer-lasting deer hunting success. It's important to keep in mind that developing principles around your hunting approach should of course be individualized to you. They are going to be different based on your goals, time input, etc.
Once you have them at your core, start applying them to the relevant tactics for your current scenario and it will only be a matter of time before you are the one with the success stories and sharing advice.