Help for a new hunter?


New Member
This is my first year going hunting. I don't have a mentor who can help so I've been reading a lot online. A summary of what I know:
1.neutralize scent/hunt downwind
2.find a place deer are likely to be and sit/wait.
3. Don't make noise or move because they have super hearing and smell.
4. Look for natural funnels/food and water souces.
My problem is I'm finding it really hard to find a buck or any deer at all. I'm hunting state game land in PA that seems heavily pressured but it's also pretty dense forest with many many game trails that circumvent open shots. I can find tracks and scat but no luck finding any deer. I hear tons of people shooting each day but have no luck sitting still. Usually I'll sit completely still from 630-830am and I start to doubt my spot and I walk around hoping to scout a better spot or sneak up on a deer. I have a good knowledge of the area now but still don't know what to do or where to set up. I know a tree stand would help but I can afford it now and I know I should've scouted earlier in the year. Any advice?
I am a self taught deer hunter myself.....started in my early 20's.

At this point in time I would look for an edge of the thickest, nastiest tangle of cover you can find. Something you think a rabbit couldn;t possible penetrate....that is where the deer are bedding. Or find that cover as far away from everyone else as possible or in an area that is nearly impossible to get to....and then make that effort to get there. Find a spot where you can get some natural elevation advantage and hunt until as near to noon as you can handle. Take a means to try to stay comfortable and watch that cover like a hawk. Also try to make sure you are not educating deer as you access or leave your hunting spot as well.

Hunting trails and feeding areas is for private ground and unpressured deer. Use a hillside to gain some elevation advantage, while leaving enough slope to not skyline yourself. This will help get you out of the primary line of sight of the deer. Being up and on your feet and moving around at 8:30 - you may very well be bumping deer to other hunters.....I'm sure they love you for it, but you more than likely are not doing yourself any favors. Still hunting/sneaking up on deer is an art. I have never done it, but you have to move VERY slowly (like 100 yards in an hour) and do far more focused looking with your's not a slow walk thru the woods.

When season closes get out there and scout and scout and scout some more. Learn the lay of the area and find those old rubs and scrapes and trails and tracks in the snow and anything that indicates deer activity. Tracks especially will tell you what the deer who survived the season are doing and those are the deer you want to learn from. What you are trying to do isn't impossible, but it isn't as easy as they make it look on TV either! I have killed several deer while sitting on a 5 gallon bucket wrapped in camo duct-tape. Even on private ground it isn't "easy".

Good luck.
First of all welcome to the forum. Sounds like you've already got a pretty good idea on how to hunt deer. Hopefully some of it came from this forum. There is much to be learned here and even the veteran members are still learning from the others.
1. If you are able to post an aerial picture of the place you are hunting there are many here than can help spot areas that can be productive. Maybe a spot you've not considered yet.
2. You don't need to be completely still, but you do need be conscious of making sudden movements. A deer's eyes are very good at picking up movement. I tell my kids you can scratch your nose as long as the movement of your hand to your nose is VERY SLOW. You would be surprised at how much movement you can make as long as you see them first. Train your eyes to see the flicker of a tail and look for those horizontal lines in a forest full of vertical lines. If you're only able to sit for two hours I'd suggest starting 2 hours before sunset. Hunt until it's completely dark. The last 30 mins are golden! To still hunt you need to be extremely patient. If your only sitting for two hours you're not there yet.
3. The sign you are seeing may be left at night if these deer are pressured like you say. Public land is tough hunting. You're either going to have to hike into areas that others are not willing to go or wait till the pressure lets up...if there is such a time. Midweek maybe? My only success in hunting public land has been to get into areas where the other hunters push deer to me. Often it was stuff that was very thick and hard to get in/out of as J-Bird suggested. Those spots are never close to a road or parking area.
Good luck and keep us posted on your progress.
Buckwheat, I think J-bird and Jeff gave you some great advice. If I were you I would finish your year out hunting when you can and enjoy being out there, also note where you are seeing and hearing people shoot. I would get on the state website to see what kind of maps they have for this property you are on, hopefully they mark parking area's, hiking trails, horse trails and and fire breaks that may be there. Then go compare that map to an ariel map, note where other roads may come in from different directions and look for the most isolated places. As they said you will need to be willing to do some walking to get away from the crowd, from my experience most people won't go more than a 20 minute walk and don't like to leave the path very far at all. After season go check some area'a out that you may have found on your maps, especially if you can get out there a few days after a snow to see the trails and beds. A gps would be a great investment if you can swing it, you can mark stand locations and mark your trail in and out. Remember if your walking 45 minutes in to hunt a kill a deer you will need a game cart and a buddy to get it out or you will be in for a long day. As Jeff said you need to be sitting longer, I saw a lot of good bucks between 9-11:00 this year(during our rut) .
I hunted public for a long time before I could afford to do otherwise. Here in ETexas it was either National Forest or paper company land, (which used to be open land but is now either leased or sold).

I hunted deer the same way I hunted squirrells, just looked at ground level instead of up in the trees. It's a difficult game and the deer usually win. I would hunt creek bottoms where there were usually acorns on the ground.

Back then we didn't have near as many deer as we do now, so that made it even more difficult. My routine consisted of getting in before daylight, finding a place to sit, and sitting until good daylight. I would then just move at a snails pace looking at everything in a 180 degree area very closely. I'm talking about moving slowly from one tree to the next, standing for a couple minutes, then repeating.

Later on, as I learned where I wanted to be, I would carry a small folding chair with me and sit where I could see under most of the limbs and spot deer 50/75 yd. away. I mostly hunted with a short range rifle with iron sights, because most of my shots were gonna be close. Early on, it was a shotgun, because it was the only gun I owned.

I killed several deer this way, but it was not a high-odds way to hunt, and by no means did I kill a buck every year. I did run into my share of other folks too, something that can't be helped on public land. My squirrell hunting was much more successful than the deer hunting !:)

You got some great advice above. Just keep on it, and you will learn from each outing !
Patience my friend, patience. It's really tough everywhere this time of year and, probably, especially in Pennsylvania. Been there. Done that. Its a short season filled with lots of pressure. It doesn't take long for deer to find hiding spots that most of us could never envision.

Here are two good reads:

I'm a numbers nerd. Consider this. Pennsylvania reports harvest by management unit. I don't like it, but they didn't ask me. I'd prefer a unit of geography a little smaller. Nonetheless, in 2016 the average buck kill in a management unit was 4.1 per square mile of habitat. Anterless was about 3.9. The lowest in a managment unit was 2.17 bucks and 1.98 antlerless. A square mile is a rather big chunk of ground. From other sources, I understand the numbers are about half the average on public land. My point is, like the rest of us, you're going to spend a lot of time waiting. Shoot straight and true because the opportunities are often tough to come by!

Good luck. Stop and see us often!